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Photo: Nicole Franzen
June 7, 2021
Cook Like A Restaurant: How To Make Bavel’s Turmeric Chicken With Toum
Juicy and fragrant, it’s guaranteed to be please everyone at your next dinner party.
Written by
Kathleen Hou

For all the times you’ve thought, wow I could totally go for [insert name of your favorite restaurant dish here] only to realize that reservations are impossible to get, this new series is for you. Cook Like A Restaurant is dedicated to giving you the recipes from the places you love and also the tricks to make it taste as close to the restaurant’s version as possible.

Next up is Chef Ori Menashe of Los Angeles’ Bavel, and co-author of the cookbook Bavel: Modern Recipes Inspired by the Middle East. Chef Menashe wrote the book, which includes over 80 recipes celebrating the diversity of Middle Eastern cuisine, with his wife, pastry chef, and fellow Bavel partner Genevieve Gergis and writer Lesley Suter.

At Bavel, one of the most beloved dishes is their turmeric chicken, widely described as the juiciest chicken you’ll ever eat. Chef Menashe first developed the recipe for a dinner party celebrating his daughter Saffron’s second birthday. He wanted an easy and delicious dish that would be low-maintenance, so that he would still have time to mingle with his guests. The discovery became this favorite. “The main reason I put this in the book is because of how easy it is. It’s mostly marinade and when I have friends over, I don’t want to be constantly checking the oven every five minutes and making sure it’s cooking properly.” Read on for his tips to making it correctly.

Make Your Own Yogurt

The star ingredient of this chicken is the yogurt, which acts as a brine, softening the meat so that you don’t get a dried out piece of meat. Chef Menashe suggests making your own yogurt, as seen in the recipe provided below, because it’s a little thicker and more acidic, ensuring that it really tenderizes the bird.

“It breaks down the protein better,” he explains. When you’re normally cooking roast chicken, the juices usually escape even if you let it rest before carving. In this case, the yogurt also acts like a juice shield, Captain America-style, fighting off dryness, so that the bird steams from the inside and develops a unique texture. “The yogurt gives the chicken a crispy skin that almost works as a shell so all the juices don’t escape.” If you really can’t make your own yogurt, you can use store bought Greek whole fat, but Chef Menashe does say that the results won’t be quite as good.

Warm Up Your Chicken

Before you toss that chicken into the oven, make sure to take it out at least an hour and a half to two hours, so that it reaches room temperature. The inside and outside temperature of the chicken should match. This prevents dryness, and ensures an even roast.

Preheat The Oven

Chef Menashe recommends that the chicken go into the oven at 450 degrees. Do not get impatient and toss it in before it’s ready, because that will also affect the chicken’s juiciness. He acknowledges that this is a higher temperature than usual for most roast chickens, but “we want to cook the chicken a little bit faster, and that prevents it from drying out.”

Don’t Pat Down The Chicken

If you’ve ever read a traditional recipe for roast chicken, they advise that you really dry out the chicken. Some people even use blow dryers to ensure this. You don’t need to do that with this one. “I actually like the chicken’s skin to have some moisture so that the salt and pepper sticks to it,” he says. The yogurt caramelizes onto the skin, making it a little thicker, and allowing for maximum crispiness.

Don’t Forget The Insides

The recipe specifically states to marinade both the outside of the chicken, and the inside. This is not a typo. Use your hand to make sure all of that fragrant mix coats the chicken’s cavity too. “It’s for flavor and will allow the yogurt to penetrate from the inside and out.” It also ensures that the orange blossom really gets into all of the chicken’s crevices, so that the taste will saturate every single juicy bite.

Read on for the recipe.

Bavel’s Turmeric Chicken With Toum

Makes 1 chicken that serves 2 to 4

For the Marinade

  • 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons ground dried orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 garlic clove, grated with a Microplane
  • 1-inch piece fresh turmeric, peeled and grated with a Microplane
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
  • ¾ cup yogurt (recipe below) or if you’d rather use store bought, whole milk Greek yogurt

  • One 1½ pound whole chicken, neck, wing tips, and innards removed

  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 1⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Toum

  • 14 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons orange blossom water
  • 1⅓ cups canola oil

For the Yogurt - 6 cups whole milk - 3 tablespoons cultured yogurt, store bought

To make the yogurt:

