Clay Cooker Chicken & Veggies with Besar

Cooking in clay is one of those things you’ve got to do to truly get the gist of. Like cast iron, clay adds a certain je ne sais quois to a dish that you can’t get any other way – it’s a subtle earthiness and added depth that’s truly captivating.

Romertopf cookers are a great way to get into clay, and there’s no better dish to make in one that chicken. It’s truly difficult to end up with anything other than one of the juiciest, most delicious things you’ll ever cook – that alone is worth the entry price.

Romertopfs are great cookers, and can often be found used.

While the inside of the body of a Romertopf is glazed, the lid is not – The porous, soaked clay and higher oven heat, (425° F rather than 325°) combine to provide a steam/roast cook – the secret behind that super juicy bird.

The next joyful surprise is this – literally no oil, stock, or water need be added to end up with a succulent chicken. Same goes for veggies you to add to the dish – the steam/roast process will generate copious quantities of juice and rendered fat without help.

Fact is, you can add nothing but salt and pepper and still come out with stunning results, but for this dish, I wanted more – a nod to Middle Eastern cuisine was in order, since clay cookery is ubiquitous there – as are stunningly delicious spice blends. Besar (also Bzar and Bezar) was the perfect choice.

Besar – Savory, sweet, and heat.

There are variants of besar in several cuisines, of which I favor the Emirati style – it’s a stunningly aromatic blend with deep notes of warm spices and a touch of heat. Besar is wonderful with chicken, but might even be better with fresh roasted veggies – a win-win for this dish. Often used to spice ghee, it’s fantastic dry on everything from squash to soups, stews, and flatbreads. This is my swing at the blend.

Urban Besar

2 Tablespoons whole Black Peppercorns

2 Tablespoons whole Cumin seed

2 Tablespoons whole Coriander Seed

2 teaspoons stick Cinnamon, (about 1/2” or so)

2 teaspoons whole Green Cardamom pods

2 teaspoons ground Ginger

2 teaspoons ground Hatch Chile (hot or mild as you prefer)

1 teaspoon whole Fennel seed

1 teaspoon Turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground Nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl.

In a heavy skillet over medium heat, toast spices until golden brown and deeply fragrant, stirring steadily with a fork to avoid scorching.

Remove blend from skillet and return to a bowl to cool – allow 30 minutes or so for things to marry further.

Leave the blend whole and store in airtight glass until you need it – that’ll keep everything fresh. I prefer making smaller batches like this more often, rather than storing larger quantities long-term.

Urban’s Clay Cooker Chicken & Veggies with Besar

3-4 fresh Chicken Leg Quarters

3-4 Gold Potatoes

2 Carrots

2-3 stalks fresh Celery with Leaves

1/2 small Sweet Onion

3 Tablespoons ground Besar spice blend

3 finger pinch of Kosher Salt

Soak your clay cooker to get the most out of cooking process, and protect it from cracking.

Soak your clay cooker (including the lid) for 30 minutes prior to use. (If this is your first use of the cooker, follow makers directions for seasoning to the letter!)

You will start with a cold oven, to avoid thermal shock and cracking of your clay cooker.

Rinse and peel potatoes, then halve or quarter, depending on size.

Rinse, end trim, and cut carrots into roughly 3” chunks.

Peel, end trim, and quarter onion.

Rinse, end trim and cut celery stalks into roughly 5” chunks – remove and reserve leaves.

Arrange veggies in a solid base layer in your cooker.

Sprinkle very lightly with salt, then with a teaspoon of besar.

Arrange leg quarters evenly across the top of the veggies, skin side up.

Toss on the celery leaf, then lightly sprinkle with salt, and liberally dust with the remaining besar.

Clay cooker chicken & veggies with besar, ready to rock.

Cover the dish and slide into a middle rack position in a cold oven.

Set oven temp to 425° F and let ‘er rip for 45 minutes.

Carefully remove the hot cover from your cooker and check internal temp on the chicken – you should be around 150°-155° F.

Cook for 10-15 minutes more, uncovered, to allow things to brown and crisp up a bit.

Clay cooker steam/roast magic

Carefully remove cooker from oven and allow a 5-10 minute rest.

Clay cooker chicken and veggies with besar

Serve piping hot, with just some flatbread, or rice, or couscous, or whatever you love best.


Homemade Hummus & Tahini

If you’ve ever had great hummus, you know it’s a treat. If you’ve experienced meh hummus, maybe too often, you owe it to yourself to make your own – while you can’t control the freshness or quality of store bought, you sure can do so at home.

