But what is it? Unlike most spices, sumac is not a seed, flower or leaf, but a bright red berry. It grows in bushes or small trees, mostly in Africa, parts of the Middle East and North America. It was in fact widely used in ancient Rome to flavour food until the arrival of the cultivated lemon relegated it to a more limited use. Yet, owing to its distinct and unique flavour, it lives on to flavour many dishes in the Middle East and Turkey to this day. The most famous dish is perhaps fattoush, and it is widely used to flavour salads, now often alongside lemon. But it also works really well with chicken.
I’ve made this dish on many occasions – it’s a classic of sorts at our home. I tend to use chicken leg – the slightly fattier cut balances the tanginess of the sumac perfectly. If you prefer, substitute chicken breast, but leave the skin on if you can.
Roast sumac chicken goes well with almost anything, but I find it best with a couple of simple sides. Plain rice or bulgur and a fresh salad or some roasted veggies. Serves two.
- Preheat the oven to 200 C (392 F).
- Mix the white and light green spring onion sticks with 1-2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp sumac and some salt and pepper. Place in a roasting tin which will accommodate the chicken snugly.
- Rub 1 tbsp olive oil onto all sides of the chicken. Season and add 2 tsp sumac to each piece (1 tsp on the underside and 1 tsp on the top of each piece). Transfer to the roasting tin, skin-side up.
- Leave to roast high up in the oven until the chicken is done, typically 25-30 minutes or more for legs, a little less for breast. If using chicken breast, I recommend using an electronic roasting thermometer and remove the chicken when its core temperature is 67 C (153 F). This ensures the chicken is cooked through but not overcooked. If using legs, make sure the juices run clear and leave a few minutes extra if unsure.
- Leave the chicken to rest for 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle on the final 1 tsp of sumac before serving.