  1. Add the milk to a large saucepan or Dutch oven fitted with a dairy or probe-style thermometer and warm over low heat.
  2. Gently stir the milk with a spatula, scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorch- ing, until the milk reaches 120°F.
  3. Add the starter to a small bowl. Once the milk reaches 120°F, add 6 tablespoons of the heated milk to the starter and gently stir to com- bine
  4. Continue to heat the remaining milk in the saucepan until it reaches 180°F, occasionally stirring with a spatula while gently scraping the bottom and checking the temperature. Once the milk reaches 180°F, remove the pan from the heat and let the milk cool until it reaches 120°F.
  5. Add the starter mixture and gently stir to combine.
  6. Transfer the mixture to a yogurt maker or electric pressure cooker and incubate for 6 hours at 110°F.
  7. Gather a piece of cheesecloth about 10 inches wide by 16 inches long. Cut the cheesecloth lengthwise, unfold it, then refold it the opposite direction. Prepare three layers of cheesecloth in this way.
  8. Nest a fine-mesh strainer or chinois into a large container (bowl or plastic tub) so that it will stay upright without falling over, then line with the layered cheesecloth.
  9. After 6 hours, pour the incubated yogurt into the prepared strainer. Using kitchen twine, tie up the cheese- cloth into a tight-enough bundle that it forces moisture out of the yogurt.
  10. Transfer the cheesecloth bundle to the refrigerator and let drain for 1 hour and 20 minutes.
  11. Once the yogurt has drained, transfer from the cheesecloth to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

To make the marinade:

  1. In a bowl, combine the ground turmeric, orange peel, fennel, cumin, coriander, garlic, and fresh turmeric.
  2. Add the orange juice, orange blossom water, and yogurt and stir to combine.

To prepare the chicken:

  1. Season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper. Rub some of the marinade inside the cavity of the chicken.
  2. Using kitchen twine, tie the legs together. I like to keep the wings loose and not tied so the breasts and wings get crispy.
  3. Evenly season the outside of the chicken with salt and pepper.
  4. Place the chicken on a sheet pan and let it sit, uncovered, at room temperature for 30 minutes. Then rub the marinade all over the outside. (It may seem like a lot but use it all.)
  5. Transfer the sheet pan, uncovered, to the refrigerator and marinate overnight.
  6. When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 2 hours prior to cooking. (Cooking the chicken cold will take longer and might dry out the meat.)
  7. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the chicken breast-side up on the rack of a roasting pan.
  8. Roast for 40 to 50 minutes (if the skin is browning too quickly, decrease the heat to 375°F), until the meat between the leg and thigh feels tender to the touch or using an instant-read thermometer placed in the thigh, the temperature reaches 160° to 165°F.
  9. Remove the chicken from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes to let the juices redistribute. Cut off the kitchen twine, carve, and serve with a side of toum.

To Make the Toum

  1. Combine the garlic, lemon juice, salt, and orange blossom water in a blender. Pulse on the lowest setting until just combined.
  2. In a slow and steady stream, add the oil while continuing to blend on low, gradually increasing the speed to medium-high until the mixture has fully emulsified. The consistency should be similar to mayonnaise with some soft peaks.
  3. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. The consistency will thicken slightly after refrigeration.

Reprinted with permission from Bavel: Modern Recipes Inspired by the Middle East by Ori Menashe, Genevieve Gergis and Lesley Suter, copyright © 2021. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photographs copyright © 2021 by Nicole Franzen Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Kathy Kim

Shop The Story

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Want more recipes? Check out the entire cookbook which is full of other delicious dishes like their famous lamb neck shawarma or their grilled prawns.

Get Modern Recipes Inspired by the Middle East by Ori Menashe, Genevieve Gergis and Lesley Suter ($37) →

After the chicken has rested, carve it up with a proper chef’s knife like this top rated Japanese one.

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A roasting rack is key for making sure the chicken crisps up nicely. This set comes with a knife and fork for carving it up when its done.

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With grooves and a divot, to capture all the juices, this cutting board will guarantee that your counters won’t turn into a greasy mess.

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Guest writer Alex Hill calls this zester her secret weapon when she makes roast chicken.

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Because you’ll need to tie the bird up.

Get Regency Natural Cooking Twine ($6)→

Chef Menashe recommends doubling the toum recipe, because not only will you finish it all, it’ll be easier to make in a blender. This one is our favorite for making smoothies, drinks, and sauces.

Get Ninja® Professional Plus Blender with Auto-iQ ($100)→

The trick to getting this chicken to its signature golden color? Turmeric.

Get The Spice Hunter Organic Ground Turmeric ($7)→

You’ll also need fennel seeds in the marinade, which adds a warm, licorice-like flavor.

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And to give it a nutty and slightly bitter flavor, add in cumin.

Get The Spice Hunter Turkish Ground Cumin ($7)→

To round out the spice mixture, ground coriander will give it a bright, citrus flavor.

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Chef Menashe loves orange blossom water in the marinade, to make it extra fragrant.

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Serve up that whipped, garlicky toum in a bowl worthy of its deliciousness, like our current favorite one from East Fork.

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And if you’re going to put in all this hard work, make sure to show off your chicken on a nice platter as well. This one is made by Jono Pandolfi, whose ceramics are used at top restaurants like Eleven Madison Park.

Get Food52 Large Serving Platter, by Jono Pandolfi ($125)→

So you want to try making your own yogurt? That’s a great reason to finally get an Instant Pot.

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