If I’m on my own on Sunday, I often roast a chicken portion. I buy the chickens in the local farmers’ market and joint them and it’s easy to pull one out of the freezer early in the day to defrost. I seem to rarely roast a whole chicken these days; even if I have guests, I usually do something where joints work better. Roast chicken – roasting a really good chicken like the ones I buy at the market – is a wonderful thing but I fancied doing something a little more exotic today. I had a pomegranate I’d bought recently that I felt I should use. Remembering the lovely duck dish that I did for a family meal just before Christmas using pomegranate juice in the gravy at the end, I decided to do something similar with my chicken. And while the duck dish (a Moro recipe) uses cinnamon as a spice I decided to use sumac. I use this wonderful spice more and more, often sprinkling it over meat or fish to be grilled or roasted. It’s glorious deep red colour almost speaks of the Middle East where it’s used a lot.
The sumac tree grows wild throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and its small red berry is dried and ground to a powder. Its use in cooking goes back to the time of the Romans and it’s still used a lot in Lebanese, Syrian, Iranian and Turkish cooking. Its sour lemony flavour meant it was a useful souring ingredient before the arrival of lemons into the Middle East. Apart from sprinkling it over meat and fish it’s also added to soups, marinades, rubs, dips, yoghurt to be served with a savoury dish, and is an essential ingredient for fattoush, that wonderful Lebanese bread salad. While I often sprinkle it over meat before I roast or grill it, it’s commonly left on the table in the Middle East as a condiment and thus sprinkled over meat, kebabs or fish after cooking.
First of all I rubbed a generous amount of olive oil over my chicken then seasoned it with salt and freshly ground black pepper and sprinkled over generous amount of sumac. I cooked it in the oven (220C/180 Fan), basting frequently to ensure it stayed moist and the skin crisped nicely, for about 45 minutes – but obviously cooking time depends on the size of your chicken portion. You could also, of course, cook a whole chicken in this way too. For the gravy when it was cooked, I squeezed the juice from half a pomegranate.
I was also going to add some pomegranate molasses. When I first started using this wonderful dark sweet-sour syrup in my cooking I had to order it from Ottolenghi. It was a good molasses but the postage cost was horrendous unless you put in a large order, so I was really pleased to discover it a few months ago at my local Waitrose.
While the chicken was cooking I started making the potato purée. Of course the dish would have been nice with rice too but I liked the idea of some garlicky mash. I cut up one large baking potato (because that would mash nicely) and boiled it with 1 small garlic clove in salted water.
When the potato was tender, I drained off the water and then added a large lump of butter and some milk. I heated it enough for the milk to start bubbling and turned off. Then, instead of mashing with a masher, I decided to purée it with a hand blender for a smoother finish. I also added some black pepper.
When the chicken was done, I lifted it from the pan and set aside to rest for a few minutes while I made the sauce. I carefully spooned off some of the fat from the pan, then I added the pomegranate juice and about 1 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses. I stirred and scraped any bits on the bottom of the dish, and let the sauce bubble to reduce a bit for a couple of minutes. Then I spooned some of the potato purée into a dish. I cut the chicken into thick slices on a slant (there was so much I didn’t need the whole piece) and lay it across the top of the potato. Then I spooned over some of the sauce and finally sprinkled over some freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley. (I meant to also sprinkle over some pomegranate seeds but forgot and found them once I’d finished eating!) You could also sprinkle over a little extra sumac if you like. I served it with a green salad on the side.
The flavours were wonderful. I loved the garlic potato purée, rich and creamy with the addition of the butter and milk and a nice strong but not overpowering garlic flavour. The chicken was so tender and the sweet-sour sauce with its pomegranate flavour was a fantastic accompaniment. As nice as roast chicken is, it’s very easy to brighten up the flavours with some exotic extras.