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Syrian Chicken

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    Posted: 13 April 2014 at 19:01
It’s kind of astounding, the number of recipes I’ve flagged, when first acquiring cookbooks, but which I haven’t gotten around to trying. I mean, let’s face it; after a while everything sounds good, and goes on the to-do list.

One such dish comes from Michal Haines’ [N]The Spice Kitchen. It’s for Syrian Poached Chicken on Barley. Made it for tonight’s dinner, and it’s everything I thought it would be originally. Naturally, there are some comments and modifications. I’ll post them as notes under the recipe. Specific parts of the recipe needed further discussion are marked with an (*).

Here’s how it appears in the book:

Chicken Stock:

1x3 lb free-range or organic chicken, well washed*
2 red onions, peeled and halved
1 bulb garlic, left whole but with the top chopped off to let the flavors out
2 cinnamon sticks
10 allspice berries
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp salt
5 black peppercorns
½ bunch Italian (flat leaf) parsley
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped


2 tbls butter
1 cup barley, washed and drained well
1 small white onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, reserved from the stock, peeled and crushed*
2 ½ cups chicken stock
2 cups lightly cooked fava beans (or defrosted from frozen), shelled
Juice of 1 lemon
Ground sumac to garnish
Plain unsweetened yogurt

To prepare the chicken stock, combine all the ingredients in a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour.* Using a slotted spoon, lift out the garlic bulb and when cool enough to handle, separate and reserve six cloves. Lift out the chicken and set aside with the stock to cool.

To prepare the barley, heat the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and add the barley, toasting it as the heat increases and the butter melts. Add the onion, celery and garlic and mix well. Cook for two minutes or until the onion softens. Ladle in the stock and stir. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the barley is soft (This can be done ahead of time and then reheated when required.)*

Taste to check seasoning and adjust accordingly.*

While the barley is cooking, remove the cooked chicken from the bones in largish pieces.

Once the barley is ready, stir in the fava beans ad squeeze over the lemon juice.

Serve the barley onto plates. Top with chunks of cooked chicken and a sprinkling of sumac and serve immediately with yogurt on the side.

OK, here are my further comments, taken in order:

Washing chickens is one of the great controversies of the cooking world. Personally, I never was them. But I do dry them thoroughly with paper towels.

Poached garlic superficially resembles roasted garlic, and handles the same way. Just squeeze out the garlic, which will be paste-like, and needs no further handling.

Neither Friend Wife nor I care for chicken skin when the bird’s been poached. So I stripped off the skin and fat, and rendered it. In theory, removing the skin also removes some of the flavor. But you wouldn’t notice it in the final stock, which is dark, rich, and flavorsome.

Poaching for an hour is a bit of overkill, and, depending on size, could dry out the bird. I let it go 45 minutes, and it was cooked perfectly.

Making the barley ahead of time is problematical. You have to prepare the stock (and, thereby, poach the chicken) anyway. So might as well do the whole job at once. If you choose to pre-make everything, reserve some of the stock. Heat the chicken pieces in it, over a low flame. And, as you reheat the barley, you might need to moisten it further as well.

Note there is no salt and pepper listed in the ingredients. I think they were left out by mistake. I used both as the barley cooked. I guessed just right, on the amounts, so didn’t have to adjust.
Some general comments: Neither fresh nor frozen favas are available here. I used dried ones, instead. Only drawback was their size, as they were rather large and threatened to overpower the barley. Canned Egyptian ful beans (which tend to be smaller) might have been a better choice. Or even baby limas.

Without realizing it, my yogurt had turned into a science experiment. So I substituted sour cream, which worked out nicely.

Sumac really perks up the chicken. If you can’t find it, no big deal. If necessary, just squeeze a bit more lemon juice over the chicken.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 April 2014 at 23:11
Wonderful-looking recipe, Brook - thanks for posting!

I quick-scanned it this morning before heading out the door to work and am glad that I was able to take a closer look. Thanks also for posting some preparation notes, which I always find to be very helpful when attempting a recipe.

This is one I would like to try, and it appears to be a complete meal in itself. I like the look of the flavour profile and have a feeling that the family would also enjoy it.

All ingredients, except the sumac, are within easy reach - if not already in the pantry. The fava beans might be another hard-to-find item here, but your suggestion of baby limas makes perfect sense and are readily available. I seem to be the only one in the house who likes lima beans, but I figure that they can survive one session of them! Tongue

Sidebar: are limas and favas closely related?

Thanks again for posting Brook - I've been pre-occupied with work and family issues, as well as mounting events of global importance - reading this recipe has definitely re-kindled my interest! 
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