Urban’s House Made Hummus

Ubiquitous in the Middle East, this dip/spread is built from chickpeas, (AKA garbanzos), which are widely cultivated and enjoyed throughout the region for good reason. They pack decent calories, mono and poly unsaturated fats, no cholesterol, and an excellent assortment of vitamins, and they’re a truly versatile ingredient. Add good olive oil, lemon juice, tahini (ground sesame seeds), garlic, and a pinch of salt, and you’ve got a delicious treat.

You’ll find a lot of online recipes using canned garbanzos, but you won’t find that here – your finished product is only as good as your ingredients. The first time you cook top quality dried against anything canned, you’ll never use the latter again – it’s a night and day difference. Get dried garbanzos from Rancho Gordo and you’ll get the best of the best, and likely never look back.

For olive oil, my hands down choice is top quality Greek oil, and I’ll let my Tribal Sister, Christy Hohman Caine, explain why – “Your raw oil should come from Kalamata or Crete and be labeled PDO (protected designation of origin). Greek oils are usually greenish to greenish-gold in color. They are zippy, peppery, grassy, and herbaceous and very complex. They are definitely NOT buttery. Think of Greek oils as flavor enhancers and condiments. There are different tastes in Greek olive oils which are great to experiment with. Some have a tomato leaf essence, others are more lemony. You can get good Greek olive oils online at Greek markets and food shops.” Don’t know about y’all, but you don’t need to tell me twice – I’ve been a convert ever since I read that.

Toasted sesame seeds

Finally a note on tahini – it’s critical to great hummus. Finding good quality, fresh is far easier than it used to be, but if you want the best, you can build your own – here’s how.

House made Tahini

House Made Tahini

1 Cup fresh Sesame Seeds

+/- 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 350° F and set a rack in the middle position.

Spread seeds evenly across a clean baking sheet.

Bake until seeds lightly brown and are fragrant, about 10 – 12 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.

Pour seeds and oil into a processor, (or blender), and pulse until a smooth paste forms – add more oil if needed, a teaspoon at a time.

Store in a glass, airtight container in a cool, dark spot. Tahini may separate over time, but just flip and shake your container and it’ll be good as new.

Urban’s House Made Hummus

1 pound Rancho Gordo Garbanzos

2/3 Cup Greek Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 cup freshly squeezed Lemon Juice

1/3 Cup Tahini

3 cloves fresh Garlic

2 teaspoons ground Cumin

1 teaspoon Sea Salt

1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika

Vegetable crudités and/or pita bread for chowing

Cooking garbanzos a la Rancho Gordo

NOTE: volumes of ingredients other than garbanzos are to our taste – we think it makes great hummus – that said, the batch you make is yours, so adjust as needed to get what you love.

Cook the garbanzos in the RG manner – stove top, covered with 2+” of fresh water, with 2 bay leaves and 2-3 small cloves of peeled and trimmed garlic. Bring to a full boil for 10-15 minutes, then reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook until the peas are tender, always maintaining at least 2” of water above the peas – add simmering hot water from a tea kettle to top things off.

Do as Steve Sando advises on the RG website for cooking beans – reduce heat as far as you can while still getting a simmer bubble and let them go low and slow until they’re creamy and almost starting to fall apart a bit.

Drain the peas and reserve bean broth – it’s magic stuff as a base for soup or stew, or added to a pan sauce.

Allow the peas to cool to close to room temperature.

Add garlic cloves to a food processor and pulse until well minced.

From garbanzo to hummus

Add garbanzos, lemon juice, tahini, and cumin, and pulse a few times to get things incorporated.

Running the processor, add the oil in a slow steady stream. Stop several times to scrape the sides down with a spatula.

Add salt and continue to process until you have a smooth, creamy consistency. If things are too thick, add a tablespoon at a time of oil to thin it out.

House made hummus

Taste and adjust as desired – keep in mind that it takes a good 15 to 30 minutes for everything to get truly cozy and incorporated.

Transfer to a serving bowl, drizzle with a bit more oil, and dust with the paprika.

Chow down with veggie crudités, pita chips, flatbread, your finger, etc.

Branch out and maybe top a bed of hummus with spiced beef and pine nuts, a wonderful Lebanese treat.

Store refrigerated in an airtight glass container for up to 5 days, or freeze up to 2 months.