The spiciness of a dish is commonly judged to be the amount of palate-searing, eye watering pain inflicted by ingesting certain members of the chili family. If you are a fan of the “hotter is better” crowd, you can reference the Scoville chart, a points system that rates the pungency of every thing from the milder Jalapeño to the fiery Scotch Bonnet pepper. Luckily for the less pain-tolerant of us, spices come in many varieties that pack no heat whatsoever. I have mixed some of these milder elements to bring the warmth of the Eastern Mediterranean to our North Fork kitchens in October.
Instead of a conventional marinade, I have blended garlic, onions, oil and ginger with spices to create a paste that will coat the chicken and add maximum flavor throughout the marinating and cooking process.
The three stages of marinating, baking and then roasting, elevates the humble chicken thigh to a dish worthy of a king. This mixture also works well with shrimp. Marinate for up to six hours before roasting on a well-oiled sheet pan for 8 minutes at 360 degrees.
The paste can be made up to a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
Spiced Chicken with Honey Thyme Butter
The subtle flavors of this dish depend on the blend of spices, all of which can be purchased in the supermarket. Ground spices should be no more than six months old and stored in a cool dark place. Ideally, you should purchase from a specialized company such as www.kalyustans.com or www.penzeys.com, which have high turnover and source the best quality product. Cumin is the key element here, and I buy the whole seeds, which I roast for a couple of minutes in a cast iron skillet, before grinding in a small electric coffee mill or heavy pestle and mortar.
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 8 pieces)
¼ tsp. salt
½ small red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic peeled
½ inch piece fresh ginger
¼ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. allspice
1½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp smoked paprika (can substitute regular, not hot paprika)
¼ tsp ground ginger
¾ tsp kosher or fine sea salt
1¼ tsp. paste style spice sauce such as Harissa (not local brand Charissa, which is already seasoned), Go-Chu-Jang or Sriracha sauce
1/3 cup canola oil
Honey Thyme Butter
1 ½ Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Tbsp. clear honey
1 tsp. light soy sauce
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves minced
Fresh thyme leaves to garnish
Trim the chicken thighs and remove visible fat. Sprinkle lightly with salt and set aside Prepare the spice paste.
Place the red onion and garlic into the bowl of a blender or food processor. Grate the ginger into the blender using a fine grater such as micro plane. Process until finely chopped. Scrape down the bowl and add the fresh spices and salt. Blend again, before scraping down the bowl and adding the spice sauce and oil. Blend thoroughly. Scrape into a small bowl and stir to make sure everything is thoroughly mixed. The paste should be fairly loose but not too liquid.
Place the chicken in a shallow ovenproof baking dish that will hold all the pieces without crowding. Pour over the spice paste making sure each piece is thoroughly coated. Cover with cling wrap and place in the fridge for at least 3 hours, and up to 12 hours.
Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. Make sure the smooth side of the chicken is facing up and is thoroughly coated with the paste. Place on the middle shelf of a 360 degree oven and bake for 25 minutes. While the chicken is in the oven, place all of the ingredients for the honey thyme butter into a small pan. Warm over low heat until the butter is melted and stir to combine. Set aside. Remove the chicken from the oven to a heatproof surface and adjust the temperature to 375 degrees. Remove the chicken from the baking dish, minus the cooking liquid, taking care not to disturb the spice coating, before placing on a well-oiled baking sheet. Pour the remaining cooking liquid into a small heavy pan and set aside. Spoon half of the honey thyme butter over the chicken and return to the oven for a further 10-12 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside. While the chicken is baking, bring the reserved cooking liquid to a low boil and simmer until reduced and slightly thickened. Stir into the remaining honey thyme butter.
Place the chicken on a warmed platter and spoon over the remaining butter sauce. Sprinkle over the fresh thyme leaves and serve with the roasted carrots and a side of basmati rice or couscous.
Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of the carrots in this dish, while the broth keeps them nice and moist. Mild and mellow Aleppo pepper is an all-star from the chili family and is readily available online from Kalyustan and through Amazon. You can add the carrots to the oven 10 minutes after the chicken goes in. Remove the foil once the chicken goes back in for its final roast.
¾ lb. large carrots peeled
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp Aleppo Pepper flakes (you can substitute a good pinch of chili flakes and a dusting of mild paprika)
1/3 cup vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 tsp. salt
Slice the carrots crosswise on the diagonal to 1/3 inch thick. Place them in a shallow baking dish with the olive oil, salt and Aleppo pepper and toss thoroughly. Arrange in a single layer in the bottom of the pan and cover with aluminum foil. Roast at 365 degrees for 15 minutes, before removing the foil and cooking for a further 10 minutes.