Monday, December 3, 2012

Djej Mechoui (Moroccan Grilled Chicken)

My culinary adventures have given me the opportunity to try new recipes and cooking techniques.  One of these new found experiences involves grilling whole chickens.  I have taught myself how to spatch-cock (or butterfly) the whole chicken and then learned how to use different rubs to create some amazing dinners.   

The rub recipes have provided me with a small window into different cuisines.  For example, the recipe for Pollo a las Brasas con Cebollitas -- with its use of ancho chile, oregano, cinnamon, garlic and citrus juice -- provides me with an insight as to how cooks at roadside stands in Mexico prepare their chicken.  By contrast, the recipe for Chicken Hawayil -- with a dry rub consisting of cumin, caraway, cardamom, saffron, cloves, coriander and turmeric -- illustrates the greater range of spices that may be available to cooks in the Yemen.  

Recently, I had the opportunity to prepare a grilled chicken recipe from a country that sort of sits at the midway point between Mexico and the Yemen ... Morocco.   The recipe is Djej Mechoui.  The word "Mechoui" is Arabic for "roast on a fire" and it describes a popular, North African grilled meat dish.  According to Wisegeek, there are two traditional ways to prepare a "Mechoui."  In Algeria, it involves the roasting of a whole lamb or sheep over a fire.  In Morocco, it involves roasting the lamb or sheep in the ground in a manner similar to a Polynesian pig roast.   Either way, the meat is heavily spiced before it is roasted.  

The use of spices differs greatly from the other recipes that I have tried.  Rather than using a dry rub, or a combination of dry ingredients with citrus juice, the Djej Mechoui uses a spice butter.  The spices are a combination of fresh ingredients (parsley, cilantro, garlic and scallions) and dried ingredients (sweet paprika, hot paprika, and cumin) that are blended into the butter.  The butter is then applied to both the skin and meat of the chicken just before the meat is placed on the grill. 
Finally, just a couple of technical notes.  For this recipe, I used a whole, free-range chicken that was fed a natural diet.  After all, I suspect (and hope) that most Moroccans (as well as Mexicans and Yemenis for that matter) are not getting their chickens from industrialized, mass-producing poultry farms.  In addition, as I did not have an open fire available to roast a chicken, I used my gas grill.  The result still produced a very delicious, tender and juicy chicken.

Recipe adapted from Saveur
Serves 4

3 scallions, white ends only, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 1⁄2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 pinch hot paprika
1 1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄4 cup butter, soft
1 3 pound chicken (or 4 poussins or 2 small chickens)

1. Make the spice butter.  Crush the scallions, garlic, cilantro, parsley, salt, sweet paprika, hot paprika, and cumin with a mortar and pestle. Blend in butter.

2. Marinate the chicken.  Wash poussins or chickens; split them down the back and flatten; dry well; and rub inside and out with butter paste. Let stand at least 1 hour.

3. Grill the chicken.  Preheat the grill, then cook chicken skin side up. Turn after 2 minutes and baste with any extra paste. Continue to turn and baste until skin is crisp and flesh is firm.

One last note ... I served this Djej Mechoui with a Moroccan Raw Carrot Salad.  This Moroccan-inspired meal was amazing.



Megan Earl said...

That looks absolutely delicious! I love méchoui ! thanks for the recipe!

Keith Bolek said...

Thank you very much for taking the time to read my blog and leave a comment.

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