Being served a dish that is so good it makes you hunt down the recipe and make it again and again is such a gift. It’s like someone curating the world’s recipes for you, hand selecting the one that suits your taste and serving you a meal that is everlasting.
My aunt (hi Aunty Roe!) served this Karen Martini chicken dish at Christmas time and it had me going back for seconds. I’ve made it several times since, and with Easter gatherings imminent, I thought I’d share this Cinderella style dish that takes the humble chicken thigh and transforms it into a bejewelled goddess.
Chicken thighs are not the most glamorous of ingredients, but the darker, moist meat found on the thigh is full of flavour thanks to a higher fat content. You can pick up a tray of thighs cheaply, which makes them great for feeding a crowd. The list of ingredients for this recipe is long, but the process is simple: marinate, grill, dress, serve. The result is fragrant, sticky grilled chicken with a sweet and tangy dressing, crowned with a colourful array of fruit, nuts and herbs.
A recipe that starts with a satisfying pounding in a mortar and pestle is always going to be full of flavour. Garlic, cinnamon, lemon and thyme are bashed together, filling the kitchen with exotic aromas. This forms the base of the marinade, which gets interesting thanks to the addition of rosewater. This sweet smelling liquid is often used in middle eastern desserts, but in this dish it adds a beautifully fragrant touch to the chicken without being overpowering (it does smell very “rosey” before it is cooked, but softens in the final product). Marinating the meat in this heady concoction for a few hours sets this dish up to be packed with flavour.
The dressing uses pomegranate molasses, an ingredient you can pick up from Middle Eastern grocers or fancier food stores. It is a thick, dark red reduction of pomegranate juice that tastes sweet and tart. I didn’t have any when I first made the dish so I substituted maple syrup instead. Although it lacked the delicious tang the pomegranate molasses provides, the flavour was still interesting thanks to the sweetness of the maple. (If you do find pomegranate molasses, here’s some ideas for how to use the leftovers). Also, rosewater essence can be easier to find than rosewater, so a few drops of that with some extra oil can be used instead of rosewater if your supermarket is lacking in the persian department.
Grilling the marinated chicken provides a more masculine, charcoal flavour to compliment the delicate rose. Serve on a platter at the table, with the rich, thick dressing pooling in and around the chicken, and the aromatic mint, vibrant pomegranate arils and crunchy nuts adding texture and glamour.
Serves 6-8. Marinating time is at least 2 hours. Cooking time is about 20 minutes.
- 6 cloves garlic
- 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 8 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons sea-salt flakes
- 4-5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 150ml rosewater
- 8 chicken thighs (skin and bone still attached preferably, skinless and boneless still work though)
- 3 tablespoons flaked almonds
- Seeds of ½ pomegranate (my favourite way to get the seeds out of the pomegranate is like this)
- ¼ bunch mint, leaves picked
- Cooked couscous, to serve
- 2 small red chillies, thinly sliced
- 5 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (or maple syrup, for a sweeter end result)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 tablespoons rosewater
- 120ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
Pound your garlic, cinnamon, lemon juice, thyme, pepper and salt in a mortar and pestle to a coarse paste and transfer to a bowl. Add oil and rosewater. If you’re using chicken thighs with skin and bone still attached, score the skin and run the knife along the length of the bone on the underside of each cutlet. Massage the marinade into the chicken, cover and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours to let the flavour develop.
Cook your chicken on a BBQ or chargrill pan over a medium-high heat until chicken is cooked through (20-25 minutes).
While that’s happening, make your dressing by putting all the ingredients into a bowl and stirring to combine.
Pop your cooked chicken onto a serving dish, pour the dressing over the chicken and sprinkle with almonds, pomegranate seeds and mint. Serve with cous cous.