This chicken dish is the real reason I started making preserved lemons at home. Ana Sortun, one of my favorite local chefs (she's the owner and chef at Oleana in Cambridge, MA), and also a fellow LCB alum, has had this wildly popular dish on her menu from the very start. Like Gordon Hammersly's Herb-Roasted Chicken, and Joel Robuchon's Pomme-Puree, it has become a dish so popular with her guests that she dare not pull it from her menu.
This recipe is culled from her terrific cookbook, Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, and in its original form calls for making a quick lemon confit as part of the prep. Making the confit is not difficult, but it was so much easier to be able to reach into the fridge and pull a few preserved lemons to make the lemon-butter for this dish. This is basically chicken under a brick on steroids. By stuffing a lemon-butter under the skin, and dusting the outside of the chicken with a combination of salt, pepper and z'atar, you end up with a super crispy, yet deliciously flavored and moist piece of chicken that is habit forming in the very best way.
Rather than use a brick to press the chicken into the pan, I wrap the base of a slightly smaller skillet than I'm cooking in with a layer of heavy duty foil, and use it as a brick to press a whole pan of chicken pieces at once. Also, whereas Ana calls for stuffing cubes of butter, and chopped lemon confit under the skin in separate steps, I mash the butter and lemon together prior to squeezing it under the chicken skin. You may do as you please.
Cheers – Steve
- 1/3 cup chopped preserved lemon
- 3/4 stick butter at room temperature
- 4 1/2 pounds of chicken, skin on, but de-boned (we used thighs and breasts)
- 8 tablespoons Z'atar
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- In a small bowl, mash the butter and preserved lemon together to make a lemon-butter.
- Season the chicken pieces on all sides with salt and pepper. Create pockets under the skin of each piece of chicken with your fingers. make the pockets go as deep as you can without piercing all the way through to the other side.
- Divide the lemon-butter among the pieces of chicken, distributing it evenly under the skin of each piece.
- Heat a large skillet over high heat, and place a little butter and EVOO in to melt. When the butter begins to brown, place the chicken skin side down into the pan. be careful not to overcrowd the pan (you will need to cook the chicken in 2 batches or 2 pans). Place the foil wrapped skillet on top of the chicken and press into place. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook until the chicken is brown and crispy on one side, about 8 minutes. Remove the top pan and turn the chicken over. Add a little more butter to the pan and then place the covered skillet back over the chicken. Cook for another 8-10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
- Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a large platter, sprinkle liberally with the Z'atar and serve.