I rose to the occasion today, well at least on the culinary front, when I found myself facing the task of preparing lunch for my daughter and myself. Like a listless airline steward, resigned to asking his trite question, I cleared my throat and marveled out loud: “What would it be Nadia, pasta or chicken?” It was perhaps the fact that she didn't actually care and that she left me to my own devices that set me on the path to prepare and cook, the perfect Broiled Syrian Chicken with Sumac.
The very first time I heard that there's such an entree was in 1984 in Lafayette, Louisiana, of all places. I was driving on a side, obscure street, in the downtown area, when I saw a nondescript sign advertising Syrian Chicken. I parallel parked across from the olden structure and went in. A young lady, in her mid-seventies, greeted me with a smile that brought the charm of the Tartous countryside to southwestern Louisiana. Her parents came from Daher Safra, she confided, but she was born in the USA. She'd been home to Syria just once in the 1950's. She did speak a little Arabic though, and she knew how to cook Syrian food. I ordered her specialty, Broiled Syrian Chicken with Sumac, as per her recommendation. I don't think I ever tasted to this day any poultry dish that even comes close to her simple masterpiece. All I remember, however, is that it was served in a paper plate with onions and potatoes and that it tasted brazenly of sumac.
The idea of recreating this dish struck me. I was challenged by my daughter's indifference, and I intended to leave an immutable mark on her palate. I daresay that I exceeded my own expectations and most certainly hers with the outcome.
I cook by the seat of my pants. The list of ingredients below was compiled out of what I found in the fridge and the kitchen cabinets. Don't bother yourself with exact measurement. Follow your nose and eye, trust your delish memories, and have balls (or whatever the proper politically correct female equivalent are).
List of Ingredients:
- 1 chicken cut in pieces
- 4 medium sized potatoes (½” slices)
- 2 medium sized onions (cut in rings)
- 2 medium sized tomatoes (1/2” slices)
- Bell peppers: 1 green, 1 red, and 1 orange (cut in rings)
- A few jalapenos (if you're so inclined; cut in rings)
- Garlic (as much as you want; peeled and finally chopped.
- Every imaginable spice and dry pepper possible, or whatever you happen to have. I used cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, oregano, thyme, and red pepper flakes.
- Sumac, plenty of.
- 1 liter of red wine or balsamic vinegar
- Ketchup, HP sauce, mustard, Tabasco, soy sauce... whatever, eh!
- In a bowl, marinate the pieces of chicken, after cutting them diagonally in the wine or vinegar, adding all the spices listed above and salt. Cover and leave in the fridge for 3 hours.
- Spread the potatoes, onions, tomatoes, peppers and garlic in a pan. Place the pieces of chicken on top.
- Top each piece with ketchup, HP sauce, mustard, Tabasco, soy sauce and sprinkle with plenty of sumac. Wipe them evenly with a knife.
- Pour the spicy marinating wine or vinegar in the pan making sure it covers the veggies but not the pieces of chicken.
- Cover and seal pan with aluminum foil, place in oven at 185ºC for 1 hour.
- Remove aluminum foil and turn top heat in oven on for 15 minutes.
- Serve and enjoy.