The Secret Ingredient Andrew Zimmern Uses To Amp Up Chicken

Chicken is undoubtedly one of the most versatile proteins out there. You can go for white meat chicken, or dark, you can cook a whole bird, or simplify matters with pieces of breast meat, thighs, or legs. You can roast, sauté, bake, fry, poach, steam, or braise chicken, and you can flavor it with everything from plain old sea salt to complex spice blends such as garam masala and dukkah. As versatile — and delicious — as chicken is, it makes sense that the bird is widely consumed across a huge variety of world cultures. 

In the American South, you can chow down on crispy, juicy fried chicken; in Mexico, on shredded, chipotle-sauced chicken tinga; in Japan, on the charcoal-grilled skewers known as yakitori; and in India, on tandoor-fired chicken tandoori — to name just a few examples. But if you've never sampled Middle Eastern styles of chicken, from countries such as Syria and Iran, then you may not have had the pleasure of savoring an intriguingly fragrant flavoring, one that chef and food television host Andrew Zimmern frequently calls upon to kick his chicken dishes up a few notches.

Citrusy, musty dried limes add a ton of flavor to Zimmern's braised chicken

If you've ever browsed the aisle of a Middle Eastern specialty store, you've no doubt encountered riches among the aisles, from floral saffron to nutty tahini paste. Perhaps you've also noticed orbs about the size of a ping pong ball, which range in color from tan to black. These dried limes are called loomi, lumi, or black limes, and according to chef Zimmern can breathe new life into the most ordinary of dishes.

Commonly used in Iran, Iraq, and northern India, black limes are soaked in a salt brine and then sun-dried (via The New York Times). Sour, aromatic, and also funky and musty, the limes can be tossed whole into slow-cooking dishes such as stews, as well as ground into a powder and mixed into dry rubs. In his recipe for chicken with black limes, Zimmern does both, creating a heavily spiced marinade that coats pieces of dark meat chicken overnight. 

The next day, Zimmern sears the chicken, then braises it with chicken stock, dried apricots, tamarind paste, and whole black limes. Then, about an hour later, he reduces the sauce, stirs in lemon juice, fresh parsley, and mint, and serves the dish with steamed rice or couscous. So the next time you've got the flavors of the Middle East on your mind, pick up some dried limes and marvel at the funky, citrusy flavor they bring to so many dishes.