A Middle Eastern Weeknight One-Pot Chicken

April 23, 2015

There are 3 million chicken recipes on the internet. We're here to show you the good ones. Win, win.

Today: A one-pot meal, courtesy of your pantry (and freezer).

Chicken with Caramelized Sumac Onions

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We've all been there: After a long day, you pull open the refrigerator door to realize that the most nutrient-rich thing you have is a lone box of baking soda, dutifully soaking up the odors of nonexistent food. You pick up the phone to order takeout, then stop short when you remember the chicken stockpiled in the freezer. Sweet, sweet flavor-absorbent, quick-to-cook chicken. You grab a motley bag of breasts and thighs and set it in a bowl of warm water to defrost while you rummage through your pantry for accoutrements.

It's in such moments that this recipe for Chicken with Caramelized Sumac Onions, Preserved Lemon, and Israeli Couscous shines. Provided that you have chicken in your freezer—or your fridge, for that matter—you should already have the makings of this dish, as the rest of the ingredients can be found in a well-stocked pantry or countertop fruit bowl. Once you've raided your pantry, the entire process takes forty minutes and one pot. To make it, braise the chicken, then cook it along with couscous in a spiced broth flavored with caramelized onion, garlic, and preserved lemon. The end result is a rich, surprisingly bright dish worthy of your weeknight back-pocket repertoire.

Chicken with Caramelized Sumac Onions, Preserved Lemon, and Israeli Couscous

Serves 4 to 6

2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken (a combination of skin-on, bone-in breasts and boneless, skinless thighs)
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
2 teaspoons grapeseed oil (or another high-heat oil)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium to large yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled then mashed or pressed
1 1/2 cups chicken broth, plus more as needed
3 teaspoons sumac
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons allspice
2 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon
1 cup pearled (Israeli) couscous

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photo by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Eve Lunt
    Eve Lunt
  • Mary Bachmayer
    Mary Bachmayer
  • Alex Txn
    Alex Txn
  • Winniecooks
  • Sue Rupp
    Sue Rupp
I eat everything.


Eve L. September 10, 2015
truthteller did you even read the thread? Your comment isn't funny, it's offensive.
Mary B. April 30, 2015
Our local grain products mill has solved this political dilemma by producing "pearl couscous", thereby offending no one, or perhaps, everyone. Whatever you call it, it's delicious. I'm with Evalunta - salaam, shalom, let's eat!
Leslie S. May 1, 2015
Agreed! It's a delicious dish, no matter what the grains are called. I hope you enjoy it!
Eve L. April 30, 2015
Wow getting a little hot in this kitchen! Maftoul/Ptitm it's all yummy! I love the Jerusalem cookbook for embracing and teaching us all about all the different tastes of that beautiful city. Shalom! Salaam! Let's Eat!
Leslie S. May 1, 2015
I couldn't agree more! It's interesting to understand the history of the grains though—food has such a prominent place in history!
Alex T. April 27, 2015
Israeli couscous?? since when Israel has its own couscous! For God's sake
Leslie S. April 28, 2015
Roughly 50 years! It was invented between 1949 and 1959.
Hanan April 28, 2015
Leslie that simply is it true. There is no such thing as 'Israeli couscous' and it has surly not been invited in Israel. This is a traditional Palestinian dish, women have made for many many years. My grandma learned it from her grandma and both lived and made this couscouse, called Maftool, long before the state of Israel ever existed in 1948. Please check your sources before posting such fraudulent claims.
Leslie S. April 28, 2015
Hanan, Israeli couscous is another word for "Ptitim" in Hebrew, and was invented in the 1950s when the first Israeli prime minster, David Ben-Gurion, asked the food company Osem to create a wheat-based substitute for rice because of the need to ration rice. In Palestine, similar dishes may use maftoul, which is a different type of couscous—and you're correct, it has existed for much longer than Israeli couscous. But this dish, created by em-i-lis, calls for Israeli couscous.
Jason April 30, 2015
Wow Leslie, I did not know that! Thanks for dropping the knowledge.
Mary B. April 26, 2015
Wow, this hits the spot. It's exactly the way I am eating right now (a la Ottolenghi Jerusalem) and I just happen to have preserved lemons in the fridge. Thanks so much!
em-i-lis April 26, 2015
Hi Mary, I'm so happy this sounds good to you, and I hope you enjoy it. :)
Winniecooks April 26, 2015
Trader Joe's has great single dish sized boxes of Israeli couscous that I keep on hand for veggie/couscous sides as consistently as pasta. I like the pearl couscous much better than the usual small grain type. I agree on the preserved lemons - not in my pantry. Do they store well in the fridge after opening a jar?
em-i-lis April 26, 2015
They do store well! And there are so many great ways to use preserved lemons. Two of my favorite ways other than this dish are:
lalf April 26, 2015
Some good news: Trader Joe's has "Preserved Tunisian Lemon Slices"! I bought a jar but have not yet used them.
Leslie S. April 27, 2015
Sue R. April 26, 2015
Leslie S. April 26, 2015
Thank you for your input!
Millie |. April 25, 2015
This looks amazing and such an easy meal!
em-i-lis April 25, 2015
Thank you so much! I hope you like it!
Sugartoast April 23, 2015
Congratulations, Em!!! Will have to try this soon, looks absolutely gorgeous and delicious.
em-i-lis April 23, 2015
Thank you, Sugartoast!! If you make it, I hope you enjoy!!
em-i-lis April 23, 2015
I'm so happy you enjoyed my dish, Leslie!! Thank you for making and highlighting it. It's very simple to make quick preserved lemons, y'all! I love this easy recipe:
You just need lemons, lemon juice, kosher salt and a skillet! Thank you again!
Leslie S. April 23, 2015
Thank you for writing it! It's a great recipe—I had more than my fair share when it came out of the test kitchen :) And thank you for this preserved lemon recipe!
Sandra April 23, 2015
I make something similar, only using Pita bread instead of couscous. So simple and delicious. Uses fewer ingredients. We love it! I serve curry couscous as a side.
Leslie S. April 23, 2015
It'll have to try that! Thank you for your recommendation!
yhartstein April 23, 2015
thanks for a great looking recipe!! I have these items in my pantry (they sell preserved lemons at Trader Joe's these days) but perhaps I have an advantage as I am from the Middle East and consider these items to be staples.
Leslie S. April 23, 2015
They're everywhere these days! Hope you enjoy the dish!
BC M. April 23, 2015
I agree whole-heartedly with David Cannon (I usually have sumac and Israeli couscous on hand, but preserved lemons require a trip to the store). I would wager that even "hard core" foodies do not necessarily have all of these ingredients immediately at the ready, 24/7. Something to aspire to, perhaps... One day when the kids are grown up!
Leslie S. April 23, 2015
You're almost there! You can also make preserved lemons at home (they take a little longer than a trip to the store) with some salt and lemons:
David C. April 23, 2015
"A well-stocked pantry"

I have a decently-stocked pantry, but I don't have Israeli couscous or preserved lemon on hand. Luckily I just bought some sumac, but you're pushing it.

This looks really good and I'm going to try it, but I wouldn't pitch it as something anyone could just throw together without a side trip to an ethnic store.
Leslie S. April 23, 2015
Every pantry's a little different! The great thing about many of these ingredients though, if you don't already have them, is that once you buy them, they last for a long time so you can keep them in your pantry for next time the need for chicken strikes!