Grilled harissa chicken on avocado toast is perfect for lunch or brunch at the weekend for the ultimate cute-cafe-at-home experience. I’ve been known to have this for dinner too.
Grilled harissa chicken…this flavourful dish combines the tender juiciness of perfectly grilled chicken with the bold, spicy kick of harissa – a North African chilli paste. This dish is not only a real delight in the taste department, but also a great way to incorporate new techniques and ingredients into your healthy cooking and meal planning.
Grilled harissa chicken is an excellent example of how the right combination of ingredients and cooking methods can elevate a simple chicken dish into a culinary masterpiece.
Enjoying your food (and the process of cooking it) is key to healthy eating. If you’ve never tried harissa before – or using a grill pan – this recipe and technique is going to bring you much joy.
What is Grilled Harissa Chicken?
Grilled harissa chicken is a dish that has its roots in North African and Mediterranean cuisine. Harissa, the star ingredient of this recipe, is a versatile chilli paste made from a blend of hot chilli peppers, garlic, olive oil, and a mix of spices such as cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds. This fiery paste is commonly used in Tunisian, Moroccan, and Algerian cooking to add depth and spiciness to a variety of dishes.
This grilled harissa chicken recipe combines marinated chicken pieces – typically boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts – with a generous slathering of harissa paste. The chicken is then grilled to perfection, creating a beautiful balance of flavours and textures.
The flavour profile of grilled harissa chicken is a delightful mix of smoky, spicy, and slightly tangy notes. The harissa paste imparts a deep, earthy spice to the chicken, while the grilling process adds a smoky, charred element. Depending on the type of harissa paste used, the spiciness of the dish can vary. However, you can always adjust the heat level by using more or less paste according to your taste preferences.
Harissa paste and its variations
Harissa paste comes in different variations, allowing you to customise the dish according to your desired level of spiciness and flavour profile. The most common types of harissa paste are:
- Mild Harissa: This version has a milder heat level, making it suitable for those who prefer a more subtle spiciness. It’s a great option if you’re new to harissa and want to experiment with its flavours.
- Spicy Harissa: For those who love a good kick, the spicy harissa paste brings the heat with an intense blend of hot chilli peppers. This version will elevate your grilled chicken to a whole new level of fiery goodness.
- Green Harissa: This variation replaces the traditional red chilli peppers with green ones, resulting in a slightly milder, more herbaceous flavour. Green harissa often includes ingredients like cilantro and mint, adding a refreshing twist to the classic recipe.
By choosing the right harissa paste, you can create a grilled harissa chicken dish that perfectly suits your taste buds and brings a touch of North African and Mediterranean flavours to your table.
Harissa paste can also be made at home. Here’s a recipe for easy homemade harissa. If you’re buying harissa paste from the store, make sure you find one with olive oil, rather than inflammatory seed oils.
What goes well with grilled harissa chicken
- Side dishes:
- Serve the grilled harissa chicken with a side of couscous, quinoa, or rice.
- Pair it with a refreshing salad or grilled vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers, or eggplant.
- Pairings with other dishes:
- Grilled harissa chicken goes well with Mediterranean-inspired dishes like tabbouleh, hummus, or baba ghanoush.
- Harissa yogurt grilled chicken variation:
- For a creamier, tangier version of the dish, try adding 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt to the marinade mixture. This will create a smooth, velvety texture and add a cooling element to the dish.
Grill Pan Tips for Cooking Chicken at Home
Selecting a grill pan
When choosing a grill pan, look for one made of cast iron as it will distribute heat evenly, ensuring consistent cooking. A pan with raised ridges is ideal, as these ridges help create those desired grill lines while allowing fat and juices to drain away from the food.
Oiling and maintaining a grill pan
To maintain your grill pan, always oil it after use. Once the pan has cooled down, lightly rub it with a paper towel dipped in oil. This will help prevent rust and prevent food from sticking too much next time you cook. When cooking chicken, brush the pan with a thin layer of light olive oil or avocado oil.
Cooking chicken in a grill pan without sticking
Chicken can be notorious for sticking to grill pans, but you can prevent this by:
- Ensuring the pan is properly oiled, as mentioned above.
- Making sure the pan is hot enough before adding the chicken. Preheat the pan on medium-high heat for a few minutes before placing the chicken on it.
- Patting the chicken dry before cooking, as excess moisture can cause sticking. This one isn’t as relevant with harissa chicken because of the marinade.
- Avoiding the temptation to move or flip the chicken too soon. Let the chicken cook undisturbed for a few minutes until it gets that Maillard reaction, allowing the grill marks to form, before flipping it over.
Monitoring pan temperature
Monitoring the pan temperature is crucial to achieving perfectly grilled chicken without burning. Preheat the grill pan over medium-high heat and maintain a consistent temperature throughout the cooking process. If the pan becomes too hot, the chicken may stick or burn on the outside while remaining undercooked inside. If you’re unsure about the temperature, try using an infrared thermometer to measure the surface temperature of the pan.
Using a thermometer to ensure proper cooking
Using an instant-read thermometer is an excellent way to ensure your chicken is cooked to the correct internal temperature, avoiding overcooking or undercooking. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken without touching the bone. The internal temperature should reach 165°F (74°C) before removing the chicken from the grill pan. This will ensure that your grilled harissa chicken is juicy, tender, and safe to eat.
