Harissa Roast Chicken for One
Every culture has a chili sauce. The Thai have sriracha, the Koreans have gochujang, the Turks have biber salçası. Though harissa has been a trendy flavor clutch on restaurant menus for years now, I still think it'll take some time for the home cook to adopt the North African chili paste in their own arsenal of sauces. I've only just started cooking with it myself. But slathered over roast chicken (with a pinch of sugar), harissa is utterly transformed, cooked and caramelized: its sour spiciness mellows out into a deep, red resonance. And suddenly, it tastes familiar.
When I tested this recipe for the first time, I was taken aback at how much it reminded me of a chicken stew my mom makes called dakdoritang. I associate it, then, with my latchkey-kid days when Jean would leave dinner on the stovetop with a note: JOONHO, HEAT FOR BROTHER AND GRANDMA. I've summoned this kind of involuntary taste memory on multiple occasions: I'll start cooking in a very organic way, what Nigella Lawson calls "by feeling" (that is, without a recipe). I'll marinate skirt steak, for example, in a makeshift soy sauce, garlic, and sugar mixture — just regular pantry ingredients — and, with the first bite, find that I've accidentally made Korean barbecue. One time in college, I really wanted chicken soup, so I boiled a scraggly Cornish game hen with some garlic and onion, and when the entire apartment smelled of samgyetang (a Korean chicken soup my mom would make for us whenever we were sick), I couldn't help but break down in front of the stove, surprised at how homesick I was.
That's the thing about cooking: despite any spatial, even temporal, distance that might be inherent between local ingredients or cultures, there will always be, in the act of cooking, some kind of human, almost biological, convergence. This recipe is proof that repetition can still feel familiar somehow, even with variance.
1 pound chicken leg quarters (about 1–2 legs)
1 tablespoon harissa
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 Yukon Gold potato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Pinch za'atar, optional
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Rub the harissa, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, sugar, and black pepper into the chicken legs and leave to marinate while you prepare the potato.
Dice the potato small enough so it'll be cooked through with the chicken. (What I like to do is slice it into a flattish dice rather than completely cubed so it'll cook faster.) Toss with the remaining olive oil, salt, and pepper and turn into a roasting tray, skillet, whatever you have that's ovenproof.
Roast for 45 minutes. Before eating, be sure to baste the chicken with all the aromatic red chili juices and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve as is, though I love eating this with a bowl of white rice or with a simple side salad.