Because I blog, I am always on the lookout for new recipes to try in the hope they will be worth blogging about. I am sad to say, this is not always the case.
Darling Colette gave me Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamini’s Jerusalem as a Christmas gift. It is an extremely popular book and for good reason – it is beautiful – I love it. Despite this, until one week ago I hadn’t made anything out of it.
Earlier this week, I decided it was time to change all that. My first attempt was Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad. It certainly looked lovely. The recipe required an orange, honey, saffron, vinegar and water be cooked together for about an hour and then pureed into a paste. Before I pureed it, I decided to taste the syrup. Yikes! It was bitter. Not to be deterred, I followed the recipe and processed it until I had a smooth paste. Before I added it to the rest of the ingredients, I decided to taste it, again. Yuk, it was horrid. All I could taste was bitterness from the pith. I decided to ditch the pureed orange and make a citrus dressing instead. If anyone has made this recipe, I would be interested in what they thought. I used a Valencia orange. Maybe I should have used a navel orange.
My next attempt was this recipe and, let me say right at the beginning, it was lovely. I was keen to try it but had no idea what clementines were. A quick web search and I found out they are a mandarin-orange cross but a lot like a mandarin. After my experience with the Valencia orange, I decided to use mandarins.
I was a bit nervous substituting mandarin and, knowing how popular this book is, I was certain other bloggers would have tried this recipe so I decided to see what they used. I was right. Loads of bloggers have showcased it. Interestingly, they were all uncertain about the Arak, not the clementines. Clearly, clementines are more readily available elsewhere than they are in Perth. For those who don’t know, Arak is an anise-flavoured spirit, popular in the Middle East.
Arak was not a problem. I had a bottle in my cupboard. We acquired it in Tyre on our Lebanese holiday. Tyre is in southern Lebanon and because it is so close to the Palestinian border and is Hesbollah territory, the Australian Government suggests Australians not go there. But we were fearless and it has some Roman ruins that sounded (and were) great. Tyre is predominately Muslim but has a very small Christian enclave where we stayed. Right on the edge of the enclave is a liquor store – the only one we saw in all of Lebanon. Maus headed there like a bee to a honey pot. She was determined to buy some Arak. She bought two bottles, one for us and one for our friends in Portugal. So, unlike most, I was set for the Arak. If you don’t have Arak, the authors suggest Ouzo or Pernod. They must be mad! There is no way I would waste beautiful Pernod in cooking. I love it way too much.
This dish has a light, sweet, slightly citrusy, slightly aniseedy flavour. I loved it. The mandarins, however, were evil. Luckily, I tasted one before I served. It reminded me of that horrible bitter orange. I decided to check out the other bloggers again to see whether any of them mentioned this or whether it was because I used mandarins. This is what one blogger, Alexandra from Alexandra Cooks said:
Also, all of the clementine pieces, as pretty as they appear, are not edible: the ones that are exposed (above the juices during the roasting) crisp up, becoming almost candy-like but bitter in taste; the ones that remain under the juices during the entire cooking process, however, are soft and delicious. I have not tried this, but it might be worthwhile to strategically arrange some of the clementine pieces under the chicken and juices.
I felt better. Notwithstanding the above, I wouldn’t omit the clementines/mandarins as I am sure they add to the complexity of the dish. Next time, I will do what Alexandra suggests and tuck them under the chicken.
This recipe will serve 4+. We had ours with additional roasted vegetables and will get 3 meals, ie, six servings from the recipe.
- 100mls Arak, Ouzo or Pernod
- 4 tbs* olive oil
- 3 tbs* orange juice
- 3 tbs* lemon juice
- 2 tbs* grainy mustard
- 3 tbs* light brown sugar
- 2 medium fennel bulbs
- 1 large chicken, divided into 8 pieces, or the same weight in chicken pieces with the skin and on the bone
- 4 clementines, unpeeled, sliced horizontally – or, if you are like me and have never set eyes on a clementine, 4 mandarins
- 1 tbs* thyme leaves
- 2½ tsp fennel seeds, slightly crushed
- salt and coarsely ground black pepper
- chopped parsley, to serve
*These are 15 mil tablespoons.
