roasted chicken with za’atar and lemon

You might be wondering, given my recent rash of restaurant reviews, if I’ve been cooking over the past few weeks. Answer: minimally. This spring has brought sunny skies and total upheaval into my everyday existence, and I’ve been swept away by easy, but expensive, eating out.

It was with some relief, then, that I found myself alone in the kitchen with a whole chicken. I wanted desperately to get back into my gastronomic groove, starting with an Easter dinner. First, however, allow me to digress… I was born and raised Roman Catholic, in a home where we followed all the Western-invented conventions of religion. When it came to our Sunday suppers, however, my family deviated… and deliciously so. Hold the sparkly glazed hams and fluffy deviled eggs; we’ll take deep-fried egg rolls and sloshy noodle soups, thankyouverymuch.

This year, I kept up the tradition of non-traditional food by preparing a Middle Eastern-inspired spread (though I suspect that the flavors of the Fertile Crescent are actually the most historically accurate and observant of all). Whatever your stance on religion etc., this roasted chicken is worth some worship. I’d always thought Yotam Ottolenghi-authored recipes were intimidating, but my first venture with his cooking came together with astonishing ease. After a nice long bath in a flavor-packed marinade and some luxuriating in the oven, the chicken emerges smelling heavenly and tasting divine. Hallelujah!

Roasted chicken with za’atar and lemon

Recipe adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, courtesy of The Splendid Table

I’ve included my own spin on the recipe below, but I highly recommend trying it as written originally (linked above). Sadly I didn’t have sumac or pine nuts in my pantry, so I substituted lemon zest and almonds. The chicken was still incredibly tasty, but I suspect the substituted spices and nuts would’ve taken it over the top.


  • 1 medium organic or free-range chicken, divided into quarters: breast and wing, leg and thigh
  • Marinade spice mix
    • 2 red onions, thinly sliced
    • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
    • 4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
    • 2 tbsp za’atar
    • 1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
    • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
    • scant 1 cup / 200 ml chicken stock or water
    • 1 1/2 tsp salt, plus extra
    • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Nut topping
    • 4 tsp / 20 g ghee
    • 6 tbsp / 50 g almonds
  • 4 tbsp chopped curly leaf parsley


  1. In a large bowl, mix the chicken with the onions, garlic, olive oil, spices, lemon, stock, salt, and pepper. Leave in the fridge to marinate for a few hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Transfer the chicken and its marinade to a baking sheet large enough to accommodate all the chicken pieces lying flat and spaced well apart. They should be skin side up. Sprinkle the za’atar over the chicken and onions. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes (though, in our oven, it took more like 50-60 minutes), until the chicken is colored and just cooked through.
  3. Meanwhile, melt the ghee in a small frying pan, add the almonds and a pinch of salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they turn golden. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the fat.
  4. Transfer the hot chicken and onions to a serving plate and finish with the chopped parsley, pine nuts, and a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle on more za’atar and sumac, if you’d like.

2 thoughts on “roasted chicken with za’atar and lemon

  1. Pingback: greatest hits of 2014 | yours, julie

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