Make Ahead

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

January 12, 2014
7 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

I recently became inspired while flipping through the Ottolenghi cookbook, Jerusalem. I wanted a hearty chicken dish for dinner and, though none of Yotam's recipes sounded perfect, his Roast Chicken with Sumac, Za'atar, and Lemon served as a marvelous foundation for this one-pot stew. It's fairly quick, can be made ahead, makes great leftovers, and just bursts with flavor! —em-i-lis

Test Kitchen Notes

This is a simple-to-assemble one-pot chicken dish that fills the kitchen with a warming aroma. It would be a perfect meal to prepare for company, as you can put together a hearty green salad while it braises in the oven. The flavors are bright, unexpected, and fragrant, with a refreshing burst of preserved lemon. The couscous cooks to a creamy yet slightly chewy texture that serves as the perfect foil for the braised chicken. The recipe works beautifully and is easy to follow. I would add that any visible chicken fat be removed prior to browning, as I ended up with much more fat than needed to caramelize the onions and the dish was still quite rich. —Sandra Gray

What You'll Need
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken (I like 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
  • 3 teaspoons sumac
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons allspice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon
  • 1 cup pearled (Israeli) couscous
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth, plus more as needed
  1. Sprinkle the chicken with the 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Set a Dutch oven or braisier over medium-high heat, pour in the grapeseed oil, and when hot, brown the chicken pieces really well. Then, remove and set them aside but don’t rinse out the pan.
  2. Reduce the burner to medium and let the pot cool down for a couple minutes. Then add the olive oil to the pot, along with the onions, garlic, and an additional 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Caramelize the onions, stirring occasionally and adding some of the chicken broth if the pan gets dry. Preheat the oven to 400° F.
  3. While the onions are cooking, combine the sumac with the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, cinnamon, and allspice. When the onions have caramelized, sprinkle three-quarters of the spice mixture over them and stir well to combine. Add the chopped preserved lemon and stir to combine. Sprinkle rest of spice mixture over the reserved chicken and then nestle the pieces into the onions. Make a well in the center of the chicken-onion pile and pour in the uncooked Israeli couscous. Add the chicken broth, cover the pot tightly, and cook in the oven for 20 minutes. Uncover and cook an additional five minutes. Taste and season with more salt if need be. Serve warm.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Laura Mann
    Laura Mann
  • Kristen W.
    Kristen W.
  • chimera
  • Susan Joseph
    Susan Joseph
  • Lindsay Christians
    Lindsay Christians

55 Reviews

Kathleen September 29, 2020
I have a question about the ingredients. I have a five pound chicken that has been quartered. Should I double the spices or maybe just use one and a half times. Thank you Kathleen
gardenchickens September 20, 2019

Wonderful recipe! I skipped dessert so as not to ruin the delightful lingering aftertaste.
Sumac and preserved lemons are now a staple item in my pantry. I'll be making this one again and again and again.

