Sheet-Pan Harissa Chicken With Smashed Olives & Apricots

April  1, 2022
16 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin, prop styling by Alya Hameedi, food styling by Anna Billingskog
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

This filling dinner has the bold, aromatic flavors of a tagine, the classic North African stew named after the clay pot in which it’s made, but comes together quickly and easily on a humble sheet pan. It’s inspired by chicken tagines I’ve made over the years from Paula Wolfert, where red onion (either grated or sliced, as it is here), dried fruit, lemon, and briny olives play prominent roles, and the sauces are always rich and redolent. Her versions aren’t particularly difficult to make, but they require a level of time and attention that I can’t seem to muster during the work week. So I came up with this reimagined sheet-pan version to deliver those same flavors and textures, but in a much lower-lift way.

The biggest challenge I faced in going from a tagine (or sturdy Dutch oven in my case, as I’ve never owned a real-deal tagine) to a sheet pan was the sauce. A fragrant sauce is a hallmark of a good tagine, and I didn’t want to forgo one that I could spoon over couscous or sop up with flatbread. The solution I landed on? Schmearing bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs generously on both sides with a simple harissa rub, which melts together with the schmaltz on the pan to build a glossy sauce; adding the vinegar-laced soaking liquid used to plump the dried apricots about halfway through the roasting time; and adding lemon juice and olive oil at the end to deglaze the sticky bits on the pan, plus bring a little oomph and brightness. The result is a rich, almost velvety sauce that comes together entirely on the sheet pan. It’s by far my favorite part of the dish, the thing that makes this simple weeknight dinner seem fancy and special in its own right.

A few notes and tips: Resist the temptation to line your sheet pan with foil or parchment; you want the sauce to have direct contact with the hot sheet pan so it reduces nicely in the oven. Also, be sure to use bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs: the fat that renders from the skin is key to creating a good pan sauce. —EmilyC

Test Kitchen Notes

It's the end of the long workday (or the start of an extra-long week) and we're hungry. Like, "can't-think-straight" hungry. Luckily, Food52 contributor EmilyC wants to do all the thinking for us. In Dinner's Ready, her twice-a-month column on weeknight wonders, Emily shares simple, flavor-packed recipes that'll have a good meal on the table in no time. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon harissa sauce (mild or spicy)
  • 1 tablespoon honey, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • Kosher salt (Diamond Crystal) and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (6 to 8)
  • 1 medium red onion, halved and sliced ½ inch thick
  • 2/3 cup dried apricots, halved
  • 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup Castelvetrano olives, with or without pits
  • 1/4 cup shelled, roasted pistachios (or toasted almonds or pine nuts), coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
  • Couscous or warmed flatbread, for serving
  1. Heat the oven to 425°F. In a small bowl, stir the harissa, honey, cumin, 1 tablespoon of the oil, and the lemon zest (about 1 teaspoon, but a little more or less is fine!). Taste for heat level, adding more honey if it’s too spicy or harissa if you want more kick. Add 2 teaspoons of the salt and a few grinds of the black pepper; stir until blended.
  2. Pat the chicken dry on an unlined sheet pan, then rub the harissa mixture on all sides and under the skin. Scoot the chicken to one side, then arrange the onion on the other side. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil, a few pinches of salt, and any harissa on the pan that didn’t stick to the chicken. Arrange the chicken skin side up across the pan, then nestle the onions around the chicken. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Roast for 20 minutes (set a timer).
  3. Meanwhile, in a small heatproof bowl, macerate the apricots in the boiling water and vinegar. Smash the olives with the flat side of a knife or the heel of your hand, removing the pits if present.
  4. When the timer goes off, remove the sheet pan from the oven and add the apricots (plus their soaking liquid) and olives, nestling them around the chicken and scraping up any charred bits with a spatula or wooden spoon and stirring them into the liquid.
  5. Roast for 5 to 10 minutes longer. Check the internal temperature of the chicken; the target is 165°F in the thickest parts. Roast for another 5 to 10 minutes, as needed. (Don’t worry if the temperature goes over a bit; thighs are forgiving and they’ll still be delicious.) Run the pan under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes to crisp up the skin even more, if desired.
  6. Scrape up the charred bits on the pan and stir them into the schmaltz. Add 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and 1 to 2 tablespoons of the oil (depending on the amount of rendered fat). Stir in the cilantro and pistachios. The sauce will thicken on the pan as the chicken rests. Taste, adding more salt and/or lemon juice to your liking.
  7. Serve the chicken and sauce directly from the sheet pan, or transfer the chicken to a platter and pour the sauce on top. Serve over couscous or with flatbread alongside.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Cheva Gabor
    Cheva Gabor
  • ifjuly
  • Liz D
    Liz D
  • Emily Hilton
    Emily Hilton
  • magdalena

Recipe by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.

