CRAVE: Weeknight paprika-cumin chicken evokes Moroccan grilling

This image released by Milk Street shows a recipe for Moroccan Inspired Roasted Spiced Chicken. (Milk Street via AP)

In Morocco, djej mechoui simply means grilled chicken, but the aroma coming off it makes clear that it is so much more.

Slathered in smen, or fermented butter, the bird is richly seasoned with a mixture of cilantro, parsley, paprika, cayenne and cumin before being cooked over glowing coals. The sizzling mixture of spice and smoke is intoxicating, and it inspired this recipe from our book “Tuesday Nights Mediterranean,” which features weeknight-friendly meals from the region.

For our adaptation, we slash bone-in chicken leg quarters deeply to the bone, which speeds cooking and creates more surface area for seasoning. And cooking the chicken on a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet, rather than a deeper roasting pan, increases air flow around the meat to boost the flavor that comes with extra browning.

We start by making a simple spice-and-herb-infused butter with garlic, cumin, cayenne and smoked paprika, which is a Spanish spice, but it lends rich color along with a flavor evocative of outdoor grilling. The butter is brushed onto the chicken, which roasts in a hot oven.

The best way to lightly crush the cumin seeds is with a mortar and pestle, or you can pulse them in a spice grinder. Either way, be careful not to process them to a powder; they should retain some texture.

Don’t be shy about cutting through the skin and meat when slashing the chicken. Be sure to cut all the way to the bone so the seasonings can go deep.

Moroccan-Inspired Roasted Spiced Chicken

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Servings: 4


5 tablespoons salted butter

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons cumin seeds, lightly crushed

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus whole leaves to serve

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus whole leaves to serve

2 teaspoons packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice, plus lemon wedges, to serve

3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken leg quarters, patted dry


Heat the oven to 450°F with a rack in the middle position. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a wire rack on top.

In a small saucepan over medium, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cumin, then cook, swirling the pan, until the seeds sizzle, 60 to 90 seconds. Stir in the paprika, cayenne and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Cook until the spices are fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Remove from heat and whisk in the cilantro, parsley, sugar and lemon juice; set aside.

Using a sharp knife, cut parallel slashes on each chicken leg about 1 inch apart all the way to the bone on both sides of each leg. Season all over with salt, then brush both sides with about half of the butter mixture. Place the chicken skin up on the prepared rack and roast for 10 minutes.

Brush the remaining butter mixture onto the surface of the chicken. Continue to roast until well browned and the thickest part of the thigh reaches 175°F, about another 15 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and let rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and parsley leaves, then serve with lemon wedges on the side.


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