This British Pantry Staple Reinvented My Weeknight Chicken

A new recipe for your dinner repertoire.

November 22, 2019
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food Stylist: Kate Buckens. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

I’ve heard it all my life, the British staple statement: “You either hate it or you love it.”

I’ve never really known where I stood with Marmite. It’s never been more than a foreign condiment with which I had no relationship. I do know that there aren’t many flavors for which I’d use the word "hate." There are very few foods I don’t at the very least "like" when they’re prepared in the right way. Peppers, for example, can only be used in their truest form and not meddled into another dish; same goes for olives. Anchovies, on the other hand, must be in something else and no longer in their truest form—unless they’re fresh, floured, and deep-fried like I once had them in a tiny fish restaurant floating in the middle of the Italian sea.

Marmite, the controversial British condiment made of yeast extract, a byproduct of beer. Photo by Amazon

Hating a food, however, has never come naturally to me. I find it a dramatic word to use for the very material that nourishes both our bodies and our lives. Even as a child I’d eat whatever was on my mom’s plate (I imagine to her dismay). It took me until I was all grown up, 29 years old and in the peak of pregnancy morning sickness to finally find myself truly hating food. To be blunt, ground beef—the base of so many frequented family favorites—was less desirable than the juice that drips out of a garbage bag, and protein was generally no longer considered a food group for me at all. This was around the same time I had a desperate hankering for the ambiguous dark gunk they call Marmite, and I found that I belonged with the side of the country that in fact loves it.

I must disclaim that once whatever life form that is possessing me to purchase four varieties of salt and vinegar potato chips for breakfast is finally released from my womb’s clutches, I could turn on this condiment at any point. But for now, I really love it. I know where I stand with Marmite—and for now, I am here to stay.

I’ve never favored sweets, but I’ve always appreciated the hypnotizing effect that chocolate being tempered or a cake being iced had on me. Marmite holds the posture of a pourable caramel and sends those same endorphins of satisfaction through me when I see it being decanted. Opening a fresh jar for that first dunk of a knife or teaspoon feels almost mystical. Its flavors have so much more of an umami richness than anything ever. Right now, I want to put it on everything, especially hot, over-buttered white toast, the first vehicle I ever tried it on. A friend’s husband made it his hangover cure of choice on a holiday weekend away, and as I watched with wonderment and curiosity, he proceeded to butter-and-Marmite my very own piece of toast for me, assertively handed it to me plate-less, and said: “Try it”. For that, I’m forever grateful.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“If you want to try it, take a slice of white toast, hot from the toaster; butter it, and add a THIN scraping of marmite. It is very salty. But if you like that umami hit, nothing else will do.”
— John H.

But truthfully, the sticky elixir is worth more than just a spread for toast and a common topic of cultural debate.

Now that I’m free from the shackles of first-trimester blues (or greens, the color of my complexion most mornings until recently), I’ve been experimenting. Marmite is so concentrated that, unlike peanut butter, butter, or Nutella, even a teaspoon is overkill, which to me is a bit of a shame. I feel that its powerful flavor needs to be put to better use—and that’s where this recipe comes into play.

Heat and patience bring out Marmite's true capacity as an ingredient in cooking. I marinate my blank canvases (chicken thighs or drumsticks) in a mixture of Marmite, honey, vinegar, and olive oil and roast them atop lemony potatoes that cut the richness of the glaze. The result is crispy, full-flavored, and down-right miraculous.

Marmite: love it or hate it? Let us know in the comments below.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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mdelgatty March 22, 2020
I most often use Marmite (or Vegemite; I have a half Australian daughter-in-law...) instead of bouillon in any recipe that calls for the latter. Seriously better at upping the umami level...
steph January 27, 2020
I might try this subbing miso paste for marmite, as miso paste is something I have on hand and like.
John H. December 8, 2019
If you want to try it, take a slice of white toast, hot from the toaster; butter it, and add a THIN scraping of marmite. It is very salty. But if you like that umami hit, nothing else will do.
patricia G. March 20, 2020
A thick layer of crunchy lettuce between 2 slices of white bread, well-buttered, with a little smear of marmite. Don't ask me why this works. It just does.
Ginnie March 20, 2020
You are so right Patricia, Marmite and lettuce sandwiches are very popular school lunch food for children in the antipodes.
carswell November 25, 2019
I'm willing to give this a try. I have been a lifelong fan of marmite, courtesy of my best friend's English parents. My dad was a Scot and he was agnostic about it so we never had it at home.

Someone once swore to me that marmite and honey sandwiches were the bomb - fan as I am of marmite that thought just made me shudder. It probably tastes fine but no.

That said, the idea of adding some sweetness to marmite's ultimate umami flavour does have its appeal when offered up as a marinade come glaze for chicken. So yeah, into the recipe box it goes.
Abunasr November 24, 2019
I never understood the English preoccupation with Marmite, but the recipe sounds delicious I am going to try it.
Al E. November 23, 2019
This looks delicious! Thanks for sharing!
Ilana L. November 23, 2019
Umami City
Julia L. November 23, 2019
I don’t have a relationship with marmite at all but Now I finally know what to do with that jar of marmite that was gifted to me, and has been sitting in my pantry for the last few months
carswell November 25, 2019
Marmite has a real affinity for cheese and eggs. A perfect breakfast is marmite smeared on buttered toast with boiled or scrambled eggs on the side. Melt some cheddar cheese over toast and marmite and you'll be in heaven.

I also add a spoonful to gravies or beef broth to give it some extra depth.
Madeleine K. November 23, 2019
I tried marmite for the first time about a year ago and was pleasantly surprised. I trust you, Emanuelle, so I’ll give it a try!!
jonathant123 November 23, 2019
Wow, looks so good! I must try it.
Claudia T. November 23, 2019
Sounds amazing. I like Marmite, i don't LOVE it, but I think it'd make a great savory chicken, full of flavor.