Chicken With all my Favourite Spices

Serves 4-6 30 August 2022 Dairy Free Gluten Free
This is where your basic roast chicken goes on holiday and comes home with golden, crisp, roasted skin, fresh from the spice markets of the Levant.

While roast chicken is arguably the meal I make most often, there has been a distinct shortage of such recipes on these pages of late. I’m here to rectify this oversight with a quick and easy spice rub to knock your socks off. Inspired by shawarma flavours, this spice concoction need not be reserved only for your everyday bird, as this rub is just as good on lamb or even roasted celeriac or cauliflower, giving full optionality.

These days I seem to only cook whole chickens – the era of sheet trays of thighs are over (unless I’m entertaining a big crowd). Primarily because I am feeding a legion of growing teenage boys who eat at least 2 dinners every evening and want leftovers the following day. Also, roasting a whole bird (as opposed to pieces) is a much more economical way to feed the gang, especially as it’s a minimum 2 chicken cook at any time situation over here. And how else could I get my grubby hands on the wings and oysters in that brief window between carving and the descent of the vultures? Let’s face it, is the cook’s treat.

Tahini is my (optional) sauce of choice for this chicken.  Simply because it’s my sauce of choice for basically anything and, once made, it will happily live in the fridge for 5 days to drizzle on everything with reckless abandon.

Whether you choose to roast your bird whole, spatchcocked, on a beer-can, or in pieces, this dish will make your heart sing.  Just make sure there’s enough enough chicken so you can shred the leftovers into some warm pita with a good dollop of extra tahini for lunch the next day.

Side note – if carving a whole bird raises your blood pressure, simply shred the meat off the bones with 2 forks and serve.

For ease (and if you fall in love with this as much as I have) you can mix a big batch of all the dry spices to have on hand for emergencies, ready to add the garlic, lemon, olive oil and onions when you are all set to cook.

The recipe here calls for a whole chicken, but for a more traditional shawarma this is equally as good with 10 chicken thighs with skin, boneless for even greater authenticity.  If you are cooking the thighs without bones they should only take about 50 minutes in a hot oven.

And there’s even a vegetarian/vegan option:

The spice mixture marinade works absolutely brilliantly on a celeriac or a large head of cauliflower for a vegetarian option.  Simply rub the marinade over a peeled celeriac root or cauli and place in a small oven proof dish or frying pan.  Cover loosely in foil and pop in a preheated 200C oven either at the same time as the chicken for the vegetarians at the table.  Keep covered for the first 30 minuets, then uncover and continue roasting, basting occasionally for another 30 minutes until it is cooked through. Slice and serve.  This is also delicious served at room temperature with greens as a heartier salad.   


  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 4 cardamom pods (optional but I love them)
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 unwaxed lemons
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 medium onions sliced in half through the centre and into 8 wedges
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Remove the chicken from the fridge at least an hour before you want to put it in the oven.

If you have time, you can marinade the chicken unto 24 hours in advance, otherwise, if you are short on time just let it sit with the spices while as it comes to room temperature.

To make the marinade:

Start by toasting the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry pan for 2 minutes until fragrant.

Crush in a mortar and pestle with the cardamom pods (if using).  Add the salt, turmeric, sweet paprika, Aleppo pepper (or chili flakes), ginger and cinnamon and mix together for your dry spice mix.

In a non reactive dish or bowl, whisk together the olive oil, juice of 2 lemons and minced garlic.  Add the spice mixture and combine everything together to form a thick paste.

Rub the spices all over the chicken, fully coating it with the marinade and set it into the marinade bowl to infuse.

Cover and let sit for an hour out of the fridge or overnight in the fridge.

When you are ready to cook the chicken, preheat your oven to 200C

Place the chicken and all the marinade goodness in a small roasting tin or cast iron frying pan, breast side up.

Scatter the onion wedges around the sides, tuck in the bay leaves and drizzle with a little extra trickle of olive oil. I add a little water (3-4 tbsp or more if there is a lot of room around your chicken) to the bottom of the pan so that the onions don’t burn and it creates a little sauce.

Roast for 60-70 minutes until crispy and cooked through, basting every 15 minutes or so.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a minimum of 20 minutes under a loose blanket of foil to allow all the juices to settle before carving or shredding.

This dish really benefits from an added squeeze of lemon just before serving.


Have you made this dish?

Let me know what you think, share your efforts and any tweaks you made to the recipe on Instagram, don’t forget to tag #BuildingFeasts or email me on