Spoiler Alert—This Dish Underwhelmed Me: I wish I could start by saying, “Keep reading, this is an amazing recipe!” but the truth is that it gets a big “Meh” and shrug of the shoulders. I should have known that a recipe calling for arak, a Lebanese liquor similar to ouzo or Pernod (both of which are substitutions the cookbook says you can make), would not necessarily go over well with me. I have come to like anise flavors a bit in small doses but the heavy-duty anise flavors provided by ouzo and the like totally repulse me. Not my thing. However, I imagine that there are people out there who would really enjoy this dish, it just so happens that my husband Andy and I both agree that it’s not a do-over recipe for us.
Arak, a Middle Eastern anise-flavored liquor. I am not into it but at least the bottle’s pretty!
First World Chicken Buying Problems: I have to start by saying that the problem I’m about to describe is a thoroughly first-world problem, but it’s a problem nonetheless. This recipe called for “1 large organic or free-range chicken, about 2.75 lb divided into 8 pieces, or the same weight in skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs.” Ok, great. (Side note: Can a 2.75 lb chicken really be called “large”?)
I ended up going to three different stores to find this. The first store had plenty of whole organic chickens, all of which were 5-6 lbs. The next store had slightly smaller organic chickens, about 4-5 lbs, and so I bought one of those in the hope that I could divide it into 8 pieces without totally butchering it (pardon the pun; is that a pun?!).
Staring hopelessly at all of those chickens that were mostly two times the weight of what I needed, I thought of the great hot dog bun scene from Father of the Bride. I didn’t want 5 lbs of chicken, I only wanted to buy 2.75 lbs pounds of chicken! Picture the absurd and disgusting sight of me ripping open the chicken packaging to divide one in half with my car keys. I wonder how long it would have taken before I was escorted out of the store.
Deciding that I didn’t want to mess up the recipe’s proportions by using too much chicken, I went to one more store in hopes that it would have the requisite amount of free-range and/or organic chicken. The recipe advised that you can also use 2.75 lbs of skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, but there was only one package of those that weighed in at about 1.5 lbs. Not only was that not enough but it was priced at the astronomical price of $5.99/lb. Yikes! I was afraid that using the skinless chicken thighs would result in dried out chicken so I finally opted to just use drumsticks. Three different stores in one afternoon and I finally settled on drumsticks, which I could have gone with at the first store and saved myself some trouble! I plan to roast the whole chicken I purchased at the first store in my slow cooker with this awesome-sounding recipe.
Fennel bulbs in the marinade
Possible Reasons This Didn’t Turn Out as Well as It Might Have:
- I skipped the hours-long or overnight marinating because I failed to read the recipe through before I started. It said that “skipping the marinating stage is also fine” but I am guessing that a longer marination would have made this much tastier. The flavors didn’t really absorb into the chicken very much and the flavor was pretty boring and one-dimensional.
- In addition to the three stores I went to not having the right amount of chicken, none had clementines. I substituted Honey mandarins, which are gorgeous and delicious (see photo below) but I stupidly didn’t remove the seeds from them. Those seeds sort of melted into the sauce as it reduced and gave a very unwelcome punch of bitterness. Whoops. Even if that bitter flavor hadn’t been present, I still don’t think I would have really like this dish very much. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that I prefer pretty much all of the recipes from Jerusalem I’ve tried over this one.
- The fennel bulbs are really pretty but they didn’t cook fully. They would have been a much nicer accompaniment if they had been able to cook a little longer. It might be a good idea to take the chicken out of the pan when it’s done and set it aside while the fennel bulbs go back in and cook for 10-15 minutes more. The insides of the bulbs were barely softened and it was not fun to try to bite through them.
- Maybe the substitution of drumsticks for thighs was a bad call. I have no clue.
Not for Me But Maybe It’s For You: Digging around online about this particular recipe, it seems to me that people are slightly less enthusiastic about this recipe than they are for other recipes from Jerusalem, but there are plenty of people who really liked it. Perhaps you might be one of them. In that case, here are a few places you can find the recipe, or slightly adapted versions of it, to try:
I Enjoyed Looking at this Dish More Than Eating It: Sometimes a dish is super homely yet super-delicious. Sometimes a dish is like a supermodel: really beautiful to look at but there’s not much going on beyond looks. That’s how this dish was for me. I am not exaggerating when I say that I enjoyed looking at and photographing it more than I enjoyed eating it. The bright yellows and oranges were beautiful. At least it sort of redeemed itself visually!
Thank goodness for the salad, basmati rice, and asparagus I made to accompany this chicken. I might have been pretty bummed about the meal had I not had these other things to enjoy.