This Chicken Mandi is a family staple all through the Arab world & will soon become your family's favourite dinner. Chicken legs baked in an aromatic spice blend until fall-apart tender, best served with a scoop of fragrant smokey rice. Best yet, this is an easy Chicken Mandi recipe. A fail-proof & delicious dinner that's always satisfying & perfect for a family gathering or any time you want to spoil your loved ones!
The best Chicken Mandi recipe
Chicken Mandi may just be my favourite chicken & rice recipe! I love just about any chicken & rice recipe, but I do not always love the lack of flavour they offer. Thankfully, this delicious chicken Mandi gives you all of the flavour of the Middle East with less work! All you need is one pot and around an hour to make this delicious recipe that’s inspired by the classic Yemeni Chicken Mandi.
I promise you if you're craving a simple, tasty, & fail-proof recipe for chicken mandi, This is the recipe for you.
Maybe you're wondering, Mandi, what? This dish isn't from the Mediterranean! It's from Yemen.
And you're 100% correct! This dish is originally a Yemeni recipe, but it's so delicious and popular that it migrated to Turkey, the Levant, & Egypt and became a regular household recipe. Therefore in my humble opinion, it's an Eastern Mediterranean dish now!
What is Chicken Mandi?
Chicken Mandi is a popular Yemeni rice dish that is traditionally slow-cooked in an underground "oven." It's basically like a big hole with lots of coal inside, and the chicken and rice are cooked inside, with the chicken on a rack on top of the rice so all the juices can drip into the pot.
The Meat is marinated in a traditional spice blend called Hawaij. Hawaij spice blend gives the rice and chicken a beautiful colour and its signature savoury taste. The rice is lowered onto the coals, and the seasoned meat is suspended over the rice. The Taboon oven is covered, and the mandi dish is left to cook for a few hours.
The meat's fat and the smoke from the charcoals give the dish its delicious rich & smoky flavour to the dish. Traditionally Mandi is made with lamb, goat, camel and chicken. It's most often served during feasts and holiday celebrations.
This delicious rice recipe is made with just 3 main ingredients: Hawaij spice blend, rice, and chicken. It may sound like it's a very simple dish, but getting that authentic smokey taste from the taboon oven is key. And I'm going to show you how to get that flavour without having to dig a clay oven into your backyard.
Here's the Secret to making Mandi at home
The Trademark taste of mandi is its smoky essence from the tandoor oven. However, I don't know many people who have access to a traditional tandoor oven. So instead, home cooks use a red piece of charcoal, oil, and a small heatproof bowl to recreate this flavour.
This smoke technique is a very popular method for adding a smokey flavour to homemade shawarmas too.
How to Make Hawaij spice mix:
This chicken mandi recipe calls for a spice called Hawaij. Hawaij is a popular spice blend in Yemen, Somalia and Isreal, and there are a few different versions of the hawaij spice blend⏤savoury for rice and meats or sweet, delicious blend for sweets and drinks. Luckily for us, making this hawaij spice blend is super easy to make at home.
You'll probably have most of these spices on hand:
- Indian bay leaf or regular bay
- Black peppercorns
the fail-proof mandi technique
Chicken Mandi may seem challenging to make, but the truth is told, it isn't difficult to master, so don't let it intimidate you. Many recipes recommend cooking the raw chicken over top of the uncooked rice in the oven⏤this can result in a high recipe failure, and I don't want that to happen to you. I've found over the years that it's best to bake the chicken first, then add the pan dripping into the rice when cooking.
This Chicken Mandi came about after my many failed attempts at making the Oven-baked version of Yemeni Mandi.
I've been testing & tweaking this recipe for years, I learned to make this recipe one-pot as most creators recommend; however, Mandi has a very high failure rate for people new to Middle Eastern cooking.
I would never want you to have a recipe fail if I could avoid it by simplifying the techniques to make the recipe approachable for everyone. And let me tell you, it was absolutely fantastic. The interplay of juicy, savoury chicken & smokey rice is somehow so satisfying yet authentic tasting all at once, & so easy for beginners, making this the perfect recipe hack. In fact, I love this chicken mandi so much that always bring it to potlucks or any other food-type gathering! It's such flawless chicken & rice recipe that I'm sure you'll love it.
How Do You Make chicken mandi?
The perfect Chicken Mandi is as easy as:
- Buy a chicken—any size or cut will do! I've chosen to use drumsticks to speed up cooking time and make this a weekday meal.
- Prepare the Hawaij spice mixture.
- Season the chicken with the Hawaij.
- Bake the chicken in a preheated oven. Roasting the chicken in the oven doesn’t take terribly long, but the cooking time does depend on the size and or cuts of meat you've chosen.
