Over the past few years I’ve been exploring Middle Eastern flavour profiles with recipes like the spice blend za’atar, chicken with sumac, za’atar and lemon, and this beef stew with couscous, not to mention the roasted red pepper and walnut dip muhammara.
This week I had a hankering to take a kitchen trip to the Middle East again. My mind kept going back to the bottle of pomegranate molasses on the cupboard shelf. What if I used that to give chicken an exotic glaze?
What I came up with is a fast and easy dish using the principles that I’ve used for many kinds of meats over the years: sear for tasty caramelization, add onions for their melting-into-creaminess bite, and use a glaze along with spices and herbs to create a burnished, sticky finish as the meat roasts in the oven.
Pomegranate molasses is a syrup made by concentrating pomegranate juice and sugar. Despite the added sweetness, it’s still tart with a slightly bitter edge. Complex flavours like this add so much interest to a dish. It may seem somewhat counterintuitive, but instinct told me to add lemon juice, and along with the richness of olive oil, the meat and the onions, it worked. One of the tricks to creating balance is to be judicious in the amount of pomegranate molasses and lemon juice used; a little goes a long way. To further harmonize the overall flavour of the dish, I used the components of za’atar — ground sumac, dried thyme, salt and a garnish of sesame seeds. While the sumac is also tart and sweet, the thyme helps ground the dish.
I can see making a whole tray of these chicken thighs for a family outdoor dinner. Even though it’s anything but picnic weather here, I ate these sticky, rich and bright chicken morsels with my hands. Is there anything better than gnawing on a bone with sticky fingers? Bring on the napkins!
Pomegranate Molasses-Glazed Chicken Thighs
I favour chicken thighs over breasts these days because they’re more flavourful, juicier and cheaper. How’s that for a culinary hat trick? The chicken thighs I bought weren’t very big (and really, how big could a chicken’s thighs be anyway?), so this recipe is a single serving unless perhaps you’re eating them along with a big mound of mashed potatoes and even more vegetables. I made mine to enjoy along with a parsley and kale salad with pomegranate.
Pre-heat oven to 350℉.
- 1-1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 4 skinless chicken thighs, bone in
- a pinch or two of salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 small onion, sliced thinly lengthwise
- 1/4 tsp ground sumac
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- sesame seeds, for sprinkling
Mix 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil, the pomegranate molasses and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside. Heat the remaining olive oil over medium high heat in a heavy skillet just big enough for the chicken. Once it’s hot, place the chicken in the pan, top side down, and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Leave it until it browns and releases without too much effort. You may need to turn the heat down to medium if things are getting too hot. Don’t worry if some of the chicken sticks to the pan; it won’t go to waste.
When the chicken is just about ready to turn, scatter the onion slices around the pan. Turn the chicken, nudging the onion around so it’s mostly under the chicken. (This is my trick to avoid dirtying another plate to set the chicken on while you cook the onions. You’re welcome.) Cook for a couple of minutes, adding a tablespoon or two of water if the bottom of the pan is looking dry. Move things around a bit to get some of the sticky bits off the pan, but again, no worries. All will be good in the end.
Turn off the heat, and pour the pomegranate molasses glaze evenly over the four chicken thighs. Sprinkle the meat with the ground sumac and thyme, and more pepper and another pinch of salt if that’s how you roll. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 35 minutes. After 15 minutes, spoon the glaze over the chicken pieces.
At the end of the baking time, when the chicken thighs are cooked, reglaze them once more and then sprinkle a small amount of sesame seeds over them. I just did this by eye. You might be surprised at how little is needed to create a pleasing effect.