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Sep 13, 2011
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Wine With . . . Roast Chicken Moroccan-Style

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

When our friends Sally and Michael lost their power for a couple of days during Hurricane Irene, we were the recipients of some of the contents of their freezer, including a plump, organic chicken. Taking advantage of this unexpected windfall, we decided to roast the chicken and pair it with a variety of different wines.

The first time we experimented with roast chicken (Wine With “Roast Chicken,” August 2005), we found that contrary to what we’d expected, white rather than red wines were generally the better match. The reason, we decided, was that the chicken was prepared in the simplest, most straightforward manner, with nothing more than a little olive oil, salt, and pepper for seasoning. This time around we wanted to ramp the flavors up to see if we could make it a better partner for reds. After considering many options—stuffing the bird with sausage, smearing it with mustard, wrapping it in bacon—we finally opted to cover it with a spicy Moroccan-inspired rub.

To roast the chicken, we borrowed an idea from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, and set it to cook on an edible rack of bread. While not an essential element in the recipe, the bread at the bottom of the pan absorbs the cooking juices, thereby becoming deliciously saturated with chicken and spice flavors (and—we can’t lie--plenty of succulent chicken fat as well). Since it’s too over-toasted to be handily maneuvered with knife and fork, picking the bread up and enjoying it hand-to-mouth is the only practical way to eat it. Lots of napkins are required.

Roast Chicken Moroccan-Style

(Serves 4)

One 4-5 pound chicken, preferably organic

Optional: 2-4 slices (about an inch thick) of country-style bread, or ½ baguette

½ cup chopped cilantro

½ cup chopped fresh mint

2-4 cloves garlic, chopped

½ teaspoon saffron

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

½ teaspoon (or more) Aleppo pepper (or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne)

1 ½ teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons warm water

After removing the liver and other miscellaneous parts that may be in the chicken’s cavity, pat the bird dry with paper towels.

Rub the inside of a sturdy, high-sided casserole with olive oil. If using a baguette, cut it in half, and then slice each half down the middle so that you have four pieces of approximately the same size. Arrange the bread slices in a single layer in the bottom of the pot and place the chicken, breast-side up, on top of the bread.

Place all the other ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until a rough paste is formed. Rub the mixture all over the chicken, outside and in (you can use a flexible spatula, but clean hands are more efficient). Reserve a couple of teaspoons of the rub to use for the sauce.

Loosely cover the chicken and let it sit in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes, and preferably several hours or overnight. To cook it, preheat the oven to 450°. Roast the chicken for about 90 minutes, or until the breast registers 170° and the thighs 180°. (If the chicken starts getting too brown during cooking, cover the top loosely with a piece of foil.)

Transfer the bird to a carving board and let it rest about 10 minutes before carving. Place a slice of bread on each of four serving plates. Heat the remaining rub ingredients (a microwave works fine), and stir a couple of spoonfuls of the roasting juices into it. Once the bird has been carved, baste the pieces lightly with this sauce.

t t t

We tried eight reds and three whites with this spicy roast chicken. True to expectations, the reds performed better overall. Not all of them, though. A number were simply too big, their weight and power overwhelming the taste of the bird. And wines with overt tannin seemed cumbersome. The ones we are suggesting worked well because, in addition to being light or at most medium-bodied, they either echoed the dish with spicy flavors or provided a satisfying contrast with sweet, juicy fruit. At the same time, we are recommending one white. Unlike another that seemed too delicate or still another that was excessively oak-driven, it was just too good not to recommend.


Approx. Price


Byron, Santa Barbara County (California) Pinot Noir 2009


Impressive as much because of what it’s not—not heavy, not overly extracted or jammy—this wine’s bright fruit (cherry) flavors and subtle spicy undertones made for an especially compelling match.

Chateau Ste Michelle, Columbia Valley (Washington) “Indian Wells” Merlot 2009


Almost too big for our chicken, this wine’s overt, juicy fruitiness redeemed it and made it a fine partner, particularly with the bird’s dark meat.

Joseph Drouhin, Côte de Beaine-Villages (Burgundy, France) 2009

(Imported by Dreyfus Ashby & Co.)


Genuinely light-bodied, with echoes of mushrooms and savory spice in the finish, this classy wine meshed seamlessly with the spicy rub on the bird.

Kenwood, Russian River Valley (California) Pinot Gris 2010


The best white match we tried, the overt fruitiness (reminiscent of pears and sweet apples) in the wine provided a juicy counterpoint to the chicken’s spiciness. The absence of oak keeps the wine lively.

Spice Route, Swartland (South Africa) Pinotage 2008

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


One of the better Pinotages we’ve tried, this wine tastes like deep, dark, but at the same time supple and lithe. Medium-weight, its underlying spiciness and savory character made it work very well with our Moroccan-style chicken.