A combination of baked chicken and rice is never far from a Balkan table. To me, it embodies the Balkan ethos of cleverly utilising a little bit of meat in such a way as to make it go further. Often, we would use one whole chicken to make stock or a family roast. Any roast leftovers would then be used to make baked chicken and rice, and likely several other family meals, like soup. On occasion we would also use chicken pieces specifically for this, or to be baked with vegetables or Balkan style pasta (for example, tarana).
In speaking to my mother about my love of baked chicken and rice (a love I have instilled in my son too), she mentioned that a lot of older recipes from the region used ancient grains like bulgur wheat instead of rice. Bulgur wheat used to be very widely available but for some reason then fell out of fashion (or availability) in the Balkans. This conversation inspired me to try making a rather special and more indulgent version of baked chicken and rice, using a whole chicken and a grain other than rice. I came across siyez while on a quest to find other nutritious grains for my son. Siyez is an einkorn wheat, like bulgur wheat. It is an ancient grain cultivated in Turkey for over 10,000 years. Its incredible nutritional value is now being rediscovered and it is becoming more widely available. I feel the use of ancient grains, like siyez, very likely predates the use of rice in the Balkan region, so I’d like to think that my variation is not too much of a departure from the Balkan classic of baked chicken and rice and not too out of place in a Balkan Kitchen.
The chicken itself is flavoured with butter, garlic, parsley, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper all rubbed under and over the skin, and the cavity of the chicken stuffed with more garlic cloves and lemon slices. The chicken is roast or baked on a bed of siyez flavoured with sautéed onion or leek, pepper, celery, carrot, courgette and potato, with lots of herbs, a little sweet paprika and lots of good chicken stock. Everything bakes together gently, the chicken retaining and absorbing deliciously flavoured moisture from the siyez, and the siyez absorbing all the beautiful chicken juices.
This is truly one of my favourite things to cook for my family. And to eat, of course. I hope you enjoy it.
- For the siyez
4 tbsp sunflower (or other neutral) oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 leek or 2-3 spring onions, finely chopped
2-3 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 long red or green pepper, finely chopped
1 tomato, grated (or 1 -2 tbsp tomato puree)
2 carrots, finely cubed
2 medium potatoes, cubed
2 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp dry oregano
Handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
Salt + black pepper, to taste
300g siyez (or risotto rice, bulgur wheat or pearl barley)
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
- For the chicken
1 whole chicken (organic and free range if you can)
75g butter, softened
2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
4-6 garlic cloves, peeled and 2 crushed, the rest sliced
2 unwaxed lemons, 1 zested and juiced, the other sliced
Salt + black pepper, to taste
- Heat oven to 180C/gas 6.
- Heat the oil in a large, wide non-stick frying pan. On a medium heat, sautee the onion for a few minutes until softened. Add all the remaining vegetables in the order listed above, sauteeing each for a few minutes between additions. You are looking to seal in flavour, not cook through. Then add the sweet paprika and fry for 1 minute taking care not to burn. You may want to add a splash of water to loosen if the vegetable mix is too dry or catching on the base of your pan. Add the oregano, parsley and salt and pepper.
- Add in the siyez, stir to coat in the vegetable, spice and herb mixture. Pour in the stock then transfer the mixture to a large baking dish.
- Prepare your chicken. Combine the butter, parsley, 2 crushed garlic cloves, lemon zest. Rub the chicken (under and over the skin) with the herb butter. Generously season the skin and inside the cavity of the chicken with salt and black pepper. Add the rest of the sliced garlic cloves and half the lemon slices inside the cavity of the chicken (reserving 4-5 lemon slices). Place the chicken in the baking dish to sit on top of the siyez and vegetable mixture. Drizzle lemon juice over the chicken and the siyez.
- Bake in the oven, uncovered. After an hour check whether the siyez has enough moisture, if not, top up with a little more stock or water. Place the reserved lemon slices over the chicken, squeezing a little more of their juice over the chicken when you do. Return to the oven and continue to bake until the chicken is cooked through and the juices run clear.
- Remove from the oven, cover the baking dish loosely with foil, rest the chicken for at least 15 minutes before carving and serving. Serve the siyez with fresh chopped parsley.