31 Reviews

mary April 23, 2024
I made this and not only was it easy but it was absolutely delicious!!!! I made homemade naan, couscous, and a chopped salad to go with it. I ate the leftovers all week and dreamed about making it again with maybe haddock/cod or salmon? Wondering if anyone has tried this recipe with another protein? I highly suggest everyone to make this and its very presentable even if served right on the sheet pan!
Cheva G. December 10, 2023
Phenomenal! Made with Mina mild harissa and used pine nuts, one of the suggested subs for pistachios, due to an allergy. Served with flatbread, and it was out of this world delicious, sweet, sour, salty and umami. My husband said this hit it out of the park. it
ajcarlzon August 22, 2023
Sweet and savory, crunchy and aromatic...this is a delicious dish and so easy to prepare and enjoy.
ifjuly May 10, 2022
Another knockout, yay EmilyC! As a fellow Wolfert fan (fond memories of making her laborious-but-totally-worth-it-once-in-a-while couscous as a newlywed, even with the dampened kitchen towel--used to create just the right veil for the appropriate amount of steam production--setting on fire and all) I totally dig that this does have all those zingy wonderful flavors but is indeed weeknight-possible. Thank you for the zillionth time for all these excellent sheet pan suppers!
EmilyC May 11, 2022
Yay, so glad this one didn't disappoint! Love that you've made Paula Wolfert's couscous; I've never attempted it but maybe I will someday! : )
Chloroph May 3, 2022
This was fun to make and so delicious! Thank you!!
EmilyC May 4, 2022
Thank you for trying it : )
Arianne May 1, 2022
Emily, I find that I hate olives, but the rest of this sounds wonderful. Would capers suffice to replace the brininess, or shall I trust you and try the olives?
EmilyC May 1, 2022
Hi there! I think capers would work well here, or even marinated artichoke hearts (chopped or sliced into bite-sized pieces). Hope you enjoy the dish!
Liz D. April 29, 2022
Very good. Added some par-cooked green beans to add a veggie component. Loved the flavors
EmilyC May 1, 2022
Wonderful! Thanks for your note, Liz!
Happygoin April 26, 2022
Delish! I bought some of the NY Shuk harissa with preserved lemon just to make this.

I may augment the harissa with a bit of spicer (plain) harissa to add a bit more heat next time. But there will be a next time. Excellent recipe, Emily.
EmilyC May 1, 2022
Oh glad to hear you tried this with the NY Shuk harissa! Really glad you enjoyed the dish -- thanks Happygoin!
Cathyarshadi April 11, 2022
This is amazing! Every element blends perfectly together. And it is gorgeous plated! Thank you for such an easy and flavorful dish. Loved it!!
EmilyC April 13, 2022
What a nice note—thank you!! So glad you enjoyed the dish.
Emily H. April 7, 2022
Consider me a skeptic on this one until about 3 minutes before plating. Never been happier to be wrong. Outstanding! Made with just 4 thighs, because we're only two, but that just meant more yummy sauce to enjoy. Will make again for a larger group for sure.
EmilyC April 8, 2022
So glad this exceeded your expectations! : ) Thanks so much, Emily, for trying this and circling back; appreciate it!
Vickio April 4, 2022
This is absolutely delicious. I had been gifted some apricot harissa and it was a perfect match. Served with potato wedges and arugula salad. Perfection.
EmilyC April 5, 2022
Apricot harissa sounds amazing for this recipe, yum! So glad you liked the recipe, Vickio. Thank you!
IowaGirl April 4, 2022
Not only was this easy to make, it was absolutely delicious! My husband said it was the best thing he’s eaten in a very long time. I used the black truffle infused hot sauce from Truff, (available at Food 52) as it was what I had on hand, and it had just the right amount of kick. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I definitely will make it again.
EmilyC April 5, 2022
Hello! So glad you and your husband enjoyed this dinner, and great to know that the Truff hot sauce was a good substitute! Thanks so much for circling back. : )
Mimi H. April 3, 2022
I never write reviews, but this warrants one, delicious! I made the Harissa paste with 2 tbl Harrssa powder, 1 tbl EVOO, 1 tbl water and let sit for a bit. The chicken cooked perfectly and the sauce had the right sweet/spicy balance. My steak and potatoes partner even thought it was delicious. I served it with Jasmine rice and toasted Naan bread and used toasted almonds, which were perfect with it. The only thing I omitted was cilantro, as my partner doesn't like it, but sprinkled some sliced scallion greens instead. This one is a keeper!
EmilyC April 4, 2022
Mimi -- thanks so much for your note! So happy you and your partner enjoyed the dish!
magdalena April 3, 2022
Is there a sub for the olive type? I have green pitted provencales? I am looking forward to happy faces at dinner tonight!
EmilyC April 3, 2022
Hi there! Those olives will work just fine here! Please let me know how it turns out. Cheers!
magdalena April 4, 2022
Emily, thanks for the reply and the amazing recipe! We took plated pictures, savored every bite, then shared the recipe with friends and family.
So good!
EmilyC April 4, 2022
Wonderful, so happy to hear it was a hit! : ) Thanks for your note, magdalena.
Shayla N. April 2, 2022
How much boiling water? It’s not mentioned anywhere else in the recipe. Thank you!
EmilyC April 2, 2022
1/4 cup! Just added it to Step 3. Thanks for catching the omission!
Shayla N. April 2, 2022
Thank you! This dish turned out so nicely. Warming, tasty, and with zero fuss.

Next time I might do a harissa rub (I only had sauce/paste available to me) for a more concentrated flavor, but other than that, I would follow again as instructed. Delicious!
EmilyC April 3, 2022
Yay, so glad you liked it! Re: the harissa, I like Mina brand, which is pretty widely available, and New York Shuk, which makes a harissa with preserved lemon (it's SO GOOD in this recipe!). Thanks for trying this and circling back, Shayla!!