This is one of my favorite dishes to make for casual entertaining. It’s delicious, easy, inexpensive, and very fresh-tasting — but it’s also an example of doing the “heavy lifting” ahead of time.
Last night I marinated the chicken for about half an hour, then cooked the thighs and cut them up into bits. Then I toasted the bread crunchies and made my white sauce. When I got home from work today, I set some rice to cook in the rice cooker, prepped my vegetables, and we had dinner on the table in about 20 minutes. Fancy chefs call this cooking “a la minute“; I just call it “getting your shit together so you can enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail with your guests.
Speaking of reheating: this is also fabulous the next day for lunch; just pack the chicken and rice in a microwavable container, the vegetables in another, and the bread crunchies in a third small container or plastic bag (omit the sauce on day two, or bring it in a fourth small container). When you get to work, reheat the chicken and add the other ingredients on top. You will be the envy of your break room.
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are a really wonderful cut of meat to work with. You can totally debone your own chicken thighs, but I prefer to buy “thigh fillets” at the Asian grocery, where they are rarely more than $1.39/lb. You can also ask your butcher to debone them for you (side note: get comfortable asking your regular grocery store butcher/fish counter person to do these kinds of things. When I hear food tv people say “oh, have your butcher shop _____ for you” I used to think that those services were only offered at pricey standalone butcher shops or fish sellers. Nonsense! The friendly man or woman in the hairnet behind the counter at Safeway is happy to help you with this stuff).
Anyway, chicken thighs are awesome. They are almost impossible to screw up, they are inexpensive, and they take well to an assertive marinade like this.
Halal Cart Chicken
adapted from Serious Eats
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled but not minced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- lots of black pepper (at least 1/2 teaspoon)
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- cooked white rice, for serving
- Toppings and Yogurt Sauce, for serving (below)
- 1 large cucumber, peeled and diced
- 1 small red or white onion, peeled and diced
- 1 large tomato, diced
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley and/or cilantro
- 1 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
- 4 large pita breads or any other flatbread, cut into 1/4 inch strips and toasted/sauteed in 2 tablespoons butter until lightly browned and crisp
- Hot sauce or Sriracha
- 1 cup any yogurt (preferably full fat Greek yogurt)
- 1 small garlic clove, pressed (optional)
- salt and pepper
- juice of 1/2 lemon, plus more if needed
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, optional
FOR THE CHICKEN: Combine the lemon juice, oregano, coriander, cumin, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a small container. Using a stick blender, blend until smooth (or use a food processor or regular blender). Combine half of this marinade in a ziploc bag with the chicken and refrigerate for up to a few hours (no longer). Save the other half of the marinade.
While the chicken is marinating, prepare your topping and yogurt sauce (see below).
When the chicken is done marinating, remove from the bag and wipe with a paper towel to remove excess spices and garlic. Heat a 12″ skillet over medium high heat for about 2 minutes, until quite hot. Add the vegetable oil and then the chicken. Cook until well-browned on the first side, about 3 minutes. Turn and continue to cook until both sides are well browned and the chicken is cooked through. Turn the heat off and remove the chicken to a cutting board, but do not rinse out the skillet.
(You can cook the chicken up to this point and then leave it for up to half an hour or even overnight in the fridge, doing the last step right before eating).
When you’re ready to eat, cut the chicken into 1/4 inch chunks or strips (your choice!) and return to the skillet with the reserved marinade. Rewarm over medium-high heat for a minute or two until hot.
To serve, place a scoop of rice on a plate or in a wide, shallow bowl (it’s OK to omit the rice if you’re on a fake caveperson diet, or use millet or coconut flakes or whatever the hell you weirdos do). Pile a modest amount of chicken on top and surround with a big pile of lettuce, a few spoonfulls of your Mediterranean “salsa”, and some of the pita crispies. Enjoy with extra hot sauce and an ice-cold beer.
FOR THE TOPPINGS: Toss the cucumber, onion, and tomato in a small bowl with about 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Let sit at least 10 minutes, then drain well in a strainer (this prevents the tomatoes from getting too watery and it also tames the flavor of the raw onion). Toss with parsley and/or cilantro. Set aside with the lettuce, crispy pita strips, yogurt, and hot sauce.
FOR THE YOGURT SAUCE: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Taste for seasoning; I find that this can take a fair amount of salt, especially if you’re using full-fat yogurt.