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Mumbai meets Boston

Passport & Plate - Grilled Chicken with Harissa and Spices

India | Friday, 6 March 2015 | 5 photos

For harissa:
8 dried guajillo chilies, stemmed and seeded (about 2 oz.)
8 dried ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded (about 2 oz.)
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dried mint leaves
3 Tbsp extra - virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
5 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp amchur (dried mango powder)

For harissa chicken:
4 chicken legs
1 Tbsp salt (or to taste)
1 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp red chili powder
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 cup kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
1 Tbsp cooking oil
2 Tbsp harissa


How to prepare this recipe
For Harissa:
1 Put all the chilies into a bowl, cover with boiling water, and let it sit until softened, about 20 minutes.
2 Heat caraway, coriander, and cumin in an 8" skillet over medium heat. Toast spices, swirling skillet constantly, until very fragrant, about 4 minutes. Transfer spices to a grinder with mint and grind to a fine powder. Set aside.
3 Drain chilies, and transfer them to a food processor with the ground spices, olive oil, salt, garlic, lemon juice, brown sugar and amchur. Purée, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the paste is very smooth, about 2 minutes.
4 Transfer to a sterilized glass jar and fill with oil until ingredients are submerged by 1/2". Refrigerate, topping off with more oil after each use. Harissa paste will keep for up to 8 weeks when stored like this.

For Harissa chicken:
1 Rinse chicken legs, remove the skin, and trim excess fat.
2 Pat dry each chicken leg. (An important step to season the chicken properly)
3 Season with salt, pepper, red chili powder, garam masala, kasuri methi and oil. Make sure the chicken pieces are coated well with the marinade. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
4 Add harissa to the marinated chicken, and make sure each piece is coated all around with harissa.
5 Preheat oven to 450F.
6 By trial and error, I have learned a technique to make chicken crispy on outside yet juicy inside. I use a baking pan, 1-2 cups of water in it. Take a non-stick cooling rack (the one used for cooling baked products), and place it over the baking pan with water. The rack acts as a grill on which chicken pieces are placed.
7 Cook the chicken legs in the oven until the internal temperature is 175-180F. Approximately 35-45 minutes.
8 (Optional) For extra crispy exterior, chicken pieces may be basted with harissa-oil mixture periodically during grilling.

Now, relax and savor every bite of this perfectly roasted chicken oozing with flavors!


The story behind this recipe
I still remember my summer vacations in India. I used to wait all year to visit to my maternal uncle’s family in Mumbai. Even 20 years ago Mumbai was hot, humid, and crowded. But none of that bothered me, my 2 cousins, and their neighborhood friends.

These visits were our free passes to constantly run around, and play games in passages of the apartment complex, and the narrow alleys between buildings. We came home only to eat, and of course, when we were forced to clean up. The only other activity that topped this unlimited fun and frolic was the special meal prepared by my uncle every year – chicken roasted on a coal stove.

The preparation started a day before. My uncle would take me with him to get a chicken from the corner butcher shop. I would be so excited for the next evening’s dinner that for the longest time, I did not even realize that the cute looking chicken which my uncle just picked, is the one I am soon going to eat.

After cleaning up the chicken, he would roast a variety of spices for the marinade. That’s where I was first introduced to a plethora of spices used in Indian cuisine. “Name the spice” was a favorite game for us cousins. After smelling that appetizing aroma of freshly roasted spices, I had no patience to let the chicken pieces sit in the marinade for another day.

After a day-long anticipation came the best part, roasting the chicken on a coal fired stove. Mind you, the only form of barbecue I knew back then, was the tandoor in restaurants.

The Harissa Chicken recipe that I am sharing today is modified to the taste of my American friends. It has gone beyond the summer barbecue, and made its mark on Super Bowl parties, birthday potlucks, and even Thanksgiving turkeys. I now cook this to create new, fond memories with my friends. But the recipe never fails to instantly transfer me to my uncle’s apartment in hot, humid summers of Mumbai, where we made memories with chatting, laughter, and the perfectly roasted chicken.

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