Harissa Chicken

Harissa Chicken.  Roast chicken thighs flavoured with my spicy harissa marinade.

I have so many chicken recipes, it’s almost embarrassing. But it’s such an easy meat to work with and everybody loves it. Out of all my chicken recipes, I make harissa chicken most often.

I think of my harissa chicken as being the Little Black Dress of chicken recipes.  You can dress it down for a mid-week meal, dress it up for the weekend or dinner with guests.  Either way, just like the dress, it’s simple stunning and has stood the test of time at my table.

Ever since I discovered Harissa, which is a north African spice paste found often in Tunisia and Morocco I’ve been using it to pep up meat dishes.  The best place to find either a good supermarket or delicatessen, if you can’t find it there,  try stores that specialize in food from these areas, also Turkish delis are a good bet.

I’ve found there’s quite a bit difference in the pastes, mainly in the level of chili heat they contain, so have a taste first and adjust the amount you use accordingly.

I call the harissa flavouring a marinade in this recipe, which is probably a bit of an exaggeration, it’s really a cook-in sauce, although you can make it and leave the chicken in it for a while before you cook it, in which case it would be more of a marinade.  I’ve tried both ways, many times, and it’s more a matter of convenience as to which one I chose, the flavour is just as good either way.

There will be some people who’ll want to use chicken breast for this recipe.  They’ll say it’s healthier, less fat or something, and they may be right.  But, it won’t taste as good.  I hardly ever use chicken breast, they dry out easily when cooked and have little to no flavour.  There’s been too many times when I’ve found myself adding fat in some form or another to chicken breasts to inject some kind of taste, I’ve learnt that thighs are the way to go.  The benefit of breasts if you want to cut down on fat – if any – is so negligible I would discourage it.  In fact, what I mean to say is, don’t be silly, use the thighs

Harissa Chicken Recipe

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 20 to 25 minutes

Serves: 4

For the Harissa Chicken

8 to 12 thighs, boned and skinned.

1 x red onion chopped in thin half rings.

For the Marinade

1 x tbsp honey

1 x tbsp of olive oil

Juice of one lemon

2 x tbsp harissa paste

1 x tbsp tomato ketchup – optional, I add it because the harissa past I use is really spicy and the ketchup tones it down a little.

1 x heaped tsp ground cumin

1 x heaped tsp ground turmeric

1 x heaped tsp paprika powder

I don’t add any salt, there’s enough in the harissa paste and the tomato ketchup.  Once you have mixed the marinade you can taste it for yourself and add a little salt if you feel it needs the extra seasoning.


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/400°F
  2. Line a roasting tray with aluminium foil.
  3. Mix the marinade ingredients together in a bowl, add the chicken, mix it through and cover it in the marinade
  4. When the oven has reached temperature, place your chicken pieces in lined  tray, spread them out giving them enough space to cook evenly.  Sprinkle over the chopped onion.
  5. Place the tray in the oven and cook for 20 to 25 minutes.  Check after about 15 minutes.  Make sure you check the chicken as it can burn quite easily.  The honey can do this.  If the outside of the meat is getting too dark, but the chicken is not cooked through, cover it with some aluminium foil.  The cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your chicken thighs.

Tips and Variations

  • I like to serve it with tabouleh, chickpea or cous cous salads.  If I’m in a real hurry though, I’ll open a can of pulses; chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans or butter beans all work.  A mix will give you a nice splash of colour.  Then with some salad leaves, chopped tomatoes and spring onions, I’ll make a simple salad dressing and serve that with my chicken.
  • If you make this dish for less than 4 persons, you’ll probably still need the same amount of marinade as above.
  • I’d encourage you to play around with the marinade mix, add a little more of what you like and a little less of what you don’t.
  • As with so many things I cook, I make extra.  My harissa chicken is perfect eaten cold too.  One of my favourite things to do is to cut the chicken up, add a little mayonnaise, sometimes mixed with natural yogurt, depending on how much mayo I have or how fat I might be feeling, and a chopped spring onion and enjoy it as a sandwich filling.
  • If you want to try making your own harissa paste, here’s a recipe from the expert Yotam Ottolenghi.
Harissa Chicken - marinaded and ready for the oven.

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