Roast Chicken with Muhammara

What???!!!  There’s a Garum Factory post in my mailbox?  Boy, did this week fly by!  

I hate to break the news, but it’s still Wednesday.  We’re running a couple of days ahead of schedule because this weekend is the PanMass Challenge bicycle ride for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute–and Team Rialto-Trade is a big participant.   I wish I could thank each and every one of our contributors in persons–Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!  

And now, back to the food…

Muhummara, a spicy ground walnut and pepper paste, has been on my post list for some time.  We’ve got some more grilled items coming up and I didn’t want the month of August to be all-grill, all-the time, so while Jody’s notes may suggest that this is more appropriate for December or February, ask yourself, When is a roast chicken ever the wrong thing to make?   The answer is, Never.  

You can find muhummara all over the eastern Levant, but given the ubiquity of Aleppo pepper in all of its current incarnations, it probably got its start in Aleppo, in northern Syria.

I first encountered it in a Middle Eastern grocery store that sold ready-made items for a DIY mezze platter, the western Mediterranean’s answer to antipasti.  I’d gone there to buy pomegranate molasses and Itch, an Armenian bulgur salad, and I made a habit of purchasing at least one thing I didn’t recognize.  That visit I chose a dark red goop called muhammara.  “Eat it with pita bread,” the store-owner advised.

After my first bite, I would have eaten with my fingers–it was that good.  The store’s particular version was both spicy and tart, thanks to the Aleppo pepper flakes and pomegranate molasses.  Some recipes are quite mild, with little more than roasted peppers, toasted walnuts, oil and Aleppo pepper.  Others add garlic, pomegranate molasses, breadcrumbs, etc. and while it’s often served as an appetizer, it also makes a great sauce for grilled lamb or meaty seafood like bluefish or mackerel.  It was years before I worked up the courage to try making my own–this stuff used to seem so mysterious!–but now it’s a regular staple.

Easing the muhammara under the chicken skin is easy.  If you don’t rush things the skin won’t tear.  Before roasting the chicken exhibits a disconcerting black and blue look.  The spectacular results after roasting are seen above.  Despite the skin’s mahogany red color, the meat’s still juicy and there’s a wonderful fruity fragrance of peppers and pomegranate that comes off the bird.  We’ve been spooning leftover muhammara on toasted rye bread for a late-night snack, or adding it as yet one more possibility on the steel-cut oats, kale and egg merry-go-round of breakfast.  Enjoy.  Ken

Roast Chicken with Muhammara


Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon mashed or chopped garlic
  • 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 3½-pound chicken
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 large roasted and peeled red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste, optional*
  • ¼ cup toasted breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup mint leaves
  • ¼ cup parsley leaves
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds, optional

*Muhammara tastes great with–or without–the tomato paste. I like a hint of tomato flavor and a deep brick color.  Ken prefers it without.  I caved for him the second time we tested the recipe, but I’m sneaking it in here as an option.

To make the muhammara:

  1. In a small bowl, mix 3 tablespoons of the olive oil together with the garlic, 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses and ½ teaspoon cumin.
  2. Combine ¾ cup of the walnuts and the roasted pepper in the bowl of the food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times to chop.  Add the Aleppo pepper, breadcrumbs, and remaining cumin and pomegranate molasses.  Pulse to form a rough paste.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Add salt and more Aleppo pepper if desired.   Refrigerate if not using immediately.

To prep and roast the chicken:

  1. Wash and dry the chicken.  Season the  inside and outside of the bird with salt and pepper, rub all over with the garlic mixture, cover loosely and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  3. Put half the muhammara in a separate bowl.  Cover the rest and reserve to serve with the chicken.
  4. Working gingerly, separate the skin from the meat of the breasts and the thighs.  Work an ounce of the muhammara between the skin and the meat of the bird at the breasts and thighs and down into the legs.
  5. Set the bird on a non-stick roasting rack in a roasting pan, breast-side down.  Add ¼ cup water to the pan.  Roast for  20 minutes.  Flip the bird skin-side up and baste with the roasting juices.  Roast an additional 40 minutes, basting every 15 minutes or so.  The chicken is done when the leg bones have a little play in the socket when you try to wiggle them.  Check the temperature at the joint between the thigh and leg.  It should read 165º.  If not, reduce the oven temperature to 350° and roast an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until the temperature is 165º.   Transfer the chicken to a cutting board.  Let the chicken rest 15 minutes before serving.
  6. Cut the chicken into 8 pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs and 4 breast portions, 2 of which include the wings).  Arrange on a platter.  Sprinkle with herbs and pomegranate seeds and serve.