I would not describe the taste as spicy but as very flavorful, and the flavor is unusual and satisfying (and yes, the house smells great). For next time, I'm thinking of serving it with a side of simple steamed greens (mustard, spinach, arugula?) or a roasted carrot soup. A salute and a big Thank You to the contributor for this one!
em-i-lis September 22, 2019
Hi Gardenchickens,
I'm so happy you enjoyed this dish. Love the idea of serving it with steamed greens. I love sumac and preserved lemons too. Mamma mia!
Have a great day, Emily
Gayle April 12, 2019
In the author’s note it mentions Za’tar but it isn’t in the recipe. The recipe call for cinnamon and allspice, please explain. Also is that American allspice or 7spice which is used in that region. Can’t wait to try
em-i-lis April 13, 2019
Hi Gayle, The za'atar is in Yotam's recipe which inspired mine, but I didn't use any in this dish. The allspice is American. Best, Emily
Robert W. September 25, 2017
This was divine. I was caught off guard by the prep time, though; it takes a long time to adequately caramelize onions AND to brown chicken, and I wonder if the dish would suffer much if, to save time, the onions were caramelized in a separate pan while the chicken browned. It's obviously better for the onions to cook in the chicken juices, but perhaps simply combining them later would work, too.
njsusan August 27, 2017
Can't wait to try! If I want to make ahead, do you suggest making the entire recipe and then reheating, or perhaps make up until the couscous step and do that the day I serve? Thanks!
em-i-lis August 28, 2017
So happy this sounds good to you, njsusan. I'd make the whole dish the day before and then reheat. Enjoy!
melissa May 7, 2017
This was delicious and easy! My partner usually doesn't like lemony, acidic dishes, but he liked this. I kept the rendered chicken fat in the pan to caramelize the onions in, but then used water instead of chicken stock for the liquid. Took me 1hr 10mins from start to finish.
em-i-lis May 9, 2017
Hi Melissa,
I'm so glad y'all enjoyed this. Thanks so much for letting me know. It makes good leftovers too. :) Best, Emily
Laura M. July 7, 2016
Made this for dinner last night. Since there's only 2 of us, just used the breasts from a cut up fryer and scaled down everything else but the onion/garlic. YUMMO! My husband even volunteered a "Good". Thanks for the recipe.
em-i-lis July 7, 2016
Hi Laura,
I'm so glad y'all enjoyed this! Yay! Thanks for letting me know. :)
ghainskom May 22, 2016
Substituted sumac with lemon zest and it was delicious to me and my 9yo and 4yo liked it too. So it's a keeper.
em-i-lis May 22, 2016
I'm so pleased you all enjoyed this! Thanks for letting me know!! :)
Kristen W. April 11, 2016
I made this recipe tonight with fattoush on the side - so delicious! I had a jar of preserved lemons in the fridge waiting to be used, and what better things to combine them with than deeply caramelized onions and those wonderful spices? I love when such a straightforward recipe yields such depth of flavor - this is going into my repertoire for sure!
em-i-lis April 11, 2016
Kristen! I'm so thrilled you enjoyed this so much. It's a favorite at our house, to be sure. The one-pot thing thrills me every time. :) Thank you so much for letting me know. :) Emily
chimera February 28, 2016
This is outrageously good!!! I used all boneless skinless thighs and followed the rest of the recipe exactly - it's divine. I bought a jar of sumac specifically for this recipe (I generally just hoard the packets of sumac I get when I order kebabs) and I'm so glad I did. I'd never made Israeli couscous before, either. So delicious, so foolproof, and great for weeknight meals or for dinner guests!
em-i-lis February 29, 2016
This is awesome, chimera! Thank you so much for the note. I'm thrilled you love the dish and that you bought the sumac!!! :)
Susan J. December 26, 2015
This delicious chicken, doubled, and garnished with pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley, was a real hit at my annual Jews Do Christmas party last night. Thank you!
em-i-lis December 27, 2015
Fantastic, Susan!! I'm so thrilled y'all enjoyed it. Thanks for letting me know!!
Susan J. December 19, 2015
Can hardly wait to make this.
em-i-lis December 19, 2015
Oh yay! I hope you like it! :)
Chloroph December 14, 2015
This one's a keeper! I'm looking forward to making this again and trying some additions. Like sliced mushrooms, for example, or other veggies.
em-i-lis December 14, 2015
I'm so happy you like it, Chloroph!!! Thanks a million for letting me know!
Kathy September 14, 2015
Wow this is good! I couldn't find sumac in time for tonight so substituted a little lemon zest and added a bit of Aleppo pepper. Our trader joes carries preserved lemons--I'd been looking for a way to use them. Will make again. And for the record, the house smells AMAZING,
em-i-lis September 14, 2015
Hi Kathy, I'm so glad you enjoyed this, that your house smells so good AND that your substitutions worked well. Thanks for trying this. :)
Best, Emily
Lindsay C. July 26, 2015
I should probably weigh in now that I've made this three times -- it's wonderful! I was looking for a way to use my preserved lemons and this was delicious.

It takes a little planning ahead, but I highly recommend this recipe, which I've made twice.
em-i-lis July 26, 2015
I'm so happy you like this, LindsayC77. Thank you so much for letting me know!! :) And thank you also for the preserved lemon recipe. I make my own too and love them!
Brianna M. May 18, 2015
Do you think quinoa would be an acceptable substitute for couscous? (Totally know nothing about cooking- going with what's in my pantry :p)
em-i-lis May 19, 2015
Hi Brianna, I don't think quinoa is the best option but I like your spirit of going with what you have. If you use quinoa, I'd cook it separately and then add to the stew. Thanks so much!!
mpeterse29 May 1, 2015
I recently made this dish and - wow! Really good! I used finely chopped pickled lemons instead of "preserved" and added about a tablespoon of brown sugar, plus used closer to 2 c. of chicken broth. As advertised, a pretty easy dish to put together. Since the jar of pickled lemons is huge, we'll definitely have this again, multiple times. Not a bad idea!
em-i-lis May 1, 2015
Sounds fantastic! Thanks for letting me know!! :)
Marcy April 30, 2015
Made this dish tonight-- it was fantastic! I used rice instead of couscous because we're gf. Everyone loved it including my 7 year old who cleaned her plate :)
em-i-lis May 1, 2015
Wonderful, Marcy! I'm so thrilled to hear it was a hit, even with the younger set. :) Thank you!
Twinsx2mom April 28, 2015
I don't like preserved lemons---any substitutes?
em-i-lis April 28, 2015
how do you feel about fresh lemons? they won't lend the same sort of earthy depth but will still be lovely and bright. lemons and sumac are such nice friends!
Twinsx2mom April 28, 2015
Thanks so much! I thought fresh lemon would be ok, just needed confirmation.
moseceltic April 26, 2015
Hello em-i-lis!
Thanks for the quick update! Great and simple idea!
em-i-lis April 26, 2015
You bet, Mo!! Enjoy!