- Put the first six ingredients in a large mixing bowl and add 2½ teaspoons of salt and 1½ teaspoons of black pepper. Whisk well and set aside.
- Trim the fennel and cut each bulb in half, lengthwise. Cut each half into 4 wedges. Add the fennel to the bowl, along with the remaining ingredients.
- Mix well, then leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight (Yotam and Sami indicate that skipping the marinating stage is also fine, if you are pressed for time).
- Preheat the oven to 200°C.
- Transfer the chicken and its marinade to a baking pan large enough to accommodate everything comfortably in a single layer. Ensure the chicken skin is facing up.
- Put the pan in the preheated oven and roast for about 45 minutes or until the chicken is coloured and cooked through.
- At this stage, the recipe said to:
Lift the chicken, fennel, and clementines from the pan and arrange on a serving plate; cover and keep warm. Pour the cooking liquid into a small saucepan, place over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and then simmer until the sauce is reduced by a third, so you are left with about 80 ml. Pour the hot sauce over the chicken, garnish with some chopped parsley, and serve.
As you can see from the photo, I didn’t have any juice left in the pan, so I skipped this step.
Interesting what happens with the oranges in the cooking process & now you’ve got me wondering why that is. I’ve never heard of that Arak but have to say you’re very adventurous cozying up with Hezbollah!
As for the ouzo I’d say that cooking is about the only use for that. Have you ever tried it? Yikes, talk about getting knocked on your keester!
Diane, I don’t mind Ouzo. I like all things aniseed, especially black jelly beans!!
I have heard great raves about Ottolenghi’s cookbook but do not own a copy yet. This dish looks very delicious and sounds very flavorsome indeed. It has been a few years since I last visited Lebanon, a beautiful place.
Hi Moya, I do love Lebanon, I just hope it escapes all the turmoil at its borders. I will keep trying with a few more Ottolenghi’s recipes. They sure look and sound great.
I haven’t bought Jerusalem but I do have a couple of his other books which I find fabulous, but all the recipes are fiddly and I can get lazy, so I don’t make them often. You’ve made me very curious to try Arak now! 🙂
Celia, Arak isn’t bad. It is not unlike Ouzo, Pernod is a step up though.
Hi Glenda, I’ve made Ottolenghi’s saffron and herb salad and found the dressing wonderful, although the use of saffron was superfluous with the orange. I’m not sure what sort of orange I use, probably a Valencia as it was late summer. Once mixed with the chicken and salad leaves/herbs the tang ( bitterness) was really interesting. I used champagne vinegar which is pretty mild and maple syrup instead of the honey. Having said all that, my success/love rate with Ottolenghi’s recipes is low. I now treat them as great ideas for further development
Sandra, All I could taste was bitter pith. Should I try again??
my favourite part of this post is your story about your lebanon experience and your fearless resolve to visit tyre..the chicken dish does sound interesting and one i’d like to try even though i’m not a big anise fan..but i adore licorice..x
Hi Jane, I am so glad we went to Lebanon last year. I don’t think I would go this year. It is getting all too scary for me.
I imagine the chicken pieces and fennel soaked up the cooking juices, as they look lovely and moist. An interesting complex combination of flavours.
Hi Ella, it was very lovely, except the mandarin slices.
I have found some of Ottolenghi’s recipes a little odd and have only made a dish or two. I enjoyed reading about the different interpretations of hummus for example in ‘Jerusalem’. A recent purchase at Big W, where all his books are now available cheaply, was his restaurant recipe book and this seems far more user friendly and tempting.
Your chicken dish looks lovely- great flavours with the herbs and fennel. One could just leave out the mandarins, but i guess it is important to try.
Hi Francesca, I am off to Big W when I am next in Perth. I love a cookbook bargain.