Markouk Bread’s Fragrant Chicken and Rice
You know Mahroussie Jabba as the smiling brunette of Markouk Bread, first serving her traditional homemade Lebanese foods at the Cape Ann Farmers’ Market, and now from her Rogers Street storefront.
A Gloucester resident of 17 years (Jabba married Gloucester native Richard Jabba 19 years ago), she creates a variety of fresh and flavorful dishes using recipes from her native home in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon. Her Labneh, small globes of yogurt cheese preserved in olive oil, are revelatory.
“We spread the yogurt cheese on warm garlic bread or on pita with cucumber, fresh tomato, and a little onion or scallion,” Jabba says.
A few years ago I published a recipe for Singapore Chicken Rice, one of the most popular dishes in Southeast Asia. Soon after that I ran into Jabba, who told me that her mother made a traditional Lebanese dish that was very similar, and which her family loved because it filled the house with the perfume of spices and herbs when it was cooking.
The basics are this: poach a whole chicken in an aromatic broth of cinnamon stick, fresh rosemary, and bay leaves along with tomato. Add rice. The rice absorbs all that fragrance. (It’s almost more special than the chicken).
Jabba said her mother also makes variations of this dish, stuffing the chicken in advance with seasoned browned lamb or beef and rice, sewing the chicken closed and poaching it.
Jabba’s mother also browns dry vermicelli noodles in butter so that they are dark and crispy, and then adds them to cook with the rice, creating a textured pilaf. Sometimes Jabba’s mother adds toasted pine nuts to the dish.
Even this simple version is nourishing deliciousness, and an ideal winter meal. Thanks, Mahroussie Jabba, for bringing the flavors of your home to Cape Ann, either here in this recipe or as take-out from Markouk Bread.
Fragrant Chicken and Rice
[Serves 6 with rice leftover]
1 3-4 pound chicken
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups broth
1 can chopped tomatoes (28 ounces)
2 cups water, approximately
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 sprigs of rosemary
2 bay leaves
Salt to taste
2 cups rice
(Optional) Toasted pine nuts for garnish
Salt the chicken all over. Add the olive oil to a large dutch oven and heat to medium high. Add chicken, whole. Turning the chicken often, brown it well on all sides.
Add the broth, tomatoes, and enough water so that the liquid almost covers the chicken. Add the cinnamon, rosemary, and bay leaves (tying them together with string makes them easier to remove.) Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for an hour or until the chicken is almost cooked through. This, of course, depends upon the size of your chicken. Err on the side of the chicken being cooked completely through, as it will still be fairly moist cooked in this broth, and you don’t want to serve raw chicken.
Remove herb bundle. Taste the broth for salt and pepper. Add the rice to the broth. Cover again, and continue cooking for 20 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid.
To serve: Some recipes remove the chicken from the bones, but I was going to serve my chicken immediately and it was very hot. So I removed the chicken from the rice, and cut it into serving pieces. Spoon all the rice out onto a platter, and cover with the chicken pieces or the boneless chicken meat. Garnish with pine nuts if using.
▶︎ Markouk Bread, 338 Main Street, Gloucester, (978) 283 3500. Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11 am to 7 pm.