Poulet harissa

Harissa chicken

This dish is my take on a fantastic recipe I found about a year ago on the blog of the chef and food writer David Lebovitz, who himself adapted it from a cookbook called Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark.

The key ingredient is harissa, a North African red chili pepper paste that is readily available in France. If you can’t find it in your area, it can be ordered on Amazon — or you can substitute another hot sauce, e.g. sambal oelek.

I like to make this dish with deboned chicken — it shortens the cooking time and makes for easier eating. Go for free-range or organic chicken legs and have the butcher debone them for you if possible, leaving the thighs and drumsticks attached together. Or, if you prefer, you can leave the bones in, but in this case separate the thighs from the drumsticks.

The chicken and potatoes need to marinate in the harissa sauce for at least half an hour before going into the oven. If you’d like to get started earlier, no problem — you can refrigerate the mixture for several hours or overnight. This will only intensify the flavor.

The quantities below will serve two people generously.

2 tbsp. harissa or another hot sauce
3 tbsp. olive oil
1-1/2 tsp. sea salt or table salt

1 tsp. ground cumin
freshly ground black pepper
2 chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks), deboned
2 medium-to-large potatoes
1 leek

1 lemon
1/2 cup plain yogurt (1 small pot if in France)
1 clove garlic
several sprigs fresh herbs: cilantro, dill, parsley or a combination

In a large bowl, combine the harissa, 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1/2 tsp. salt and the cumin. Grind in some black pepper. Add the chicken and stir well to coat.

Rinse the potatoes and, leaving the skin on, cut into largish cubes — 3/4 inch (2 cm) per side. Add to the bowl. Stir well to coat with the sauce.

Allow the chicken and potatoes to marinate for half an hour at room temperature — or refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

While the chicken is marinating, prepare the leek. Slice off the bottom, cut in half lengthwise and then slice thinly crosswise. Place in a medium bowl.

Add 1 tbsp. olive oil and 1/2 tsp. salt to the bowl. Grate the lemon peel and add (set the peel-free lemon aside for use later). Stir well.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7 (400 F, 210 C).

Line a roasting pan with parchment paper (or you can just oil the pan). The pan should be big enough to accommodate the chicken and potatoes in a single layer. Transfer the chicken, potatoes and sauce into the pan, chicken skin side up. Roast for 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. Toss the potatoes to allow them to brown evenly. Scatter the leeks over the pan. Return to the oven for another 20 minutes.

While the chicken finishes roasting, prepare the yogurt sauce. Place the yogurt in a small bowl. Stir well to smooth. Peel and mince the garlic and add. Add the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and grind in some black pepper. Stir.

Place a sieve over the bowl and squeeze half of your peel-free lemon through it. Taste, and if you’d like more tang (unlikely), squeeze the other half through as well. Stir.

Chop the fresh herbs coarsely (more = better).

When the chicken is ready, transfer the contents of your roasting pan to a serving dish. Drizzle with the yogurt sauce. Strew the fresh herbs over the top.

Serve piping hot, accompanied by a sturdy red wine. Serves 2.

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