Monday, September 9, 2013

Grilled Sumac Chicken

grilled sumac chicken with onions
This is the first time I've ever cooked with sumac, a popular spice in the Middle East and Mediterranean region. In those parts of the world, tart red sumac berries are dried and ground into a fragrant, burgundy-colored coarse powder with a distinctively bright and lemony flavor. Sumac is used to season chicken and fish before cooking, stirred into rice and salad recipes, and sprinkled over hummus and warm pita bread  that's first brushed with olive oil. In addition to its culinary applications, sumac is also used in tanning leather and dyeing fabrics.  **Note: Edible sumac is a different plant from poison sumac and does NOT contain the toxin found in poison sumac. You can buy ground sumac online or at Middle Eastern and specialty markets.

Recipes for sumac chicken are common in Lebanese, Moroccan, Persian, Palestinian and other Middle Eastern and Arab cuisinse. Traditionally, the chicken is coated with ground sumac and baked or roasted over sliced onions layered on top of pita bread rounds.  As the chicken cooks, its juices are soaked up by the pita bread, making for quite the delicious, if not exactly low-carb or low-fat, meal.  For a healthier dish that's very low carb (as well as gluten-free) and lower in fat, I adapted the traditional recipe for the grill and omitted the pita bread altogether. If carbohydrates or gluten aren't a concern, you can serve my grilled sumac chicken with or over pita bread, rice or couscous.

Click here to buy sumac online
Approx. 3 lbs cut chicken (I used leg quarters & removed most of the skin)
1 onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon (approx. 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice)
1/4 cup ground sumac
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp coarsely ground peppercorns (I crush them using a mortar & pestle)
Optional garnish: Chopped parsley

Combine all ingredients except the garnish in a resealable 1-gallon plastic bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing. Shake and knead the bag to combine thoroughly and coat the chicken evenly with the marinade. Place in refrigerator to marinate several hours or overnight, turning and gently shaking the bag once or twice during that time to ensure even distribution of the marinade. When ready to grill, remove chicken from bag and place on grill grate over indirect medium heat, and transfer the onions into a grill wok or basket also over indirect medium heat. Pour any remaining marinade over the chicken at the beginning of the cooking time, then discard bag (do NOT baste during cooking with any used marinade).

Grilling sumac chicken with onions

Cook until the onions are golden and the chicken is fully done (the internal temperature reaches 165°F), turning the chicken once or twice and stirring the onions a few times. The chicken should be done in about 30 minutes and the onions in about 15 minutes so be prepared to remove the onions from the grill first.

checking the temperature of grilled chicken

Serve the chicken with the onions -- you can serve with or over couscous, rice or pita bread if you wish -- and garnish with chopped parsley or a light sprinkling of ground sumac if desired. Makes 4-5 servings.

Zestfully yours,

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