Upgrade Your Baked Chicken Dinner With The Spicy, Smoky Flavors Of Harissa

Baked chicken is a steadfast classic, a pillar to turn to when in need of a hearty, delicious meal. Served alongside other mainstays like mashed potatoes or roasted vegetables, there's nothing like tender, juicy baked chicken. Still, it never hurts to enhance it a bit, which is easy to do by incorporating smoky harissa.

Originating in Tunisia, harissa made its way throughout the rest of the region to become a staple of several Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) cuisines. It is a paste made from red peppers, tomato paste, garlic, and olive oil that gives your chicken a kick without overwhelming the palate. The heat in harissa has more of an enveloping warmth rather than a spicy bite, thanks to spices like cumin, caraway, and coriander that provide baked chicken with depth.

While harissa paste is easy to make — either from scratch or by mixing a powder with olive oil — large grocery chains tend to carry a pre-made version. In her easy baked harissa chicken dish, recipe developer Jessica Morone opts to add a layer of sweetness to the smoky condiment. She mixes the paste with honey, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper before using it to marinate the chicken. At home you could enjoy this tangy, aromatic dish with roasted garlic tomato lentil bowls or couscous with grilled peppers and chickpeas.

Other ways to incorporate harissa in a chicken dish

Harissa paste's texture makes it easy to spread onto chicken before popping it into the oven, so it makes sense that baking might be one's method of choice. However, it shouldn't be limited to just one technique. Bring out the smoky parts of harissa by using it with grilled chicken. Marinate the chicken with harissa, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and herbs, and heat it up on the grill. Serve it with a quick shirazi salad.

To really infuse chicken with harissa's rich flavors, braise the chicken with a mix of the paste plus broth. After heating shallots and garlic in olive oil for a few minutes, add a generous helping of harissa paste into the pot. Saute it for a few minutes before adding chicken broth, or try coconut milk for a creamier result. Add rosemary, bay leaves, and thyme and let the chicken simmer in the spicy liquid. Serve the savory, smoky dish atop a bed of saffron rice pilaf.