Roast Chicken with Sumac and Thyme


Have you ever worked in customer service?  If you have, you know this feeling.  A customer comes in, and you know immediately that there’s going to be trouble.  Maybe it’s a crotchety old man with that glint in his eye which says, “I’m OLD so I’m ENTITLED, and I have no one else to grump to because my grandchildren (ungrateful wretches) never visit me, so you’d best suit up because it’s your turn.”  Or maybe it’s the middle aged woman with lacquered hair and the expensive stilettos that her husband paid for, unbeknownst to him, who secretly wishes that she were on Desperate Housewives and resents anyone who isn’t scowling and downtrodden…as well as the ones that are.  Oh, or my favorite:  the gaggle of teen-aged girls who are just old enough to have money to waste, but not old enough to appreciate that fact.  YAAAAAY GIRLSQUAD!!  

So there you are, just trying to make a living and do your best to live a good life.  You’re courteous.  You’re conscientious.  You do as good of a job as you can.  But Evil Customer 88 feels that it’s his/her gift to the world to spread heartache and despair, starting with you.  “Grump grump grump!!”  You smile and nod.  “Crank crank crank!!!”  Your smile doesn’t falter and you remain the tranquil picture of civility.  “Growl groan mutter moan!!!”  The smile is pasted and you steel yourself not to crack.  You wonder if it shows on your face that you were just considering whether or not you’re flexible enough to kick them in the teeth or if that might sprain your groin.  “HISS CLANG @#($*&#^@ RUDE GRRRRRR @#$)(*)(#*@ TELL YOUR MANAGER THAT, TOO!!!”  Yes sir/ma’am.  I’ll be sure to do that.  Thank you for your comment, and please have a good day.

I may not work in a bar anymore, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to subscribe to the rules of customer service.  Sigh.

And so, since sadly I’m not able to banish awful people into the fiery pits of hell with the power of my mind, instead I will roast a chicken.  With sumac and lemon, which are as sour as I feel.  And thyme, because right now I need some.  Alone.  With a chicken….and a glass bottle of wine.  Nothing says comfort like a roast chicken, and if I could butterfly this bird and wear it as a blanket right now, maybe I would.  Hey, it’s okay, I said maybe.

Roast Chicken with Sumac and Thyme

Serves 2 carnivores or 4 moderates

  • 3.5 lb chicken
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1.5 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp sumac
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp fine black pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • small bunch parsley



I will start with the first question that somebody is likely to ask:  what is sumac?  Sumac spice (also spelled sumach) is the dried and ground fruit of the sumac shrub.  I always thought that it was from the flowers, because the drupes look so floral, but that just shows how much I don’t know about the state of our world.  I gather that sumac is prevalent in Lebanon and temperate areas of the Middle East, but it also grows quite well in Ontario – particularly along the highways.  One time Mike and I were on a road trip and for some reason I got it into my head that I wanted to harvest some sumac, and despite his misgivings he obliged me by stopping the car….and then I changed my mind anyway, because nothing good can come from harvesting your herbs off the side of a major motorway.  

Anyway, if you bought it from a spice store or Middle Eastern grocer, it would likely look like this:


Slice the onion in half, and then cut into half moons about 1/4 inch thick.  Spray a small roasting pan (or casserole dish – whatever is just large enough to hold your chicken comfortably) with non-stick spray  and layer the onions on the bottom.


In a small bowl mix together the spices, salt and pepper.


Press or grate 2 of the 4 garlic cloves into the spices, add the 2 tbsp of olive oil, and stir it into a thick paste.


And how is your chicken?  I choose NOT to show you a picture of my chicken getting washed, because it always makes me feel slightly voyeuristic to see the poor, vulnerable naked chicken lying there all….agape.  With its legs up.  Maybe I’m a Poultry Protector, scourge of the farmyard and hero to those that cluck, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  

Rinse the chicken under cold running water and dry it as best you can with some paper towel.  Now look into the neck and ‘rear’ cavities – do you see any excess pockets of adipose tissue (read:  fat)?  If so, gently tear them off and discard.  Season the inside of the chicken liberally (from both ends) with salt and pepper.

Wash your lemon and slice it lengthwise into quarters.  Peel the remaining 2 garlic cloves and give them a good smash. 


Sandwich a garlic clove between 2 of the lemon slices and push this in the chicken’s cavity, right to the back.  Repeat with the remaining garlic and lemon, and then fill up the void with as much parsley as you can fit.  You may also want to turn the bird around and stuff a big sprig of parsley into the neck cavity as well.  

And yes, I am showing you this picture only for the sake of education.  Please be modest and avert your eyes after several seconds.

Also:  every time that I read the word “Therapist” I see “The rapist”.  I don’t know why, but I do have a feeling that it somehow contributes to my guilt about stuffing poultry.  


Now then, try to pretend that you don’t know way too much about me.  pull the skin up around the neck cavity and secure it with a large toothpick or thin metal poultry skewer.  Gather in the skin around the poultry’s bottom end and fold it up as well, skewering the skin to secure it in place and make sure that the stuffing isn’t flying free.

