With signature flavors from northwest Africa, a simple roast chicken is transformed into a Moorish delight that’s perfect for special occasions. This harissa roasted chicken is so outstanding that it may well be the finest way you’ve served a whole chicken.
The finest way to serve a whole chicken? That’s a pretty big claim. It’s big enough to warrant some serious backing-up. So here goes.
I’m a huge fan of a typically English, Sunday lunch chicken. That’d be golden roasted with a sage-and-onion stuffing. Glorious.
But I have to admit, this Moroccan-style chicken outdoes it. This one is so astonishingly good that the relatives who enjoyed it with me, reckoned it was easily special enough to star as the keynote dish for a big celebration like Christmas Day.
Our surprisingly simple recipe brings together a range of exotic tastes, textures, and aromas that pair so well with the flavor of the exceptionally tender chicken.
Coated with a honey-sweetened, hot and spicy harissa paste, the bird is stuffed with couscous, apricots, dates, onion, almond, and garlic. That mix is spiced with cumin and cinnamon, and it gets a little jolt of heat from fresh, red serrano pepper. All those flavors are brought front-and-center by the enlivening tang of lemon juice.
And, amazingly, things just keep on getting better. That’s thanks to the complete contrasts produced by the jammy harissa paste that marinades and bastes the chicken. Essentially, its flavors come from roasted, coarsely ground cayenne peppers and red bell peppers that are seasoned with caraway, paprika, cumin, and coriander, and bound together into a paste with lemon juice.
Rubbed generously all over the chicken before it hits the oven, the paste is then used to give the bird a couple of good bastings as it roasts.
What you’ll find is that the honey in the paste helps to keep it right where you want it – on the chicken – rather than quickly running off into your roasting pan. The result? Well, it’s a win-win.
First, you get a slightly charred, caramelized, and crisped coating that locks in all the tender juiciness of the chicken. And at the same time, as the bird roasts to an oh-so-appealing crackle, the skin and melting fat beneath it absorbs the classic smoky, spicy, and fiery flavors of the harissa paste.
Keeping it really simple. Low effort, high rewards
For our fabulous marinating/basting paste, I used a base of the ready-made variety. Of course, you could make your own, but simplicity is the name of the game here.
I did, however, add a few things to create a suitably sticky basting paste, and to emphasize its heat and spice. So, honey gave me the stickiness, olive oil helped with a crispier roasting, extra paprika added a darker red color, a little more cumin and coriander upped the spiciness, and cayenne pepper boosted the heat.
As for prepping the stuffing, well, that’s so simple that you can have it ready for the bird in 10 easy minutes There’s a little chopping of onion, garlic, apricots, and dates. You then add boiling chicken stock to the couscous, let it soak for a while, and mix everything together with diced almonds and the ground spices.
All that remains to do is stuff the bird, truss its legs together, coat it with plenty of the harissa paste, and let it stand for a while. Then it’s just a matter of roasting and basting in a hot oven for an hour or so.
Two very simple side dishes
I roasted unpeeled, bite-size chunks of all-purpose potato with whole garlic cloves, thickly sliced red onion, whole red jalapeño peppers, a little olive oil, a coloring sprinkle of paprika, a little cumin, and a handsome seasoning of ground sea salt and black pepper.
Arranged in a snug, single layer in a roasting dish, the whole lot cooks with the chicken under a tight covering of silver foil for 20 minutes. It then gets another 20 minutes uncovered to crisp and color the potatoes, and add a little sweetening char to the peppers, onion, and garlic.
Just like the chicken, this is a dish full of contrasts. That initial covered roasting infuses the potatoes with a smoky warmth from the paprika and cumin, together with the mild, fruity heat of the jalapeños. Alongside that, you’ll have the combined earthy creaminess of softened red onion and garlic.
If you fancy a little more fire with your roasted potatoes, swap the jalapeños for a few whole, red serrano peppers. My folks prefer a milder heat, so the jalapeños were just dandy for them.
To round things off, there’s the even simpler, al dente green beans. They just get topped-and-tailed, sliced in half, and added to a bare covering of salted, boiling water in a saucepan. Simmer for six or so minutes and they’re ready to serve, perhaps with a sprinkling of sea salt and some butter slowly melting over them. Lovely.
Like this recipe? You’ll love these too:
- Spicy Moroccan Lamb Stew: Total comfort food.
- Jalapeño Fried Chicken: Not as exotic as this recipe, but we double down on spiciness. There’s chili pepper in the breading and brine.
- Rich And Spicy Oxtail Stew: A bold soup that’s sure to be memorable.
Harissa Roast Chicken with Apricot and Date Stuffing
- 12 inches cook's string that’s ample to truss the bird’s legs together.
For the chicken
For the chicken’s harissa-based marinade/basting paste
For the stuffing
- 1 red serrano pepper finely sliced, seeds and all. The one I used was around 3 inches long.
