Dinner Tonight: Tunisian Chicken by Way of Burma

March 22, 2016

There are some ingredients that can instantly elevate a dish. They tend to be buzzy—like trendy sauces or of-the-moment spice mixes—but often the hype is warranted. A few years ago, for instance, pimentón became my game-changer ingredient. I used it in frittatas, white beans, chicken marinades... and once I went a step too far and stirred it into yogurt. Now, ingredients like gochujang, ras el hanout, and—many thanks to Ottolenghi—pomegranate molasses are popping up everywhere.

In this one-pot meal, inspired by a Burmese technique and North African flavors, everyday spices (coriander, cinnamon, cloves) liven up browned chicken and a simple tomato sauce. The final drizzle of pomegranate molasses adds a puckery tartness, a pleasant tang that's just a little sweet. That jar will find a welcome home between your gochujang and kecap manis—and don't be surprised if it finds its way into your yogurt.

Grocery List:
(Organized by area of the market)

  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds bone-in chicken breast or thighs, or boneless thighs
  • Harissa paste
  • Pomegranate molasses

We're assuming you already have two 14 1/2-ounce cans diced tomatoes, an onion, garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ground cloves, peanut oil, and dried thyme —but if not, add those to the list!

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The Game Plan:

About 35 minutes before dinner, drain the diced tomatoes over a bowl while preparing your other ingredients. Reserve the juice. Meanwhile, remove the skin and excess fat from chicken. Use kitchen shears and/or a sturdy knife to cut the chicken into small pieces (breasts into 4 pieces and thighs into 3 pieces). Pat the meat dry with paper towels, then set aside.

Slice your onion into thin half-moons, and mince your garlic. Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and add the chicken once it's shimmering. After about 30 seconds, start stirring and turning chicken pieces, cooking until chicken has very little pink flesh visible. Add the onion, garlic, 1 teaspoon each salt, harissa, cumin, and coriander, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon cloves. Then add the drained tomatoes. Stir, cook for another few minutes, then add half of the strained tomato juice. Reduce the heat to medium, then cover the pot and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Finally, stir in the thyme, taste for seasoning, then allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

Just before sitting down, remove from heat and stir in the pomegranate molasses and cilantro, adding more of the reserved tomato juice if you want it a bit soupier. Taste, then add salt and harissa to taste, and 1/2 tablespoon pomegranate molasses. Serve with couscous, noodles, or rice.

To see the full recipe, click here.

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Annie Crabill

Written by: Annie Crabill