If you are in the habit of cooking chicken, you have most likely seasoned it with lemon, garlic and herbs. It is one of those classic flavor combinations that, while predictable, never gets old.
Within this seemingly narrow formula, there lies a vast array of possibilities: You could end up with a dinner as subdued and elegant as a roasted chicken scented with just a hint of citrus, herbs and garlic. Or you could cook something a whole lot gutsier and more intense: a bird so slathered with puréed herbs, Middle Eastern spices, garlic and lemon that not a crevice is left untouched.
This summery chicken thigh recipe fits in the spirited category.
My goal was to push the limits of seasoning to see how much garlic, lemon and herbs I could add to chicken before it would become too much. I haven’t gotten there yet. But I did get to an excellent place for dinner. And with a ratio of one garlic clove per boneless chicken thigh, it’s a pretty piquant place to be.
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As far as the herbs and spices go, I based my marinade on za’atar, a Middle Eastern seasoning mix often made from dried thyme and oregano (or marjoram), sesame seeds, sumac and salt. In this recipe, I substitute fresh herbs for the dried, and stir in some mint and parsley to increase the herbal diversity. Adding both lemon zest and juice gives this chicken the deepest lemon notes possible.
The stronger the marinade, the less time you need to marinate. With this pungent mix, 15 minutes will suffice. But longer is better, with eight hours being ideal, although you could leave it up to 24 hours if you are really planning ahead. Another option is to freeze the meat once you have smeared on the marinade. As the chicken defrosts, the ingredients work their way into the meat, imbuing it nicely with flavor.
When it is time to cook, grill the chicken, if you’re cooking outside, or broil, if you’re cooking in. The high heat helps to mellow out the pungency of the garlic while giving the chicken an attractively speckled black-and-brown sear.
As a final touch, all you need to do is slice up a tomato or some cucumbers, and dress them with a quickly made yogurt sauce, which acts as a cooling garnish for the chicken. It makes a heady dinner for the height of summer.
Middle Eastern herb and garlic chicken
Yield: 4 to 6 servings; total time: 40 minutes, plus 8 hours’ marinating
6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 1 3/4 pounds)
6 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane or minced
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more for serving
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, more for serving
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano or marjoram
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, more for garnish (optional)
3/4 teaspoon sumac, more for garnish (optional)
2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt, preferably whole milk yogurt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Combine chicken with all but 1 teaspoon of the grated garlic (save that teaspoon for the yogurt sauce), the zest and juice of 1 lemon, oil, parsley, mint, thyme, oregano, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and the sesame seeds and sumac, if using. Cover and marinate for 15 to 30 minutes at room temperature; you can refrigerate it for up to 24 hours.
Heat grill or broiler. If grilling, cook chicken over high heat until charred in spots, 4 to 7 minutes. Flip pieces and continue grilling until just cooked through, another 4 to 7 minutes. If broiling, arrange a rack 3 to 4 inches from flame. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spread chicken out in a single layer. Broil chicken, turning halfway through cooking, until well colored and charred in spots, 4 to 7 minutes per side. Be careful that it doesn’t burn.
While chicken cooks, place yogurt in a small bowl. Stir in the reserved grated garlic and lemon zest and season to taste with salt. Serve the chicken drizzled with olive oil, remaining lemon juice to taste, black pepper, parsley and sesame seeds and sumac, if using, with the yogurt alongside for dipping.