Za’atar Chicken

This za’atar chicken, made with the earthy, nutty, warming spice blend of the same name, disproves the notion that simple can’t also be stylish and supremely satisfying.

Two white plates each topped with a serving of za'atar chicken, Israeli couscous, sauteed onions, and pan juices.

This za’atar chicken recipe with a Middle Eastern spice blend lends its warm, earthy flavor to both the chicken and the easy onion sauce that looks and tastes oh so elegant.–Renee Schettler

*What Is Za'atar?

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend that contains thyme, sesame seeds, and sumac. Sumac has a lemony smack that’s pretty darn potent. The amount of sumac in a particular za’atar blend can vary dramatically, so you may want to play around with a couple different brands of za’atar or homemade za’atar recipes you toss together yourself.

Za’atar Chicken

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 45 M
  • Serves 4
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  • For the Israeli couscous
  • For the chicken and sauce


Heat the butter over medium heat in a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Once it has melted, add the Israeli couscous and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the water and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer until the couscous is tender and has absorbed the water, 12 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice each chicken breast into 2 pieces, as if you were butterflying the breast open, but instead cut all the way through. Pound each piece between 2 pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap with a mallet or the heel of your hand or the bottom of a heavy skillet until it’s as thin as possible. The chicken should be between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. Season both sides with a generous amount of za’atar and, if desired, salt.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the chicken. Cook until browned and cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the chicken fillets. Remove the chicken from the skillet.

Add the butter and the onion to the skillet in which you cooked the chicken. Sauté, tossing often, until the onion softens and begins to pick up some color, 6 to 7 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and cook, stirring constantly for about a minute to eliminate the floury flavor. Pour in the stock to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a spoon. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Reduce until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Return the chicken to the pan and spoon the sauce over the top to warm it through. Remove from the heat.

Place some of the Israeli couscous on each plate and top with a chicken breast, some onions, and a drizzle of sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley.

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

Flavorful boneless chicken breasts? Za'atar to the rescue! This recipe pounds thin-cut chicken, cloaks it in spice, flashes it in the pan, and then pulls out a oniony pan sauce like a magician pulls a rabbit from a hat. Even couscous is exciting again when those usually-teeny grains are super-sized. You don't even need a magic wand—just trade regular couscous for one labeled "Israeli" (mine was in the same aisle). Be generous with the seasoning, and err on the side of undercooking the chicken the first time around as you can always leave it in the pan sauce a little longer if you're not sure. The only change I'll make next time is to use chicken broth instead of water in the couscous, as I was already using some for the pan sauce, and the couscous could've benefited from the extra flavor. I was skeptical that this would serve 4, but the recipe makes quite a bit of couscous, and the chicken and sauce are so flavorful that they both go a long way. Served with a hearty serving of a side vegetable, this recipe yielded a perfect portion size.

This delightfully spiced chicken dish gives us another option in our poultry rotation. The 3 components (chicken, Israeli couscous, and onion sauce) looked beautiful on the plate, with a taste to match. The recipe also gave me a chance to use more of the za'atar I bought at Penzey’s! I would make a little less of the Israeli couscous next time, as there was more than necessary for the amount of chicken and sauce. We served this with a big green salad and pinot grigio. I had to add a little more water to the Israeli couscous because it was sticking to the bottom of the pot. I added a little water, stirred, and put the lid back on for the pot to sit while I proceeded with the recipe, and that got the couscous unstuck.


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