Harissa Grilled Chicken

Today is probably one of my favorite days of this year. I am writing a recipe for one of my favorite dishes while staring out at the fresh snow just pouring outside my window. It barely ever snows down here in Vancouver, so when it does, it really is like a festival in itself. Today I want to share this amazing grilled chicken recipe filled with beautiful strong aromas and the most boastful and peppery flavors. This recipe is a celebration of different kinds of chili and peppers, and rather than being just a hot and spicydish, it speaks more about the smokey characteristic of the ingredients.  

During my own blogging time, I recently browsed through Smitten Kitchen‘s website and found this beautiful recipe for Harissa paste. Just when I saw the colors of her paste, I really couldn’t resist but make something with it. Although not exactly the same, but I adapted the base of the recipe from her and added some of my own twists to it too. Harissa is a very mild chili paste that is more flavorful than spicy and it is so versatile that you could use it in many different ways. In this recipe, I paired a harissa-marinated chicken with a delicious and simple guacamole, that helps to mellow down the smoky chili flavors, but still hero the harissa flavors. 


This time I decided to provide some step by step pictures of my cooking, just to give a better idea of the process and textures you should expect to see along the way. In the picture above I wanted to highlight a few of the ingredients that really give this paste its real depth. My favorite additions were the lime leaves and the tangerines. Although Harissa generally doesn’t call for these two ingredients, the colors and flavors were just calling out to me at the store, so I thought, why not?! To be honest, lime leaves have an exceptional aroma that is just too hard to resist, and the tangerines just gave a little bit of sweetness to the paste, which really helped to balance the flavors out. For the chili’s we have Guachillo, Cascabel, Mulato and hot paprika. The first three are the three different kinds of mild Mexican chilli peppers, along with paprika, which is a hot smoked red pepper (capsicum) powder. These are classic Mexican flavors, and together with the creamy guacamole, this dish will take you right to the streets of Mexico!


So to begin the process I just let the chillis and lime leaves sit in some hot water, so it rehydrates and is easier to blend into a paste. Don’t throw out the water after your chillis have rehydrated because it will be used to flavor the paste. Generally, I like to cover the plate during this process because it helps to quicken the process, and allows the aroma of the lime leaves to infuse with the pepper. 


An important, and one of the defining characters of this paste is the charred red pepper. I basically just placed the pepper on my stove top to get some nice charred lines, and then straight into the oven at about 410 degrees for another 10-15 minutes. This is where I really wish I had a gas stove top, that way you can literally just use some tongs and hold up the pepper on the heat to get an even char all around the pepper. However, an electric stove will do just fine! 


Harissa paste is a very versatile ingredient. Not only can you use it in different ways and recipes, but it can be made in different ways as well. Considering it is a chili paste, the main ingredient that must be present are the chillis, but besides that you could use a choice of your own chillis and add different spices to make it your way! 

This paste isn’t supposed to be purely smooth, and it should have some chunky garlic bits and seeds in there, which is totally normal. The next time I make this dish I might actually add some roasted peanuts or cashews to give it a little nuttiness and see how that works!


Although I used chicken drumsticks for this particular recipe, I think it would be amazing if you serve it as a rub for chicken wings and mini drummettes as well. Since the dish doesn’t have a creamy or gravy component to it, it really does cry for some sort of dip. So in order to balance out the textures, I decided to make the simplest guacamole to have on the side and it worked perfectly! I hope that you will try out this dish and maybe even play around with the flavors yourself. Let me know if you find another ingredient that takes the dish to another level, and I will surely love to try it out myself!


6 cloves of garlic
2-3 tsp of hot paprika (adjust to your taste)
2 tbsp cumin powder
2 tbsp coriander powder
2 chilis each (Guachillo, Calcabus, Mulato peppers)
Zest and juice of 2 tangerines (optional)
1 red pepper
1 kg chicken legs
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp of Himalayan salt(this salt is milder than other sea salt or table salt, so adjust to the type you are using)

Guacamole Ingredients
2 ripe avocados
Pinch of pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp olive oil

The first step is to rehydrate your chillis and preheat your oven to 440 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you’ve preheated the oven, place your chillis and lime leaves in a bowl, pour 2 cups boiling water, cover with a plate or cling wrap, and set aside. While you rehydrate your chillis, start blistering your pepper on the stove top. As I mentioned earlier, I have a gas stove, so I just set my stove on medium heat and placed my pepper right onto the stove. Keep turning the pepper around to get some nice charred edges on all sides. If you are using a gas stove, then set the pepper on the stove on medium heat, and just roast your pepper on all sides till nicely charred all over (like you roast a marshmallow). Once your pepper is nicely charred, place it on a flat baking tray and pop it into the oven. Let the pepper roast for about 15 minutes till it is soft and blistered and once you take it out, reduce the heat in the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that I used a big pepper, so a smaller one may take less time (check the picture above for verification on how it should look). 

Once your pepper is done, remove the stem from the red pepper and chilis and place it in the food processor along with the garlic, cumin, coriander, 1 tbsp salt, paprika, tangerine juice, lime juice and 1/2 cup of the water used to hydrate the chillis. Now blitz into a smooth paste and taste to see if you like the balance of flavors. Once you are content with the flavors, set aside while you prep the chicken. If you are using wings, then just wash the chicken and pat dry. However, if you are using drumsticks or thigh pieces, after washing, make a few deep slits along the middle of the chicken, so the marinade can easily penetrate into the meat. Once your meat is prepped, using about 1 cup of the harissa paste and 1 tbsp salt, properly massage the paste onto the meat. At this point, you can either leave your chicken to marinate for an hour, or up to a day, or you could cook it right away. 

The cooking process is quite simple, just heat a griddle pan on medium high with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Once your oil is heated, place your meat onto the pan and keep turning to get some nice char on the chicken. Since we will place it into the oven soon, this process should only take about 5-7 minutes, and all we need is to make the skin crispy and charred. Once completed, place your chicken and the access oil onto a baking tray and pop it into the oven. If you are using chicken wings, then cook for 20 minutes, and if you are using leg or thigh pieces, cook for 25-30 minutes. 

While your chicken is baking, you can whip up the guacamole. This is going to be very simple, so using a fork just scrape out your avocados into a bowl, add all the remaining ingredients and give it a good mix. Adjust the flavors to your taste and feel free to make it your way. 

Once your chicken is baked, just cut through the middle of once piece to make sure it is cooked. A good way to check if your meat is cooked is to see if the juices run out once you cut into the meat. Once your chicken is ready, add the guacamole, sprinkle fresh cilantro on the top and serve!


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