You know Mahroussie Jabba as the smiling brunette of Markouk Breads, creating her warm, paper-thin rounds painted in Lebanese aromatics at the Cape Ann Farmers’ Market. A Gloucester resident of 15 years (Jabba married Gloucester native Richard Jabba 17 years ago), Jabba creates a variety of incredibly high-quality Lebanese products, recipes from her native home in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. My personal favorite is her Lebnah, rounds of yogurt cheese preserved in olive oil. Jabba spreads the yogurt cheese on warm garlic bread, or on pita with cucumber, fresh tomato and a little onion or scallion.
I bumped into Jabba recently, and she offered me this recipe from her mother. The basic love in this dish is much like the Singaporean “Chicken Rice” that I published recently: poach a whole chicken and then cook the rice in that delicious broth. The rice absorbs the chicken fat becoming a suave, luscious product, nothing at all like the bland, fluffy, white piles beside the protein on many American plates.
But, Jabba’s mother adds aromatics – cinnamon stick, fresh rosemary, and bay leaves – to the broth, along with tomato. The rice therefore absorbs that fragrance; it is almost more special than the chicken. Jabba told me that 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 like that. The chicken and meats are served beside the rice when served.
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 lovely texture and color to the starch.
Sometimes Jabba’s mother adds toasted pinenuts to the dish.
Even this simplest edition, like the Singapore “chicken rice,” strikes a kind of collective, nourishing deliciousness that makes everyone keep spooning out more.
Markouk products can be found all year round at Cape Ann Fresh Catch, 46 Commercial St. in Gloucester, MA.
Fragrant Chicken and Rice from Markouk Bread
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
Toasted pinenuts for garnish (optional)
- 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 pinenuts if using.