- 4 ½ ounces wholewheat couscous
- 1 chicken stock cube dissolved in ¾ cup boiling water
- 1 yellow onion peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and finely sliced
- 3 ½ ounces fresh dates pitted and roughly chopped
- 3 ½ ounces dried apricots roughly chopped
- 1 ½ ounces almonds chopped or diced
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the roasted potatoes
- 6 red jalapeño peppers left whole
- 4 all-purpose potatoes about 2 pounds, un-peeled and cut into bite-size chunks
- 2 red onions peeled, halved, and cut into ½-inch slices
- 8 cloves garlic un-peeled
- 1 heaped teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground sea salt
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground black pepper
For the green beans
- 1 ½ pounds green beans topped, tailed and cut into roughly 2-inch lengths
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt for salting the beans’ cooking water
Making the harissa marinade/basting paste, coating the chicken
- I’d start with the harissa paste because the chicken can then lightly marinade with its coating of paste while you prep the stuffing, potatoes, and beans.
- So, using a jug that’s easily big enough to hold all the paste’s ingredients, stir them together so that everything becomes completely combined. (Using a jug makes it a little easier to baste the chicken later.)
- Now rub the salt and pepper all over the chicken’s skin and then give it a thorough coating with half the harissa paste – the remaining half gets used later to give the bird a couple of bastings as it roasts. Set the coated chicken on a plate and let it stand for at least 15 minutes.
Making the stuffing
- Add the couscous to a mixing bowl and stir in the boiling water. Let it sit for 5 minutes and then give it a good stir to separate all the little beads of couscous.
- Once you’ve done that, turn the couscous into a good size mixing bowl and add all the stuffing’s remaining ingredients. Give it a thorough stir, and that’s it. The stuffing is ready for the bird.
Stuffing, trussing, roasting, and basting the chicken
- First thing here is to turn your oven to 400F / 200C and set a shelf in the middle for the chicken, with another shelf below it for the potatoes.
- Spoon the stuffing into the chicken’s cavity. Use the back of the spoon to press the stuffing firmly into the chicken so the cavity is completely filled.
- Now tie the legs tightly together with cooks’ string so that their ends are crossed over one another and cover the stuffed cavity. Once you’ve trimmed off any excess string, the chicken’s almost ready for the oven.
- I say almost because you’ll probably find some of the harissa paste has slid off the bird onto the plate. Spoon as much of it as you can back onto the bird. Then place the chicken on a roasting dish and get it onto that middle shelf in your hot oven.
- You’re now aiming to roast the bird for an hour at least – maybe a little longer – and to baste it twice as it roasts.
- So, after 20 minutes’ roasting, remove the chicken from the oven, and baste all its exposed surface with half of the remaining paste. Do the same thing again with the rest of the paste 20 minutes later. Bear in mind that some of the paate will have collected in the roasting dish and be sure to spoon that over the chicken each time you baste it.
- Check the bird after it’s been roasting for an hour to see if the surface has picked up a little very dark red char, and that the coated skin has crisped to your liking. If not, let the chicken roast for another 5 minutes or so.
- Now set the finished bird on a carving board and let it rest for 12 minutes. This resting really matters because it allows the meat to become firmer and more tender as it reabsorbs its flavorful juices. And that important process also makes it much easier for you to carve the chicken cleanly with a sharp knife.
Roasting the potatoes
- Bear in mind that the potatoes are going into the oven for the last 40 minutes of the chicken’s roasting. That means you’re going to start them as soon as you’ve given the chicken it’s first basting with the harissa paste.
- To prepare the potatoes for cooking, stir all the ingredients together in a roasting dish that will hold everything in a snug, single layer. Take a little care to make sure the potatoes, onions, garlic, and jalapenos get an even coating of the oil, spices, salt and pepper. Now cover the dish with a tightly fitting covering of silver foil. (You want that tight fit so that everything can steam in its own juice for the first 20 minutes in the oven.)
- Once the chicken’s been roasting for 20 minutes and had its first basting, set the covered potatoes in the oven on the shelf below the chicken. Let them cook for 20 minutes until the chicken is ready for its second basting. Remove the potatoes’ dish from the oven, take off the foil and give everything a gentle, turning stir.
- Return the uncovered dish to the oven along with chicken for another 20 minutes’ roasting. That’s when you’ll be removing the chicken from the oven. Turn off the oven and leave the door ajar so that the potatoes sit in the cooling oven while the chicken gets its 12 minutes’ resting.
Cooking the beans
- I’d start cooking beans about 10 minutes before the chicken’s ready for carving,
- Add the salt to a medium size pan together with an amount of water that you reckon will be just enough to barely cover the beans.
- Set the pan on a high heat and as soon as it comes to a brisk boil, add the beans. Let the water come back to the boil, then drop the heat to low-medium so the beans can cook for six minutes at a gently rolling simmer. Done, and ready to be drained and served in a warmed, good-looking dish.
Serving your harissa roast chicken
- You might like to carve the chicken at the table, That way, it looks at its very best before you set about it with a sharp knife.
- The potatoes can go to the table in their still-hot dish straight from the oven so people can help themselves.
- A little sprinkling of salt on top of the beans along with a smallish, melting slab of butter appeals to me, but those final little extras are entirely up to you.