This recipe for sumac-dusted roast chicken is not only easy to prepare, but is also an excellent introduction to the spice called sumac, and by extension, the charming simplicity of Lebanese cookery. The purple-maroon spice is used extensively in this cuisine; canisters of ground sumac take the place of ground pepper in most Lebanese restaurants I’ve visited.
A sour spice ground from dried shrub berries to a gritty consistency, sumac is used much like vinegar, lemon juice, or tamarind. It has a pleasant tanginess similar to tart apples, making it seem less harsh than the other aforementioned souring agents. Sumac is probably best known as an essential component in the savory spice blend Zaatar, where it is mixed with thyme and toasted sesame seeds.
Sprinkled with sumac and olive oil, the chicken is roasted over a bed of slivered onions and pita bread. The outer edges of the pita bread will crisp, contrasting sharply against the moist center soaked with olive oil and juices from the roasting chicken. The pita bread essentially turns into a Lebanese take on stuffing, but with a bit of crunch.
recipe adapted from Mary Laird Hamady’s Lebanese Mountain Cookery
Djaj Bi Summak
Chicken with Sumac, Roasted over Onions and Pita Bread
makes 4 servings
4 loaves pita bread (6 to 8 inch round), or any flatbread
1 onion, thinly sliced, about 1 cup
Salt and pepper, to taste
5 tablespoons ground sumac
4 chicken leg quarters, or 1 3-pound chicken cut into serving pieces
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- The original recipe calls for tearing the bread into smaller pieces but I prefer to keep the pita whole. Each pita loaf can serve as a serving platform for the chicken. Just lift and plate.
- If using stale or dry pita bread, spray or sprinkle both sides with water before using in the recipe.
Preheat the oven to 450°F/232°C.
Drizzle the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish lightly with olive oil. Stagger the pita bread loaves on the baking dish and top each loaf with the thinly sliced onions. Season the pita bread loaves with salt and pepper and dust with about 3 tablespoons of the ground sumac.
Trim any excess fat from the chicken pieces. Place the chicken leg quarters on each of the pita bread loaves and season liberally with salt and pepper. Dust with the remaining 2 tablespoons of ground sumac. Drizzle the bread and chicken with about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil.
Bake at 450°F/232°C for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour, checking every 15 minutes to ensure that the pita bread does not burn. Cover the baking dish loosely with aluminum foil if the pita bread is browning too quickly.