Well the heathen chicken wagon rolls forward with entry number two. Sumac berries are the red ripe berries of the the non-poisonous variety of the sumac tree found in the Middle East. Not to be confused with its North American relative. It is widely used in Jewish and Arab cooking and almost any Arab restaurant worth its salt (from the old Roman custom of paying soldiers in salt) will have a sumac rubbed chicken on the menu. The presence of it in a Jewish establishment marks the menu as coming from the Syrian, Lebanese or Land of Israel Jewish communities. The flavor is bright, tart and reminiscent of cranberry or currant.
I found mine in a middle eastern market here in Berkeley. I am always of two minds when shopping in these places. On one hand I lived for several years in Israel, have an array of Arab friends and even spent a week eating my way through Amman. So I am tempted to ask for things with a degree of comfort and even engage with the staff about whether the Za’atar is fresh and the pita local. On the other hand by doing so I know that sooner or later I will be asked where my knowledge comes from (I do not look in any way Middle Eastern). That is usually a relationship killer. But not always, I recall the owner of a Kebab place in Kansas City who was from the West Bank. He told me he loved American Jews- they were his best customers. In the end I kept my mouth shut and bought some ground sumac, some za’atar and some fava beans. The za’atar and the fava beans are for another day of cooking however.
The other thing I should point out is that I roast my chicken butterflied. This is a technique that I use to allow for a more even cooking time (the breasts and thighs cook at the same speed) and you get a nice expanse of crisp skin as a bonus. Also it should go without saying that you should brine your chicken. I added a tsp of sumac and a tsp of smoked paprika to the brine.
Recipe after the jump
For the rub:
2 tb ground sumac
1 tb salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
After removing the chicken from the brine place it on a cutting board breast down. Make an incision along the length of the spine and then carefully cut the skin away from either side. When the whole of the spine is exposed take a set of kitchen shears and cut the ribs on both sides of the spine and then remove the backbone. Now flip the chicken over and spread the two sides out until only the breast bone is sticking up. Using the heel of your hand and your best CPR form push down on the breast bone until it flattens out as well (you may hear it break- that’s ok).
Use paper towels to remove all excess water from the skin and then return the chicken to the refrigerator for another hour to let the skin dry. Pre-heat the oven to 400. Take the chicken out and rub on both the skin and inside with the sumac/salt mixture. Place the chicken on a roasting rack tucking the legs up alongside the thighs so they don’t burn. Cook about an hour or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160F. Let rest at least 15 minutes and enjoy.