Frequently Asked Questions
Grilling and cooking tips
Grilling frozen chicken
It is not recommended to grill frozen chicken, as it can result in uneven cooking and potentially unsafe internal temperatures. Always thaw your chicken before grilling, either in the refrigerator, under cold water, or in the microwave using the defrost setting.
Pre-boiling chicken before grilling
Boiling chicken before grilling can help reduce the grilling time and ensure even cooking, especially for larger or thicker cuts of meat. However, this method can cause the chicken to lose some of its flavour and juiciness. If you choose to pre-boil, make sure to season the boiling water and finish the chicken on the grill for a few minutes to develop the desired grilled flavour and texture.
Baking chicken before grilling
Baking chicken before grilling can help tenderize the meat and shorten grilling time. To do this, bake the chicken in a preheated 375°F (190°C) oven for 20-30 minutes, then finish it on the grill for a few minutes to develop grill marks and the desired smoky flavor.
Alternative cooking methods without an oven
If you don’t have an oven, you can use a stovetop grill pan, as detailed in this article. Alternatively, you can pan-sear the chicken in a skillet over medium-high heat, or use a countertop electric grill or grill press to cook the chicken.
Health and storage aspects
Grilled chicken’s health benefits
Grilled chicken, particularly when using lean cuts like skinless breasts or thighs, is a healthy protein source. It is lower in fat and calories compared to fried chicken and can be part of a balanced, nutritious meal when paired with whole grains and vegetables.
Refrigeration and shelf life
Properly stored in an airtight container or wrapped in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, grilled chicken can last for up to 3-4 days in the refrigerator. To extend its shelf life, consider freezing the cooked chicken, where it can last for up to 3 months.
Comparing grilled harissa chicken with other chicken dishes
- Tandoori chicken:
- Tandoori chicken is an Indian dish where chicken is marinated in yogurt and spices, then cooked in a traditional clay oven called a tandoor. The flavor profile is different from grilled harissa chicken, with tandoori chicken featuring a mix of warm spices like cumin, coriander, and turmeric.
- Barbecue chicken:
- Barbecue chicken is typically marinated or basted with a barbecue sauce, which can vary in flavor from tangy to sweet and smoky. It is often cooked on a grill or in a smoker to infuse the meat with a distinct smoky flavor. The main difference between barbecue chicken and grilled harissa chicken is the sauce and flavor profile.
- Roasted chicken:
- Roasted chicken is cooked in an oven, usually at a higher temperature than baking, allowing the chicken to develop a crispy, golden skin. The cooking method is different from grilling, which imparts a smoky flavor and distinct grill marks to the chicken.
For the chicken
- 2 chicken breasts
- 50g harissa paste
For the avocado toast
- 2 slices sourdough
- 2 avocados
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 75g feta cheese
- 1/2 a lemon
- Chilli oil
- Chilli flakes
- Rocket leaves or sunflower greens
- Pickled red onions
- Lay the chicken breasts flat on your chopping board and carefully cut in half lengthways (so you have two very thin ‘slabs’.
- In a container, thoroughly rub the chicken with the harissa paste. Cover and leave in the fridge for 2 hours, or preferably overnight.
- Fire up the grill pan and when it’s medium high, get the chicken breast in.
- If you’re using a lemon, cut into quarters and place in the pan to grill and caramelise.
- When you have enough colour on one side of the chicken, turn them over. Do the same with the lemon.
- Whilst the chicken is cooking, get your bread on to toast. Then get your avocado mashed in a bowl with the lemon juice, olive oil and salt.
- Remove your chicken and lemon from the pan.
- To plate up, sourdough on the plate, butter it if you’d like, followed by the smashed avocado, then chicken. If using, top with crumbled feta, chilli oil/flakes, pickled onions and black pepper. Sunflower greens or arugula look great on the side with the grilled lemon.
Indoor grill pan:
- Preheat your grill pan over medium-high heat.
- Lightly brush the pan with a bit of olive oil or avocado oil.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade, allowing excess to drip off.
- Place the chicken on the grill pan and cook for 5-7 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 74°C (165°F) using an instant-read thermometer.
- Preheat your outdoor grill to medium-high heat.
- Clean and oil the grill grates to prevent sticking.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade, allowing excess to drip off.
- Place the chicken on the grill and cook for 5-7 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 74°C (165°F) using an instant-read thermometer.
Grill temperature and cook time:
- Ensure your grill or grill pan is preheated to medium-high heat (around 204°C or 400°F) before cooking the chicken.
- Cook the chicken for 5-7 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the pieces, until the internal temperature reaches 74°C (165°F).
Achieving grill lines without burning:
- Position the chicken on the grill or grill pan at a 45-degree angle.
- After 2-3 minutes, rotate the chicken 90 degrees to create a crisscross pattern.
- Flip the chicken and repeat the process on the other side.
Monitoring internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer:
- Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken without touching the bone.
- Ensure the temperature reads 74°C (165°F) before removing the chicken from the grill.
Resting the chicken after grilling:
- Allow the chicken to rest for 5-10 minutes after grilling. This will help the juices redistribute, resulting in a more tender and flavourful dish.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Marinating Time: 2 hours
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Method: Grill
- Cuisine: Mediterranean
Keywords: harissa chicken breast
I encourage you to continue exploring healthy recipes and cooking techniques to expand your culinary repertoire and enjoy the process of learning, sharing and nourishing. Remember, a balanced diet and proper home cooking techniques can make a significant difference in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and overall well-being. Happy cooking!