Friday, July 3, 2015

Roast chicken with harissa and couscous

The last few days have been extremely hard for various reasons. I’ve been feeling exhausted, disheartened and a bit disoriented by the circumstances, and as a result, it’s been impossible to come here and share anything.

This place, however, has always been a refuge for me and it brings me joy to communicate with all of you through my food, so I decided to come here, to this beloved blog of mine, and share this dish.

This roast chicken with harissa and couscous has graced our dinner table many a time and not without good reason. S and I love spicy flavors and harissa is nothing if not spicy. It is a chilli pepper paste hailing from Tunisia although versions of it can be found in other North African countries like Algeria, Libya and Morocco. Each country has their twist to it which makes it their own, but the basic ingredients are the same. Hot red chilli peppers, olive oil, garlic, salt and spices like cumin, caraway and coriander. In some regions harissa is smoked, in others it is not. The texture varies as well from region to region with the paste having a thick or looser texture, or being smoother or chunkier.

Harissa is served with all kinds of meals and snacks, on top of bread, in stews, with meat or fish, grains and vegetables. I love smearing it on top of my bread like I showed you in this post, but also in meat and legume stews. One of my very favorite, though, is this one with chicken which is simply delicious.

The chicken gets a good rub with a mixture of harissa, garlic, olive oil, lemon and honey, and is roasted in the oven on a bed of thinly sliced lemon. The result is a highly addictive chicken with juicy flesh and crispy skin —oh that skin!— with spicy notes from the harissa but also sweetness from the honey and acidity from the lemon that tempers the fiery flavor of the Tunisian chilli paste.

The purpose of the lemon slices at the bottom of the pan is not only to make the chicken juicy and aromatic but to also accompany it in the finished dish. The lemon, in small doses, provides that pleasant sharpness that complements beautifully the heat of the harissa. The mint couscous is there to soak up all the lovely juices from the chicken, provide freshness and elevate the dish.

P.S. The situation in my country, Greece, saddens me deeply. I won’t go into details. I’m just hoping for the best…

Roast chicken with harissa and couscous

I always use the authentic Tunisian harissa but you can use whatever you can find. The harissa I use is very hot and spicy. If you find that yours is not very hot, add ½-1 Tbsp more than the amount indicated in the recipe.

The general proportions for cooking couscous is 1:1 which means 1 cup water for 1 cup couscous. I, however, enjoy my couscous on the dry side, especially when I serve it with saucy dishes like this one, so I prepare it with 1 cup couscous and ¾ cup water. If you want your couscous to be softer and slightly sticky, then you may want to add a little more than 1 cup. It would be wise, though, to read the instructions on the packet as not all couscous is the same.

Yield: 2-4 main-course servings


for the chicken
1 chicken, about 1,200 g, cut into 6-8 pieces*
2 garlic cloves, mashed
1½ Tbsp harissa
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp runny honey
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small lemon, thinly sliced

for the couscous
1 cup couscous
1 cup water
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
A handful of chopped fresh mint leaves

* I always cut the chicken into six pieces; legs, wings and breasts. You can also cut it into eight pieces, separating the legs into thighs and drumsticks, but I prefer not to because they remain juicier.

Special equipment: large barking tray, plastic wrap


make the chicken
Preheat your oven to 190-200°C.

In a large glass bowl, add the garlic, harissa, olive oil, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper and mix well with a spoon. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl and coat them well with the mixture.

Take a large baking pan (large enough to fit the chicken pieces in one layer) and arrange on the bottom the lemon slices. Place the chicken pieces on top, skin-side up, and pour the juices from the bowl over the top.

Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and roast the chicken for about 50 minutes, until it takes on a golden brown color and the skin becomes crispy and caramelized. Also, if you insert a knife or skewer on the thickest part of the chicken pieces, the juices should run clear and not be reddish in color. Don’t cook for longer because the chicken will dry out and become tough.

make the couscous
In the meantime, prepare the couscous.

Add the couscous in a medium-sized bowl.
In a small saucepan, add the water and olive oil, and place over high heat. When it comes to the boil, pour it over the couscous, add the salt, stir with a spoon and tightly cover the bowl immediately with a piece of plastic wrap. Leave it like that for about 10 minutes or until it has soaked the water. Then uncover it, taste it, and if it seems a bit hard, cover and leave it for a few more minutes.
When ready, remove and discard the plastic wrap and fluff the couscous with a fork.

Just before serving, check the seasoning and sprinkle with the chopped mint.

