My first experience at Oleana, the fantastic restaurant in the Inman Square Neighborhood of Cambridge, MA was with our restaurant club. Our friend Amanda Bellino picked the spot, and I’m quite happy she did. This place is straight up wholesome and insanely delicious in every way. Part of the appeal is the fact that the head chef Ana Sortun and her husband get all of their ingredients during the growing season from their very own farm – Siena Farms in Sudbury, MA. Need I say more? This is a family that is literally growing the food that they then turn around and make into amazing middle eastern inspired dishes at their restaurant. Awesome.
The food stands up too. I took my mom back there for a little birthday dinner when she was in town, which is when I had this chicken that I decided to try to reproduce – chicken under a brick. For the record, this is actually the third dish from the restaurant that I’ve attempted to reproduce, with moderate success. This one though, is probably the easiest to do and also the most delicious.
There are two main pieces to this recipe that makes it so good: First, the rub that you put on the chicken – it has to be flavors that you love. Oleana uses Za’atar – the popular middle eastern spice blend that typically includes thyme, marjoram, oregano, cumin, coriander and sometimes sumac, among other exotic things. I decided to try to make my own Za’atar, with a few variations.
The second piece of this chicken puzzle is the cooking method: under the brick. The brick should be on the heavy side and when you start cooking the chicken in an extremely hot cast iron skillet and put the brick on it, it makes the skin of the chicken super crispy, as if its been deep fried. The result is a quick cooking time and really moist, delicious chicken. Here’s how it goes down:
Combine the Za’atar spices in a mortar and pestle, until they’re pretty well blended. Rub the chicken down with the stuff, focusing on the skin side, but well coating the chicken at the same time. Let the chicken sit with the spice rub on it for an hour at least, and for many hours if your time allows.
For the cooking step, a key here is the pan – it should be really heavy bottomed like cast iron or even a dutch oven and you want to have a pretty tight fitting lid. If you don’t have a lid, then preheat your oven at 400 F. Heat the pan over medium high heat, and add the oil. You don’t want to add the chicken until you can almost see the oil smoking – really hot. When you reach that point, put the chicken in – skin side down and place a single brick over 2 of the thighs. Repeat until the chicken is all covered with bricks. Do this step in segments if you don’t have enough room in the pan.
Flip the chicken when the skin of the first side becomes pretty dark and crispy. Once you flip the chicken to the other side, cover the pan with the lid or put it into the oven. The lid will create an oven effect and let the chicken cook through better. The chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of around 165F. Once you pull the chicken, let it rest for at least 10 minutes before serving. I paired this dish with some califlower cooked with come of the Za’atar, dried cranberries, almonds, onions and garlic. Turned out really good.
Here are some other Za’atar Chicken Recipes:
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