I love harissa. Have you tried it? It’s a North African chile paste, a blend of dried chiles, spices, and olive oil. You could use store-bought harissa, but I prefer to make it myself. When you make harissa, you control the ingredients and level of heat, make it more or less spicy by the combination of dried chiles you use. It’s just a matter of soaking the dried chiles in hot water to rehydrate and then pulsing all the ingredients in a food processor.
I’ve been making harissa for years and always have a jar on hand. It’s versatile to say the least. If you haven’t tried shakshuka (eggs baked in a tomato-red pepper sauce with harissa and spices), then you must. But that’s just the beginning. I’ve used harissa as a condiment for sandwiches, on fish (salmon), in hummus, in soups, pasta, and roast meats.
On my to-do list, a harissa-spiced chicken.
I debated on whether to just marinate the chicken with harissa or maybe harissa and yogurt or maybe in a broth of sorts. Decisions, decisions?? At some point I plan on making them all, but there’s only so much I can eat and only so much time in the day, so will have to leave the other renditions for a later date.
For today’s version, I simply browned the chicken in a cast-iron skillet (with coconut oil) and then used the same pan to make a broth — chicken stock, harissa, coconut milk, ginger, garlic, and shallot. I added a little honey, just needed a little sweetness to counterbalance the spiciness of the harissa. Then into the oven to finish cooking. And, the verdict…
It was one of those fortuitous days in the kitchen when everything just worked (believe me, it’s not always like that, you just don’t get to see that side). I was concerned that the coconut milk might overpower the other flavors, but it blended perfectly with the other ingredients.
What really brings it all together for me is the charred lemon. The lemons were seared on a very hot cast iron skillet for 5 minutes until charred. I squeezed the charred lemon juice over the finished dish for a welcome addition of acid.
I love that the chickens from Violet Hill Farms includes the feet. To be honest, I don’t know what the heck to do with the feet? Suggestions?? For now, I stuck them in the freezer along with the neck and carcass (after I broke down the chicken) and am planning on tossing them into the pot when I make my next batch of chicken stock.
Made a side of Israeli couscous — with toasted almonds, chopped dates, onion, and parsley — to accompany the roast chicken.
For this batch of harissa I used a combination of ancho, guajillo, and chipotle chiles. It wasn’t quite as hot as I wanted, so I upped the heat quotient with some ground piri piri chiles (or cayenne).
Ancho = dried poblano chile; fruity and raisin-y; mild heat (1,000 to 1,500 Scoville units).
Guajillo = dried guajillo chile, earthy and slightly smoky; medium heat (2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units).
Chipotle (Morita) = smoked, dried jalapeno chile; smoky and fruity; fairly hot (3,000 to 10,000 Scoville units).
Harissa Coconut Chicken
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 (4-pound) whole chicken, broken down into parts
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1-inch piece of ginger, grated on a microplane
3 cloves of garlic, grated on a microplane
2 to 4 tablespoons harissa (more or less depending on the level of heat of your harissa).
2 cups of chicken stock
1 (14-ounce) can of coconut milk
2 teaspoons honey
cilantro, chopped for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Heat the coconut oil in a large oven proof skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the drippings. Add the shallot and saute a few minutes until soft. Add the ginger and garlic and saute another minute. Add the stock, coconut milk, and honey. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer. Nestle the chicken pieces in the pan.
Place in the oven and cook 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through (internal temperature = 165F). Garnish with cilantro and a squeeze of the charred lemon.
*To char the lemon: Slice the lemon in half. Toss in olive oil. Heat a cast-iron skillet. When smoking hot, place the lemon halves cut side down. Cook about 5 minutes until nicely charred.
4 ounces dried chiles, such as guajillo, ancho, pasilla, chipotle); (used 3/4 guajillo, 1/4 ancho, and 1 chipotle chile for a little extra heat)
1 red bell pepper, roasted
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for topping
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
salt to taste
squeeze of lemon
pinch of cayenne (optional); depending on the heat of the dried chiles
Cut the stems off the chiles. Cut the chiles lengthwise and remove the seeds and veins. Place the chiles in a bowl. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Pour the water over the chiles and let them steep for about one hour. Weigh down the chiles with a small plate to make sure they’re submerged. When the chiles are soft, drain well and discard the soaking liquid.
To roast the red bell pepper: Place the whole pepper over the gas range of your stove top, turning the pepper every few minutes until completely charred on all sides. Place the pepper in a paper bag for 5 to 10 minutes to help loosen the skins. The skins should slide right off. Slice open, remove the seeds, roughly chop.
Toast and grind the coriander/cumin/caraway seeds as follows: Toast the seeds in a dry skillet, over medium-low heat, swirling the pan, until fragrant and slightly darkened, a minute or two. Grind in a spice-grinder or by hand with a mortar and pestle.
Place the rehydrated chiles and the remaining ingredients in a food processor. Blend until they form a smooth puree. Place in a jar and cover with olive oil.
Israeli Couscous with Dates and Almonds
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 cup Israeli couscous
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or water
3 to 4 pitted dates, chopped
1 teaspoon Lebanese 7-spice blend
1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped
1/ 4 cup parsley, chopped
sea and pepper
Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and season with a pinch of salt. Saute until the onion is soft, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the couscous and cook, stirring 4-5 minutes, until golden and toasty. Add the stock, dates, Lebanese seven-spice blend, and a big pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 13 minutes or until the couscous is soft. Stir in the almonds and parsley.