Although the title indicates Festive Chicken, you can also use turkey. Like in the West, the Lebanese eat both, depending on their preferences. Once cooked, the bird is usually presented on a serving platter surrounded by the glistening cooked rice, a layer of golden toasted nuts is scattered on top and that I believe is what gives it the special festive look.
When cooking a chicken, make sure that the bird is basted at regular intervals (depending on its size), so in the end you have a juicy succulent bird with a lovely bronzed skin. Also to achieve a thorough cooking of the chicken, allow 20 minutes per 450 gm / 1lb plus 20 minutes extra.
· 1 medium chicken (about 1.5kg / 3¼ lb weight), preferably free-range
· 35 g/ 1 ¼ oz butter softened at room temperature
· About 150 ml / 5 fl. oz water
· 1 tbsp vegetable oil, plus 2 tsp extra
· 1 medium onion finely chopped
· 225 g / 8 oz long grain white rice (eg Basmati rice)
· 425 ml / 14¾ fl oz chicken stock
· 50 g / 2 oz of each pine nuts, blanched almonds and pistachio nuts
· 450 g / 1 lb plain yoghurt (optional)
· Salt and freshly milled black pepper
· 1 tsp ground allspice
· 1 tsp ground cinnamon
· You also need a deep roasting tin wide enough to fit the chicken.
· A non-stick medium sized saucepan
· A medium frying pan
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F. Rinse the chicken under tap water and pat dry with a kitchen paper. Rub the butter all over the chicken then season generously with salt and pepper. Now, pour about 150 ml / 5 fl. oz water into the roasting tin and place the chicken, cover tightly with foil and transfer to the oven on the centre shelf.
2. Bake for about 1¾ hours basting the chicken three times with its juices. To test the chicken, prick the thickest part of the thigh with a skewer, if the juices run clear then it is cooked. If they are pink, put it back into the oven for a further 15 minutes before testing again and continue to do this until the juices run clear. Just half an hour before the finishing time, tip most of the juices from the chicken into a heat-proof jug, leaving sufficient amount to keep the chicken moist, pop the chicken back into the oven, uncovered this time, to give it a crispy golden colour. Put the jug in the fridge, while you make a start with the rice.
3. Heat up the oil in a medium saucepan using a medium heat, sauté the chopped onion for about two minutes. Add the minced meat to the mixture, stirring from time to time and breaking any lumps. Half way through add the pine nuts, cook well until the meat is lightly browned. Now, stir in the rice, season with salt, pepper, ground allspice and cinnamon, cook for another two minutes. By this stage the fat in the jug should have separated leaving you with the jelly at the bottom of the jug. I prefer to remove the fat and to perhaps use it for something else later. Then top up the remaining jelly with hot water if necessary to make up the amount required for the chicken stock. Add this to the rice mixture and give it a good stir, bring it up to a gentle boil then lower the heat to a simmering point, cover the pan and let it cook for about 10 minutes. Once the time is up, take the lid off and cover the pan with a kitchen towel, let it stand for about 10 minutes.
4. Heat up 2 tsp of vegetable oil in a medium sized frying pan, sauté the almonds and pistachio nuts until the almonds reach a toasted golden colour.
5. There are 2 ways of serving. Transfer the rice into a serving dish creating a depression in the middle where you place the bird. Scatter the warm nuts on top of the rice and take the dish to the table where you carve and serve. Place the yoghurt on the table, so people can help themselves. The other way is instead of carving at the table, you simply divide the chicken into the required portions and place them on top of the rice.