Pepper, garlic, and spices are used to create an amazingly deep flavored chili sauce called harissa. Originating in Tunisia, this North Africa pepper sauce is also common in Libya, Algeria and Morocco. Used as an ingredient in goat or fish stew, harissa is also used in lablabi, a chickpea soup usually eaten for breakfast, and to flavor couscous. In addition the paste like pepper sauce makes an excellent rub for meats and eggplant. In regions like Tunisia that experience extreme temperatures and have little refrigeration, hot pepper paste is believed to act as a preservative for meat.
Recipes vary for harissa vary according to the household and the region. Ingredients can include cumin, red peppers, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. Saharan versions of the sauce are made with peppers that give it a smoky flavor.
To prepare Harissa:
- 10-12 dried red chili peppers
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
Soak the dried chilies in hot water for 30 – 45 minutes. Drain. Remove stems and seeds (I kept about half of the seeds to add heat).
Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree. Store harissa in the refrigerator in a tightly closed jar.
To prepare Harissa Grilled Chicken:
Rub chicken with harissa paste, covering all surfaces. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 2 – 3 hours. Heat grill on high. Turn off one half of the grill. On the side with no heat, place the chicken on a wire rack over a pan with about on inch of water in the bottom (indirect method). Close the lid, and cook for about 40 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165° F. (Cooking time will vary drastically depending on your cut of chicken. I used quarters which took about 50 minutes).Allow chicken to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
We enjoyed the spicy harissa chicken with some warmed naan bread, cucumber riata (to cool the heat), and a chickpea and couscous salad. What an exciting combination of flavors, and so easy to do. Next time you are looking for something a bit different to serve at a backyard barbecue, I hope you will give this a try. You and your guests will be astonished at the deep, rich, flavor of this tender chicken.