Jody Notes:  

Yesterday afternoon I returned from a 24-hour trip to New York City where I helped TRADE Chef Andrew Hebert, Assistant GM Elissa Rae and the rest of the TRADE crew put on a  dinner at the James Beard House.  It was thrilling–really fun for all of us.  

But not good for The Garum Factory.  I had to write this week’s recipe and get a list of ingredients to Ken while on the train so he could do the shopping while I was in New York–I hadn’t had time to get to a farmers’ market before I left.  We had talked about muhammara.  How about roast chicken with muhammara ?  Easy and yummy.

Ken returned from Whole Foods with one of their best–yet not-so-local–chickens, red peppers from California and a ripe pomegranate from Chile.  Both of us had the same thought: “This would have been a great post for December–or February.”  We had no option but to plow ahead, but a little voice nagged in the back of my mind: “This isn’t exactly seasonal and it sure isn’t local.  Can I get away with this?”

And you know what?  The fact that I’m even having to deal with that thought makes me cranky.  A bright-eyed, red-lipsticked food blogger visiting the Beard House asked me, “What do you think of this new [my emphasis] farm-to-table trend in restaurants?”  Before I could answer she started gushing about a well-known chef and his restaurant.  “Don’t you think he’s had an amazing influence on how we eat today?”    Oh, gosh, yes, I nodded, biting my tongue.  Let’s see, that chef would still have been in diapers when I was buying freshly-picked produce, with the dirt to prove it,  from Farmer Ken out of the back of his pot-smoke-filled truck behind Hamersley’s Bistro in the 1980s.  No matter.  Farm-to-table must be NEW.  I love the fact that access to fresh food for all is on the cultural radar, and that everybody believes in supporting small local farmers.  But I’m beginning to resent the kind of holier-than-thou competition to see who can be the MOST LOCAL, the MOST SEASONAL, and the food-writing world’s encouragement of it.  I, for one, don’t want to be on that pedestal.  And I deeply dislike the guilt those trends arouse in home cooks who can’t meet the local/seasonal standard.   If local/seasonal is good, then food grown by chefs themselves must be even more local, right?   If some enterprising forager can rise at the crack of dawn to forage for milkweed and sumac, then wild food foraged by chefs themselves must somehow be even wilder, right?  Believe me, I admire chefs who farm or forage.  I admire anyone who can work 23 hours a day.  But if it makes me, a chef,  feel like a slacker because I’m not sourcing things from my own farm or nearby woods, what chance does the home cook have?  Where’s the fun?  

This week’s recipe was not made with local seasonal ingredients, although with a bit of legwork your version can be.  There, I’ve said it.  It’s off my chest and I’m feeling relieved, and a little rebellious, just like I did after we finished cooking dinner at the Beard House.  We walked out behind the tiny kitchen to get some air–and shared a cigarette.  It tasted great.  

To view a slideshow of this week’s photos, or to see a photo in a larger format, click on any of the thumbnails below.

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24 thoughts

  1. I appreciated Jody’s perspective and I hope some of that ire will propel her fast and furiously on her bike (I always run faster when I have something to get off my chest. Perhaps because it takes the emphasis off my aging knees). And Ken’s roast chicken entreaty made me smile. This Wednesday-worthy post was tangy and sweet. Just like muhammara. Can’t wait to try this recipe. Good luck on the ride!

