Speedy Syrian chicken bake

Syrian-style baked chicken with cous cous.
Syrian-style baked chicken with cous cous. Photo: Katrina Meynink

You can replace the finishing Aleppo chilli flakes with a chopped fresh red chilli added to the braising liquid. I included the chilli flakes as a means for dressing the dish at the end, and it's something you can leave off in case there are heat-averse or smaller tums in your family that need feeding. You could also make this in the one braising dish, but I prefer to fry off the chicken first to get that glorious 'Le Tan' look to the skin, before popping it in the oven.


about 1kg skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs

1 heaped tsp cumin seeds, toasted, roughly crushed

zest of 1 lemon

½ preserved lemon, finely chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

1 brown onion, peeled, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed (smoked garlic if available)

1 heaped tbsp freshly grated ginger

1 tsp sumac

Braising liquid

juice of 1 lemon

1 cinnamon quill (or 1 tsp ground cinnamon)

1½ cups chicken stock

400g can crushed tomatoes

small pinch saffron threads (or ½-1 tsp saffron powder)

1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted, roughly ground

½ tsp ground coriander

5 sprigs lemon thyme (or 3 tsp dried thyme)

¼ cup sultanas, roughly chopped, plus extra to serve

To serve

6-8 cavolo nero leaves, coarsely torn

250g Israeli cous cous

¼ cup mint leaves

¼ cup coriander leaves

chilli flakes or Aleppo pepper, to taste (optional)

Greek-style yoghurt (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 180C.

2. Add the chicken, crushed cumin seeds, lemon zest, preserved lemon and olive oil to a bowl. Using your hands massage the oil, lemon and cumin into the chicken.

3. Heat a large frypan over high heat. Add the chicken pieces, skin-side-down and immediately reduce heat to medium. Sear the chicken until the skin has browned, about 2-3 minutes. Turn chicken over in the pan and add the onion, garlic, ginger and sumac. Cook until the onion begins to soften, about 2-3 minutes.

3. Transfer mixture to a large baking dish or continue to use your frypan if you have enough room. Add all of the braising liquid ingredients and give it a shake or swirl to combine. Cover tightly with foil and bake in the oven for about 18-20 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for a further 10 minutes.

4. During the final 10 minutes of cooking time, prepare the cous cous according to packet instructions. Remove the chicken from the oven and stir through the cavolo nero, then set aside while you finish the cous cous.

5. Freshly chop the herbs and add to a bowl with the extra sultanas and the cooked cous cous. Season with salt and pepper and combine. Serve the chicken with the cous cous, chilli flakes and yoghurt, if using.

Tip: The addition of cavolo nero is hardly traditional, but I keep finding myself throwing bits of greens at most things I cook these days. Feel free to omit.

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