Lebanese Lemon Chicken

I honestly think this is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever cooked. It comes from a Jamie Oliver book called Jamie’s Kitchen (click here for more details) and the picture looked so fantastic I instantly knew exactly what it was going to be like – crispy chicken bursting with spices, and sticky lemon-fragranced bulgur wheat. If you haven’t tried bulgur wheat before, I’d really, really recommend it. It looks a bit like couscous, but (partly as a result of how it’s cooked) it ends up less dry and seems to absorb much more flavour.

The basic gist of the recipe is that it involves coating chicken pieces (the recipe calls for wings or legs, but the first time I made it I only had chicken breasts, and having now tried it both ways I think the breasts soaked up much more of the flavour) in a mixture of ground spices and flour, including cumin, cinnamon and fennel seeds, which bring a really interesting depth of flavour to the chicken. On a side note – I reckon it really is worth investing in herbs and spices to have in your cupboard. It might seem a bit much having to pay a couple of quid for a small jar but they last for ages and make such a huge difference to how interesting everything tastes.

The bulgur wheat is flavoured with sweet fried onions, preserved lemons (although I used slices of ordinary lemon – be careful only to use a few slices if you do this, or it’ll end up bitter), rosemary and any of the flour/spice mix you have left over, simmered in a mixture of white wine and chicken stock. Once you’ve browned the chicken, you cook it on top of the bulgur wheat mixture with the help of a cartouche – a circle of greaseproof paper cut to fit the saucepan you’re using, and greased with a little bit of olive oil. This was a new one on me, but apparently it means that the bulgur wheat underneath the paper stews very slowly in the liquid and doesn’t lose too much of the moisture, but what it does lose helps keep the chicken on top of the paper slightly moist. It’s also a really great technique because it means you only need one pot, and you can stick it into the oven and just leave it, if you’ve got people coming round to eat. To make a cartouche, cut out a square of greaseproof paper that’s bigger than the saucepan you’re using, and then, starting with the left-hand side, fold the edge over and over, diagonally from the bottom left-hand corner, until you end up with a long quill of folded paper. Measure it against the pan so that the point is exactly in the centre, and cut off the excess paper that sticks out over the lip of the pan. If you’ve managed to follow these (frankly confusing) instructions, when you open it out you should have a perfectly-sized circle of paper!

The end product was completely delicious – the bulgur wheat in particular was amazing, all gooey and delicately flavoured with lemon. Jamie doesn’t suggest anything else to serve with it, but we decided to add something green in the form of rocket – I reckon the strong peppery flavour is great to liven up a rich dish like this one. Finally, add a good dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche on the side, to mellow the rich spiciness of the dish. Fabulous.