Chicken Mandi is a smoky roast chicken and rice dish that is originally from Yemen. Like so many foods of the region, Chicken Mandi is now to be found all over the Middle East, and is just one of many similar rice and meat recipes in the region. You have Maqluba, Chicken Kabsa, Mansaf, just to name a few.
Traditionally, chicken mandi is cooked in an underground oven called taboon, and the resulting rice and chicken has a smoky aroma and flavour from the use of the coals. If you have a charcoal powered pizza oven, that would be perfect for this.
For those of us not blessed with a taboon nor a pizza oven, there is still a way to mimic that smoky aroma. All you need is a piece of coal and some oil, and you’re smoking! The recipe here is started on the stove, then finished off in a regular oven.
Yemeni Chicken Mandi Recipe
You know how you have a favourite recipe, and every time you visit a new restaurant that serves it, you have to check it out? Like many people like to try out bolognese at Italian restaurants, not only to get a measure of the establishment, but also on a perpetual hunt for the perfect bolognese!
I’m like that with Chicken Mandi and a few other Arabic recipes. I’ve tried it in Europe, in Asia, in North Africa and in the Middle East! Naturally, the best ones have been in unassuming eateries in the Middle East.
However, one of the best Chicken Mandis I’ve tasted is at this Yemeni restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, called Hadramawt.
Hadhramaut, also spelled Hadramout, Arabic Ḥaḍramawt, is a region in east-central Yemen, on the Gulf of Aden. Historically, large numbers of Hadhramaut’s people have immigrated to East Africa, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia.Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica
How to Cook Chicken Mandi
These are the steps involved:
- Marinate the chicken
- Start the rice on the stove
- Place the rice in the oven, on the bottom shelf
- Place the raw, marinated chicken in the oven above the rice. As the chicken cooks, the fat and juices will drip onto the rice.
- Finally, we place a small piece of burning, smoking charcoal in the oven and smoke everything.
How to Serve Chicken Mandi
The Chicken Mandi rice is pretty flavoursome, with the spices, aromatics and chicken dripping. And for good measure, I also cook it with a little chicken stock. So you really don’t need a whole lot to go with it.
I serve chicken mandi with:
- yoghurt, this can be plain or you can add some za’atar (Middle Eastern spice mix)
- Zhoug, the Yemeni Green Chilli Paste (below)
Chicken Mandi Ingredients
You can use a whole chicken or chicken legs, whatever you fancy. If you have a small oven, chicken portions are probably a better way to go, so everything will fit in the oven.
Basmati rice is your best bet here. The rice will cook away in the oven, along with the chicken. The top part of the rice will get crispy, but we compensate for this by fluffing the rice up while the chicken is cooking, allowing the crispy bits to gain some moisture.
Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, is a popular ingredient in so many cuisines of the world. In my kitchen, I turn the pistils into liquid saffron before using it, the way we use it in Persian recipes. That way, no part of the saffron is wasted, we are using all of it.
It’s a simple case of pounding it and adding water. You can read more about it here, as well as see a video of me making it.
Variation on Chicken Mandi Rice
As you will see on the video, I sometimes add vegetables to the rice, just to jazz it up slightly. You can use any vegetables you like, here are just some examples:
- courgettes (zucchinis)
- capsicums (bell peppers)
- potatoes (cubed, for quicker cooking)
And that’s probably as much as there is to look at. Shall we go take a look at the recipe? But before that, you might be interested in an old favourite:
Maqluba (Palestinian Upside Down Rice):
♥ Do you like this recipe? Please give it a 5-star rating below! And when you make it, share it on any social medium and tag me @azlinbloor. Shukran! ♥
Chicken Mandi Recipe (Yemeni Smoky Chicken and Rice Dish)
- 1 large chicken about 1.5-2kg/4lb
- 1/2 a lemon for stuffing the chicken
- 1 Tbsp EV olive oil
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- ½ tsp salt
- some freshly ground black pepper
- juice of 1/2 a lemon
For the Rice
- 400 g (2 cups) basmati rice
- 500 ml (2 cups) water
- 250 ml (1 cup) chicken stock (or water + 1 stockpot/stock cube)
- 2 Tbsp EV olive oil
Dry Spices & Aromatics for the Rice
- 1 medium cinnamon stick
- 4 cloves
- 3 cardamom pods
- 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large onion chopped
- 4 green chillies
- a large pinch of saffron + 2 Tbsp hot water
- juice of 1/2 a lemon
- zest of 1 lemon
To Smoke Chicken Mandi
- 1 small piece of charcoal
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 very small heatproof bowl/ramekin
- a pair of heatproof tongs to handle the coal
- a thin metal trivet for the coal to sit on optional
Marinate the Chicken
- Mix all the marinade ingredients together and rub all over the chicken, getting under the skin too. Be careful not to break the skin. Leave to marinate for a minimum 30 minutes, overnight if you want to and are organised!
Let’s Start the Rice on the Stove
- Turn the oven on to 220˚C (430˚F).
- Heat the 2 Tbsp of olive oil in an oven proof dish on medium heat, and fry the dry spices for 30 seconds. This will be the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves and black peppercorns.
- Add the chopped onions and whole green chillies and fry for 2 minutes.
- Tip in the rice and stir well, coating the rice grain with the flavoured oil. Do this for about 20 seconds.
- Add the water and stock and bring to a boil. Once the liquid is boiling, turn the heat off and transfer to the oven.
Time to get in the oven
- Place the rice on the lowest shelf of your oven, making sure there is space above for the chicken. See the video.
- Place the chicken either on the next shelf above, or on a wired rack that will sit on your pot. As the chicken cooks, the fat and juices will drip onto the rice.
- Cook on this high heat for 10 minutes, then, without opening the door, lower the heat down to 190˚C (375˚F). Now leave it to cook for another 1 1/2 hours or until the chicken is done. You will know the chicken is done, when the skin around the end of the legs have shrunk and pulled back.
Prepare the liquid saffron
- While the chicken and rice are cooking, let’s make our liquid saffron. Pound the saffron to a fine powder with a pinch of salt.
- Add the hot water, stir, and leave aside until needed.
Once the chicken is done, let’s prepare the charcoal
- When the chicken is done, turn the oven off, open the oven door, and leave it slightly ajar. This is to stop the chicken from cooking further, and also starts our resting time for the chicken. Remember, all roast meats need a resting time after cooking, and before slicing, so that the juices can seep back to all the fibres, giving you moist meat.
- Place a small piece of charcoal on the stove top, resting on a trivet, if you have one. Leave it to burn on a low heat for 10-15 minutes until it’s white hot (see video). You don’t need to turn it, which will only save you a minute or two.
- Get the rice out, drizzle the liquid saffron and the lemon juice, and scatter the lemon zest all over. Fluff the rice with a fork, to mix it all up. Cover, and place the rice back in the oven, leaving the door slightly ajar. This will allow the crispy rice to absorb some moisture and soften slightly.
Let’s get smoking!
- If you have a sensitive smoke alarm nearby, close your kitchen door!
- Take the lid off your rice and set aside. Open the oven door fully.
- Pour your oil into the ramekin and immediately place the burning hot coal into the oil filled ramekin.
- Very, very quickly, place the smoking ramekin in the oven, on the bottom shelf if there’s space, if not, any shelf, as the oven will smoke up. Shut the door completely, and leave to smoke for 10 minutes.
- Carve the chicken and serve with the rice, along with some yoghurt on the side.