- Make your rice; add the onions, ghee and spices. Then add the rice, give it a stir, pour in the water and cover.
- Use the chicken’s pan drippings to create a fabulous “flavour booster” by adding it to your rice.
- Place the cooked chicken on top of the cooked rice.
- To create the signature smokey flavour. You'll need a small piece of hot charcoal. Place a small heat-proof dish with oil in the middle of the rice and chicken. Drop the hot coal in the metal dish and very quickly cover the rice with a tight lid.
- Use less oil. The chicken pan dripping adds a lot of oil to the rice, so when sauteing the onions, just use enough oil to stop the onions from sticking.
- Pan dripping makes this dish—you must scrape all of the flavorful dripping bits from the bottom of the pan and add the dripping to the rice. It may seem like a strange technique, but it adds so much flavour to the rice.
- Sella basmati rice is the best rice to use for this dish or for anyone who tends to overcook or over-stir when making rice. This type of rice is also great for people with diabetes since it doesn't spike blood sugar as quickly as regular basmati. And the best part is Sella Rice rice, so it cooks perfectly every time!
More Rice Recipes To Try
Chicken Mandi (Yemeni chicken & yellow rice)
- 8 pieces Chicken drumsticks, thighs, etc.
- 2 medium onions finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon ghee
- 1 ½ cup Sella Basmati rice wash and presoaked 30 minutes.
- 6 garlic cloves peeled, leave whole
- 2 ½ teaspoon sea salt please don't use table salt!
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 cup Mixed Nuts pinenuts, almond silvers, & cashews
- 1 teaspoon ghee
Hawaij Spice mixture:
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 Indian bay leaves ground into powder* see notes
- Prep Chicken: wash your chicken by giving it a little scrub with fresh lemon,⏤skip the lemon if you don't have it on hand.
- Let's spice it up: Rub 1-2 teaspoons of the Hawaij spice and a pinch of salt onto each piece of chicken. Once all of the chicken is coated with spice, add a drizzle of olive oil, and rub everything together. Allow the chicken to marinate well your oven is heating up.
- Start your oven: Pre-heat your oven to 400°. Once heated transfer, the chicken to a baking pan and cover with tin-foil⏤bake for 40 minutes. You should have a lot of broth on the bottom of the pan, which you're going to use to flavour the rice. After 20 minutes of cooking the chicken, start the rice.
- After 45 minutes of cooking the chicken, start the rice: Heat a large pot, add ghee & onions. Sautee. Occasionally stir the onions until they're totally cooked through but not brown, add 2 teaspoons of the Hawaij spice, then continue cooking until the spices start to stick to the bottom of the pot, about 90 seconds.
- Add the rice: Stir, the rice into the onion & spices, until the rice is really well coated⏤the spice mixture should be sticking to each individual grain of rice.
- After 5 minutes of the rice cooking: Remove the chicken from the oven. Open the tin foil, remove the chicken and pour all the rice and the whole garlic cloves into the chicken drippings, then add approximately 2 ½ cups of hot water and ½ teaspoon more salt. (taste the saltiness of the water at this point and decide if more salt is needed-the water should be slightly salty to the taste but NOT as salty as the sea). Give it one a good stir! Place the cooked chicken back into the baking pan with the rice and continue cooking covered for 20 minutes.
- Time for some magic! You'll need a small piece of charcoal and a small metal dish (see notes) for this part of the recipe. Place the chicken in the pot with the rice, add the small metal dish in the centre of the rice. Pour 1 teaspoon of oil into a mini heat-proof bowl. Heat the charcoal on the element of the stove until the coal is red. Add the hot charcoal into the mini bowl with oil. You're going to see a lot of smoke! Quickly, cover the pot with its lid and wrap-around with a kitchen towel to stop any smoke from leaving the pot. Wait 5-8 minutes for the smoke to disappear in the rice. Open the lid, remove the chicken, and stir the smoky flavour.
- In the meantime: Fry your nuts in a 1 teaspoon ghee until they're just about to turn golden brown.
- Set the table! Place the rice on a serving platter, top with the chicken and then the nuts and raisins.
Time-saving hacks:Marinate the chicken the night before. You can also freeze the chicken in the spice mixture. To wash your rice or not to wash rice, that is the question, I'll let up to you. I personally always wash my rice, but others don't. So I leave that step up to you. I don't usually soak my rice. If you choose to soak your rice, you'll need to increase the prep time.
- I use Instant Charcoal Quality Hookah for the smoking step, you also can use a broken piece of charcoal if that's what you have available.
- If you do not have a metal dish, then you can use a foiled-up piece of tin foil. Fold the tin foil into a square about 3 times so the square fits into the palm of your hand. curl the corners into a bowl-like shape so the oil won't pour out and the coal will fit perfectly.