This chicken and rice dish makes a great meal for special occasions or impressing guests. It’s quite simple to prepare but is full of flavor, and the za’atar brings it all together. Brining the chicken keeps the meat moist while the skin gets nice and crispy, making for a great presentation and almost foolproof cooking. The rice pilaf is hearty and savory, and it cooks up quickly while the chicken roasts.
by Rie McClenny and Blake Besharian
for 4 servings
5 lb whole chicken (2 ¼ kg)
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorn
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seed
4 qt water (4 L), divided
4 sprigs fresh oregano
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 dried bay leaves
½ cup kosher salt (120 g)
½ cup dark brown sugar (110 g), packed
¼ cup soy sauce (60 mL), or tamari
1 oz lemon peel (30 g), chopped
1 oz garlic (30 g), chopped
3 tablespoons canola oil, or other neutral oil
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons za'atar
2 cups chicken stock (480 mL)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 garlics, halved lengthwise
½ cup fideo (75 g), broken vermicelli noodles
1 ½ cups white basmati rice (300 g)
¼ cup olive oil (60 mL)
1 ½ teaspoons za'atar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges
Spatchcock the chicken: Place the chicken, breast-side down, on a cutting board. Using a pair of kitchen shears or a very sharp knife, find the backbone of the chicken and cut up both sides to remove. Remove any giblets remaining inside the chicken. Turn the chicken over and press down on the breastbone until the chicken lies flat.
Make the brine: In a small, dry pan, toast the peppercorns, fennel seeds, and coriander seeds until fragrant and starting to change color, 1-2 minutes.
Transfer the toasted spices to a large pot with 1 quart (1 liter) of water, the oregano, thyme, bay leaves, salt, brown sugar, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt, then let boil for 1 minute. Remove the pot from the heat. Transfer the brine to a large container. Cool the brine by adding the remaining water.
Place the chicken in the brine, cover the container, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Place a wire rack or roasting rack on top of a baking sheet.
Make the chicken seasoning: In a food processor, combine the lemon peel, garlic, and canola oil. Process into a thick paste.
Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Use your fingers to carefully separate the skin from the breasts and thighs. Rub the lemon garlic paste over the bird, making sure to get some under the skin. Rub the softened butter underneath and over the skin. Season on both sides with the salt and za’atar. Place the chicken on the rack set over the baking sheet, breast-side up.
Roast the chicken for 40-50 minutes, until the breast meat reaches 145°F (63°C).
Roast until the thigh meat, near the bones, reaches 160°F (71°C). Remove from the oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the rice pilaf: Place the rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under running water until the water runs clear. Transfer the rice to a medium bowl and cover with water by 1 inch (2.5 cm). Soak for 10 minutes.
Add the chicken stock to a small pot and bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low so the stock stays warm.
In a large pot or pan over medium heat, combine the butter, garlic, and fideo. Cook, stirring constantly, until most of the noodles are golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Drain the rice once the noodles are toasted, then add to the pan and sauté until the rice is dry and coated with the butter, 2-3 minutes.
Add the hot chicken stock, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the noodles curl up, about 15 minutes. Fluff the pilaf with a fork, then cover again and let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Make the za’atar oil: In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, za’atar, and salt.
Carve the chicken, then arrange over the rice pilaf and spoon the za’atar oil over. Garnish with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.