Preserved Lemon, Sumac, and Herb Grilled Spatchcocked Chicken


This recipe was inspired by ingredients rather than a particular dish, but it is strongly influenced by my exposure to Moroccan and Middle Eastern recipes. I bought sumac for the first time when I started noticing it in Ottolenghi cookbooks. Sumac is a beautiful red color, and is tangy, without the acidity that citrus has. It compliments lemon very well, and adds an extra brightness. Around the same time, I also started making my own preserved lemons, and they are now an ingredient I use frequently and try to always have on hand. This chicken also includes another spice I love from Arab cuisine, Aleppo pepper, which is not too spicy and has a slight fruitiness to it.

I love this chicken on a sunny day. It is so flavorful and bright. The lemon, spices, and herbs go so well with the flavor fire and smoke provide. I like to serve it with a spread of fresh salads and pearl couscous. I also eat mine with crispy chili garlic oil. (See note if you need a recipe.)

grilled chicken quarter leg and thigh over pearl couscous with crispy garlic chili oil

I spatchcock the chicken here so that preserved lemon and aromatics can be rubbed under the skin before it is grilled. Spatchcocking a chicken is surprisingly easy. In fact I realized that the first several times I did it, I overcomplicated it and removed too much. I recommend checking out a YouTube video if you have not spatchcocked a chicken before. It also makes it easier to grill and helps cook it more evenly. This preparation would also be great for roasted chicken. If you opt for that route, you can increase the amount of oil, and there is no need to spatchcock the chicken.

Preserved Lemon, Sumac, and Herb Grilled Spatchcocked Chicken

  • One small chicken, about 3.5lbs spatchcocked
  • 1 preserved lemon
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup hardy herbs picked from stems (Rosemary, thyme, oregano, savory are some suggestions.)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, divided or more if desired
  • 2 teaspoons ground sumac
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste (see note)
  • Optional: crispy garlic chili oil for serving, recipe in notes
  1. Discard the seeds of the preserved lemon. Finely chop the flesh and rind. Mince or finely grate the garlic. Chop the herbs, and set aside a heaping tablespoon. Combine preserved lemon, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, and herbs with 2 teaspoons of olive oil.
  2. Mix remaining herbs, sumac, Aleppo pepper, and Kosher salt together.
  3. Starting near the bottom of the chicken, carefully pull away the skin from the breast, and then the thighs. Then put the preserved lemon herb paste in between the meat and the skin.
  4. Season outside of chicken with the spice mixture. Refrigerate the chicken ideally overnight.
  5. About an hour before you’d like to start cooking the chicken, pull it out to room temperature.
  6. Preheat your grill. If you’re using a charcoal grill, put the coals on half of the grill so the other half can be used for indirect cooking.
  7. When grill is ready, start the chicken bone side down, and cook for about 6 minutes. Then grill the top, which is the presentation side, 2-3 minutes depending on how hot the grill is. Keep an eye on it. Some char is good, but it’s a fine line between well-charred and too much.
  8. Flip the chicken back over to presentation side up. Move the chicken over to indirect heat. If you’re using a gas grill, you can lower the temperature to low. If you’re using a charcoal grill and the charcoal seems to have cooled you can keep it over the coals. Cook for about 30 more minutes, rotating occasionally. Cook until internal temperature reaches 165F. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
raw spatchcocked chicken with preserved lemon, sumac, herbs and Aleppo pepper


  • To make crispy garlic chili oil: combine one head of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced, 1/2 cup of crushed red pepper, and 1/2 cup of Aleppo pepper flakes with 12oz neutral oil such as avocado, vegetable or canola in a small sauce pan.(You can use any combination of pepper flakes, but I like this ratio because the crushed red pepper flakes are usually spicier than the Aleppo pepper, but the Aleppo pepper has a nice fruity flavor.) Heat over medium-high heat until it starts to simmer, and then turn down to medium-low. Simmer until the garlic is golden brown. The garlic will feel more crispy when it cools. This must be stored in the fridge because of the garlic, but it will keep for about a month. It makes a thick chili oil, so you can cut some of the chili flakes if you want it a little thinner or less spicy. It thickens in the fridge with cooling. Pull out what you want to serve ahead of time if that bothers you.
  • On salt: I typically use Morton’s Kosher salt. The amount of salt you will need will vary depending on the type and how coarse it is. I normally avoid giving amounts for salt, but felt like making a suggestion here since the preserved lemons also provide quite a bit of sodium.

If you like these flavors, check out these recipes:

Saffron Lemon Chicken and Rice

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpeas With Preserved Lemon Yogurt

4 comments on “Preserved Lemon, Sumac, and Herb Grilled Spatchcocked Chicken”

  1. This was an amazing chicken dish! JUICY, FLAVORS TO DIE FOR! Funny thing, I had been looking for Sumac for a while because I see it in a lot of middle eastern dishes I want to make. Found some totally by accident at a Whole Foods. Then my young lemon tree gave us 10 lemons all at once, so I made some pie and other lemony things, and used 5 of the lemons to make Preserved Lemons–because I also see that called for in many middle eastern recipes. Then I googled for ideas of what to make with my preserved lemons and the sumac, and came upon this recipe. Can’t recommend it enough. So easy and so flavorful! Will def make again!


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