When the chicken is ready, serve in dishes on top of the couscous, not forgetting to pour over the whole dish the delicious juices from the pan. Also, do not forget to add a couple of lemon slices from the pan to each plate, which will give that pleasant acidity to temper the spiciness of the harissa.


  1. Omg I'm so hungry right now! I love this recipe. It's full of marocco flavor. I love that food. xx cathy

  2. I have been thinking of you when hearing the news about Greece. We, too, hope for the best... Thanks for sharing this recipe, even when you probably don't feel like either eating or cooking, much less posting! xo

    1. Thanks for your support David. Things are very difficult in Greece right now. And it doesn't look like they will be better any time soon... xoxo

  3. You have been on my mind more than once in the past days, truly. It is a truly difficult situation.

    1. Indeed. Thanks for thinking of me Fiona, I really appreciate it. xoxo

  4. So glad to see you back on this space. Your posts always inspire me and I'm excited each time I see a new post from you. The news from Greece is shocking. I hope only the best for you and your family.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind and supportive words. It means a lot to me that you read my blog and look forward to my posts. Greece is in a terrible situation right now and it makes me so sad. I'm hoping for a solution to come soon. xoxo

  5. Dear Magda-
    I have never posted a comment on your blog, mostly, because there always are so many other people who do so more eloquently.
    However, learning that you are understandibly sad and distressed concerning the current situation in Greece allow me to say this: following the news one might get the impression that most of Europe has taken a stance against Greece.
    We haven't Magda.
    I am of German origin, now living in France, and I can assure you that neither I nor any of my friends, French or German, are represented by what usually is being portrayed in the media as the so called public opinion. Quite on the contrary. But controversy sells best in the media, doesn't it?
    We have all fought for a long time for the idea of a peaceful, united , democratic Europe of equals , and I sincerely hope our dreams won't be shattered over a debt that has been inflicted on Greece without the say of its people. It is, as the president of Puerto Rico said about the debt of his country 'simply unpayable' and should be treated as such - an obscene amount of debt that came about under rather salubrious circumstances....
    With a big and warm hug from France, hoping that we can continue our journey together and wishing you and your family all the best - Marianne

    P.S. I made your chicken yesterday and it was sumptuous, as is everything you cook !

    1. Dear Marianna, thank you so very much for your comment and thank you for your support. Of course I know that not all German, Dutch or French people think badly of Greece and its people. It is indeed the media that make it out to be like that. I have faith in humanity and believe that sooner or later everyone will see what is going on around Europe and the world, the way politicians and the elite are treating entire nations. I'm so sad to see my pour country being bullied like this. I don't know if anything will come from the negotiations but the future seems rather bleak... Thanks again Marianne and I'm so glad you liked the chicken. xoxo

  6. Good Morning Magda
    You know, I have been raised with the concept never to forget history...
    The goal of a deep economic integration of Europe has always been to prevent future war and misery as expressed by the founding ideas of the ECSC.
    "The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was an international organisation serving to unify European countries after World War II. It was formally established by the Treaty of Paris (1951), which was signed by Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The ECSC was the first international organisation to be based on the principles of supranationalism,[2] and would ultimately lead the way to the founding of the European Union.
    The ECSC was first proposed by French foreign minister Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950 as a way to prevent further war between France and Germany. He declared his aim was to "make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible"[3] which was to be achieved by regional integration, of which the ECSC was the first step. The Treaty would create a common market for coal and steel among its member states which served to neutralise competition between European nations over natural resources..." (Wikipedia)

    This means that the people of Europe, you and me and all the rest of us, are to hold our politicians to these promises, unity and mutual support !

    Today I woke up to the BBC reporting that the IMF "said Greece's public debt had become "highly unsustainable" and it needed relief from its debts."
    Things are moving in the right direction, Magda!
    It's rather shameful that the EU needs reprimanding by the IMF, they should have come up with this idea themselves.

    Btw, I won't blame you if you chose not to publish this entry, it's become rather political. But then, I am a political person (and a passionate cook), as I think we all need to be, so our politicians don't think they can get away with their distorted vision of economic goals and wreck our lives. I sent an email to Angela Merkel to remind her of her obligations towards the founding ideas of our Union along with thousands of others who did so. We are the people of Europe and we are not going to stay silent.
    Have a lovely day, Magda. Me, I am going to celebrate the IMF's awakening to reality by making your Gemista today :)
    Marianne in France

    1. Hello Marianne. Of course I would publish your comment, even if it is politics-related and not food-related :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts and knowledge with me and, once more, I thank you for your support to my country and its people.
      Gemista is my favorite dish in the whole wide world. I hope you enjoy it!