This is a glorious layered dish from Lebanon, ideally suited to sharing at home with family and friends. As there are so many simple components in this dish, one chicken goes a long way. In Lebanon, the bird is poached rather than roasted. Serves eight.
For the chicken
1 medium organic or free-range chicken, about 1.5kg
3 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Quarter tsp cloves, ground
For the tomato sauce
5 tbsp olive oil
5 garlic cloves, sliced
4cm cinnamon stick
2x400g tins plum tomatoes, drained and the tomatoes squashed well
For the rice
300g basmati rice, unwashed
4cm cinnamon stick
half a large onion, halved and thinly sliced
485ml water or chicken stock
400g tin cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
For the crispbread
2 pitta breads
For the fried aubergine
2 medium aubergines, cut into 3cm cubes and tossed with 1 tsp salt
8 tbsp olive oil
500g Greek yogurt, mixed with a clove of garlic crushed with salt
8 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
75g pine nuts, very lightly toasted or fried in olive oil until golden
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Rub two tablespoons of olive oil all over the chicken, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the ground cloves on top. Oil a baking tray with the remaining oil, then add the chicken and roast for about an hour and a quarter, basting every now and then, until the juices run clear (check after an hour, then every 15 minutes or so, as you don’t want to overcook it). Transfer the bird to a board to rest for 10 minutes, loosely covered with foil. Meanwhile, deglaze the roasting tray – pour off most of the oil, place the tray over medium heat, add 150ml water and bring to a gentle simmer. Tip in the juices from the cavity of the chicken, then scrape up any caramelised bits on the base of the tray and check for seasoning. Add more water if the gravy is too strong.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, take the meat off the bone and slice into manageable pieces. Keep warm until you are ready to serve.
Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and fry the garlic until light brown. Add the cinnamon and tomatoes, simmer for half an hour, then season well. Keep the sauce warm.
Rub the rice in three changes of cold water to wash off the starch. Cover with warm water, stir in the salt and soak for 30-60 minutes. Melt the butter over a medium heat and add the cinnamon and onion. Fry for 10-15 minutes until golden brown, stirring every now and then. Remove from the heat and set aside.
To make the crispbread, melt the butter over a low heat. Heat the pittas in the oven for a couple of minutes, then split them in half lengthways and brush on both sides with melted butter. Place on a board and slice each half in half again lengthways, then cut each piece into four or five triangles. Place on a rack and bake in the middle of the oven for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.
About 15 minutes before you are ready to eat, place the onion pan over a high heat, drain the rice and stir into the onions. Fry, stirring, for a minute. Add the water (or stock) and the chickpeas. Add salt (about half a teaspoon) and cover with either baking parchment or foil followed by a lid. Boil fast for five minutes, then turn the heat to low-medium for a further five minutes. At this point, the rice should be cooked, but it will sit happily for 15 minutes.
Rinse the salt off the aubergines, then dry with kitchen paper. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan or wok over a medium to high heat, then fry the aubergine until soft and brown. Cover and keep warm.
Now you just have to layer things up on one or more big platters or serving dishes. Everything needs to be hot apart from the crispbread and yogurt. The order to layer your plate is first the crispbread, then the rice, then the chicken and its gravy (about four to five tablespoons), then the aubergine, then a scattering of tomato sauce, then a little yogurt and finally lots of chopped parsley and the pine nuts. Eat right away.
Recipe from Casa Moro.