    • Let me know how it goes. For some reason there’s something particularly piquant and amusing about muhammara making in your part of the world. On another note, I can’t tell you how many cyclists we know who ended up on bikes because of their knees. Since I took up cycling I’ve almost given up running, however, when I do run, I hear a voice in my head saying, “We’re not going to do this much longer, are we?” Ken

    • I think it would do well. I have a Texas wild turkey in my freezer right now that I’m considering slow-cooking and then serving as “pulled turkey” with muhammara. Just don’t let anyone see the turkey BEFORE it cooks. Ken

  2. Jody’s comment immediately reminded me of an article from the August 2012 Food & Wine. Katherine Wheelock explores if “Is Seasonal Eating is Overrated?” I actually went out and dug out the article because this one chef’s quote really struck me: “When Sara Jenkins opened her second NYC restaurant, Porsena, last winter, she created a minor stir by declaring that the menu wouldn’t be especially seasonal. ‘I buy not-local asparagus in February,’ Jenkins told me. ‘Even in ancient times, food was shipped left, right and center. We get so obsessive about things that we tend to make eating a chore. It’s one thing we’ve never really picked up from Europe — how to take great pleasure in eating.'” Loved getting Jody’s perspective on it. Especially loved the wonderful image of Farmer Ken and his pot-filled truck.

    • Molly and Slice, thanks so much for your votes of support for my comments. It does help fuel the ride. Covering 100ish miles a day is like spring cleaning… it lets you really clear out your mind. J

  3. Hi Jody and Ken-
    Fun recipe! Loved your comments and being one of the elders, I totally understand….clearly, what goes around comes around and for me, the tricky part is letting the new upstarts keep their enthusiasm for what they are doing (when you already know, been there done that!).
    Ride like the wind….we will be out there cheering Team Rialto-Trade…signs are already up in Brewster for the PMC, we will be making tons of sandwiches and snacks for the rest stop and of course, lots of people we be lining 6A….see you and the team Sunday morning as your all roll through…
    Cheers…BA

    • Thanks, BA! Everybody’s pumped! I think everyone wants to just get on their bikes and start pedaling. Looks like great weather. I’m driving the food for Saturday’s grilled dinner down to Marcy’s. Should be a great weekend. Ken

  4. I adore Muhammara, and I’m so happy to see it used this way….you two are so clever. Best of luck this weekend on the PMC, weather looks pretty cooperative. Ride safe and have FUN!

    • Thanks for the good wishes, Steve. Funny how many people love muhammra, yet it never seems to come up in what-do-cook? conversations. We including muhammara in the Team Rialto-Trade grill-out in Mashnee – serving it with grilled bluefish. Ken

  5. Here, here on seasonal guilt. We do our best, and we get through, and sometimes we get tired of keeping up. There are lots of important things to worry about in this world, but whether I miss the tomatoes at the farmer’s market this weekend shouldn’t have to be one of them!

    Great-sounding recipe. I’d like to make the muhamurra to take along on a vacation to Martha’s Vineyard in a couple of weeks. How long will it last in the fridge?

    • Easily a week. I suspect it could go for several weeks if carefully refrigerated, but as a general principle, we don’t keep things that long–even if we still had some remaining (unlikely). Sauces like muhammara are best used soon after they’re made–when their flavor is most vivid. If you’re going to be renting a house I’d arrange to bring the ingredients and make it fresh. Or make it right before you leave. Good luck. Ken

  6. I can’t tell you how many times I set out to make this dish and was thwarted, most recently on Monday, when a Justin Bieber-related incident dominated the evening (this time it’s personal, Bieber). Made it last night for dinner, had the leftovers for lunch today. Bliss. I guess you could say I’m a Belieber.

  7. Hi, Alison–You should hear my daughter on the Bieb, unprintable. But I am glad you finally had a chance to follow it through to the end. I love the side effect of the color it creates. Ken

  8. I arrived here by googling “what to do with muhammara.” Now the chicken is sitting in the fridge with garlic rub waiting for tomorrow and I am extremely excited about continuing with the recipe. I have a question: I don’t have a rack like the one you show. If I just set the chicken in the roasting pan like I usually do, just sitting on the bottom of the pan, would it still turn out OK in the end? (This is the first thing I am cooking from your blog, but wow, I have a long list already of other recipes I want to try!)

    • Hi, Sarah–I’m happy you found us. If you have a pan with a history of successfully roasting chickens it should be fine. We prefer to use the rack because it eliminates any possibility of the chicken sticking to the bottom, and it prevents the bottom of the chicken from becoming too sodden with juices. But like I said, if something already works for you, the muhammara shouldn’t affect it. Good luck. Ken

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