Flip the chicken onto it’s tummy and massage some (about 1/3) of the spice rub all over the chicken’s back, shoulders, rump and under the wings.  Turn it onto it’s back and rub the remaining spice rub all over the chicken’s top, legs and wings.  Be sure to lift the legs and get right up close and person with the bird.  

Place the seasoned bird on top of the onions in the roasting/casserole pan.  Turn the wings in a way that arms don’t bend and tuck them underneath the body so that they don’t burn, and tie the drumstick bones (see?  I almost said ‘ankles’, but I resisted!) together with some butcher’s twine.

Tuck the chicken in the fridge for at least 1 and up to 4 hours to really let that seasoning soak into the skin and meat.


About half an hour before you want to cook the chicken, take it out of the fridge to come down to room temperature, and turn the heat on your oven up to 450ºF.    When the oven it hot and your chicken (and dish) are moderate, put the bird into the center of your oven for 10 minutes.  After about 10 minutes you should start to hear a slight sizzle as the skin begins to brown.  This is good!  But turn the heat down anyway to 350.  Let the chicken continue to cook at 350 for another 50-60 minutes, or until it’s done.

How do you tell if it’s done?

1.  Jiggle the legs.  They should move around easily and without any resistance.

2.  Prick the flesh – your chicken’s juices should run clear, not cloudy and definitely not pink.

3.  Use a meat thermometer stuck into the deep meat beside or on the thigh – it should register 170ºF.  Remember that the temperature will go up another 5-10 as it rests.

Tent the chicken loosely with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before you carve into and serve it.


I like to serve this chicken with a nice pile of pita quarters, some fresh parsley, chopped Lebanese pickles (I LOVE the fuscia colored pickled turnip, and not just because it’s pretty and brined with beet juice) and some Toum (garlic dip) or hummus.  


But let’s not forget that our chicken just sat its lazybones down on some lovely sliced onions for the last hour!  Onions that are now delightfully caramelized, silky soft and sweet.  Spoon into a bowl all of the onion and collected juices from the chicken’s pan.


A few slices of chicken, a nice wedge of pickle, some caramelized onion sauce and a sprig of parsley.  Oh yes, I’m happy again.  It doesn’t take much, does it?!


Roasting a chicken stuffed with lemons and aromatics is easy, comforting, and yields incredibly succulent meat (assuming that you don’t overcook it).  And hey, it perked me up just enough that I could watch FoodTV without swearing at the screen, so I figure it’s plusses all around!


  • noble pig

    I’m old and entitled…can I feel that way or use that excuse at 37? One more reason to age! Yeah. This looks delicous!

  • [eatingclub] vancouver || js

    Abandon all hope all ye enter here. Everybody should work in customer service for a year.

    Chicken looks delicious. That is giving me hope.

  • Kristie

    That’s a dirty bird. Or it looks it, at least. Sumac is an odd color. Anyway, I love roast chicken, and I’m pretty sure it can get rid of an awful lot of woes all on its own. Poor you, and your horrible customer!

  • lo!

    My favorite way to use sumac is with chicken… gotta love this recipe.

    🙂 I’d be a perfectly happy customer if you served me a slice of this. Srsly.

  • Tina

    Noble Pig – I started getting old and crotchety at 17, so yes, you can use that excuse at 37!

    js – I totally agree. In some countries there is mandatory military for a year or two. I think that in North America we should have mandatory food service & retail!!

    Kristie – I do like me a dirty bird!! Sumac is a deep, rich black red on it’s own. It’s also one of the main components of za’atar seasoning, which has an ominous black hue to it. I grew up eating za’atar seasoned flatbread for breakfast, so I love it, but I can see how some people might be a bit hesitant…..but the FLAVOR, Kristie! THE FLAVOR!!!!

    Lo! – I agree, it pairs really well with chicken. In fact, as soon as I was done the meal I started thinking about when I would make shish taouk!!

  • Linda W.

    I *love* sumac on chicken, and my recipe search today found this recipe – VERY good! Proportions on spices/herbs were spot-on. I didn’t have the parsley to tuck inside the bird, but don’t think I missed it.

    Thanks for the keeper recipe!

    • Tina

      Linda – we’re so glad that you enjoyed the recipe!! Sumach can be a bit of an acquired taste, but once you acquire it – whooooeeeee!!! Thanks again for checking out our site!

  • http://N/A Dana

    Your post made my day! I laughed out loud.
    I’m long since out of the service industry, but still ‘fondly’ remember…
    I’m going to try out the recipe this evening using our Rotisserie – no tasy gravy, but isn’t
    everything better on a spit? Looking forward to it!

  • Patrickspost

    I’m just putting together a Lebanese inspired dish and came across this post – really liked it – funny and informative thank you 🙂 @patrickdrake:disqus 

  • gjayanikasa

    Absolutely delicious! This dish is all about the marinade. We served it with pita bread, pickles + olives, hummus and home made tabbouleh.

    • Tina

      Gjanikasa – thank you for your comment! I’m so glad that you liked the recipe and it sounds like you made quite the delicious feast!