ad

Search this blog

Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Baked Smoky Chicken Rice

Mandi is a popular Yemeni rice and meat dish originated from Hadhramaut region and gradually spread to the rest of the Arabian Peninsula and around the globe that me an Indian is sharing the recipe! 😉 Here, the rice and chicken are slow-cooked in a hot oven where the rice is flavoured from the chicken fat drippings and both get the smoky flavour from the burned charcoal making Mandi the most sought after Arabic rice dish.
Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

I got to taste my first Chicken Mandi in a new bare apartment, that was void of any furniture which was the very next day after I landed in Yanbu in 2014. F spread the sufra on the floor and opened two foil box of warm rice - one was kabsa and the other mandi. I was not impressed with either because it was not biryani. 😂 But, it took me less than three months to fall in love with Arabic food and everything about it. Yet, I am not comfortable eating off the supra without plates and spoons. After we moved to UAE, I had shared the Bahraini Chicken Machboos recipe which so many of you loved and then I started getting a lot of request for a Mandi recipe. So you know me, I have to research and read before I zero in on a recipe. I am glad I did. 

Mandi, Kabsa, Machboos, Madbhi and Madfoon are all different types of rice and meat dish and each has its own technique and method of cooking the meat or chicken. So if you see a Mandi recipe where the chicken is boiled, then that is essentially Machboos/Kabsa family. Like always I only share recipe close to the authentic way and that is important to me for many reasons - one being - respect and love for the culture and their food. 

Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Let's talk Mandi. Though originated in Yemen, this dish has won tastebuds of Malabaris too! I remember on a drive to Tellicherry from Coimbatore, I saw billboards of hotels advertising Kuzhi Mandi which translates to hole mandi guess referring to the dug up oven. But F is the kind who does not get off and eat on long drives...😂 so I am yet to try the Mandi served back home. 

Mandi consists of three components: meat, rice and a special spice blend called Hawaij. If you know me, I don't use any boxed store-bought spice mix for any of my recipes except for Sambar, which is why I am hesitant to share the recipe here. I need to change that soon. So making a small batch of Hawaij is easier than buying a box when you already have all the ingredients in your kitchen. 

What is hawaij spice mix?

Hawaij means “mixture” in Arabic. It’s a spice blend with primarily cumin, turmeric and black pepper. It may also contain cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves. There are two blends of hawaij – one for savoury dishes like for here and the other is used in Yemeni coffee and desserts similar to the pumpkin spice mix. You can buy Hawaij in the market in any Arab store or make a batch at home! I have shared the recipe below. Some recipes call for roasting the whole spices and then grinding it but I have used the already powder form and this way it has more shelf-life. You can also change the ratio of the spices a little if you prefer. Check This healthy table for more recipes using Hawaij spice mix! 

How is Mandi prepared?

From my deep research, I learnt that Mandi is Arabic for "dew" referring to the dewy texture of meat resulting from slow cooking it in a clay oven or tandoor which is usually a hole dug in the ground. Dry wood pieces are burned inside the tandoor till the oven reaches extreme heat and all the wood burns down. The rice pot is then suspended inside the tandoor without touching the charcoal and the marinated meat is placed on a wire rack on top of the rice. Now, the whole tandoor is closed and has an air vent to remove excess smoke. The rice and meat are slow-cooked using the heat in the oven. The steam from the rice helps in cooking the meat and the spices and fat that drip from the meat infuses the rice with more flavour. The smokiness from the burned wood is what makes Mandi different from rest of the Arabic rice dishes. As the cooking technique is laborious and slow,  Mandi is served on special occasions, such as Eid, weddings, and feasts. That is how a traditional Mandi is prepared but don't worry, we can still enjoy this smoky chicken rice as we will try to replicate the concept in our indoor kitchen using the oven! But that is definitely not a match to the traditional method but you will notice how dewy the meat gets so let's make Mandi at home! 

How to prepare mandi at home using an oven? It cannot get any simpler that will make you wonder if it is even worth as a festive food! 😂 The only thing you need to worry about is to find the right-sized pots and racks to replicate the suspended cooking. I am not kidding! Let's take a list! 
  • make the spice blend - easy
  • marinate the meat or chicken - easy
  • basmati rice - need not be soaked! Wow! 
  • the only thing you will chop is one onion! 
  • and a few chop for the Zahawig, but how easy it is to prepare! just blitz! 
The rice with water and spices in the pot and the marinated chicken on a wire rack above the pot and the whole thing inside the hot oven - the oven does the work slowly baking it for more than an hour. Once done, smoke the whole thing for about 10 mins and Mandi is ready to serve! Serve with Zahawig, the Yemeni salsa that is again so easy to prepare. So, you see the prep work is not taxing and once you find the things you need then making mandi will be your go-to rice dish for your next gathering - but please do wear a mask and maintain distance. 😁

What is Zahawig?

I found Yemeni Zahawig or Zhoug as a spicy chilli dip/sauce similar to salsa or Salata Hara or daqqous of Saudi. It is made with tomatoes, green chillies, garlic, lemon juice and spices and is served fresh as a condiment with all kinds of Yemeni breakfast, rice, and even chips! You can adjust the taste by adding more or less of each ingredient. 

Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Chicken Mandi Ingredients

  • Saffron: Optional but recommended
  • Hawaij spice mix: Recipe below
  • Ghee or olive oil or butter
  • Chicken: I used a whole chicken with skin. You may use any cut that can fit your pot and oven.
  • Onion
  • Basmati rice: I have not tried with any other rice. If using Sella rice you may have to soak and adjust the water. 
  • Whole spices: cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, bay leaf
  • Raisins
  • Green chillies
  • Water
  • a piece of charcoal
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt 

How I made Chicken Mandi in my kitchen using Oven

The full chicken mandi recipe is down below these steps. 

As saffron is super expensive, it is only fair to take the extra effort to brew it to the maximum. I always soak overnight or 2 to 3 hours ahead. You can even make a batch and refrigerate. Brew the saffron by soaking in hot water overnight or at least 2 hours ahead (this is optional but highly recommended). Some recipes call for adding saffron in the marinade, but I went with the recipe that added the liquid saffron at the end of cooking that acts like adding moisture to the freshly baked rice and chicken or maybe stop from cooking further!
Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Next, I made the hawaij spice mix by adding all the ingredients in a jar and mixed it thoroughly. Used some of it to marinate the chicken and let it sit for at least 2 hours or overnight. It is better to use the chicken skin on as it helps to retain the moisture and prevent drying while getting baked. 
Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice


Before you preheat the oven, make sure you decide on the pot to use. Check if it fits in your oven, check if it is wide enough for your chicken size, check if the wire rack is bigger than the pot etc. Then, preheat your oven to 200℃. I had some blanched and sliced almonds so fried them first before starting with the mandi process. 
Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Next, I sauteed the finely diced onions until translucent and then switched off the stove. Took the pot to the counter to add rest of the ingredients. 
Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Now just dump the whole spices, raisins, green chillies, washed and drained rice, water (little less than actual) and salt to taste. Remember, we don't soak the rice because it will be slowly getting baked along with the chicken. We add less water because the chicken fat will add moisture to the rice so it gets cooked completely. 
Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

When I tried Mandi the first time, I placed the pot on the lower level and placed the chicken on the wire rack just above the pot. I also made sure to keep foil at the base to catch any drippings and save me some cleaning time. But if your oven is small or you don't have a wire rack, then you can try the foil method. I tried the foil method the second time and it is good too. Both methods gave the same result but in the rack method, you can stir the rice which you can't in the foil method. 
Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice
If using a non-stick pot like the above image, please make sure yours is oven friendly. My pot came with a manual stating it is oven friendly up to 180c. 

Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

If using the foil method, try to use the thick foil that can hold the chicken weight. You may use two to three layers and make a few holes all over the foil before you place the chicken over it.
Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice
 
Place the marinated chicken over the wire or foil. Keep this on the lower level of the oven and bake for 20 mins. Reduce the temperature to 150℃ and bake for 1 hour and 30 mins or until the chicken dripping is reduced or stopped. If you use a wire rack, you may stir the rice once during the baking time but with the foil method that is not easy. Some suggest to use a meat thermometer to check if the chicken is cooked but I don't have one and neither many of you... the timing of baking depends on the size of the chicken and of course the temperature of the oven.

Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Remove the chicken and rice from the oven and start burning the charcoal piece. 
Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

During my first attempt, the baked rice formed a crispy golden bottom that may seem burnt to you but it is celebrated in Persian rice dishes, called tahdig. Fluff up the rice, place the chicken on the bed of rice, tuck a few lemon slices, and pour the saffron water all over the rice and chicken. Place a foil cup or a small steel bowl inside the rice pot tucked well so that it doesn't topple. A steel bowl is the best option but I don't have one so had to make a foil cup. Add a tablespoon of any cooking oil into the cup.  
Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Pick the fully burnt charcoal using tongs and carefully place it into the foil cup - it will start smoking up immediately so cover the pot with a tight lid or foil and you may also use a clean kitchen towel to trap the smoke inside. You may also place the chicken and rice back into the oven and do the smoking process inside the oven itself. Let it sit for at least 10 to 15 minutes to infuse the smoky flavour to the chicken and rice. 
Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Meanwhile, prepare zahawiq by grinding all the chopped up ingredients together and adjust as per your taste. 
Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Serve Yemeni chicken mandi with prepared zahawiq (Salata Hara), yoghurt, and some salad!
Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

I asked F to pull a leg piece of the chicken and it was a jaw-dropping moment watching how silky smooth like dew the pieces fell apart. Mandi taste is not overpowering like biryani... it is subtle and the flavour of the meat is sublime! I hope to try a mutton version next time. InshaAllah!

Yemeni Chicken Mandi Recipe | Baked Smoky Chicken & Rice 

INGREDIENTS

Saffron brew:
2 to 3 pinch of saffron 
1/4 cup hot water

Hawaij spice mix: (you will not be using all of this. Store the remaining in a tight jar)
2 tablespoons cumin powder
1 tablespoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon pepper powder
2 teaspoon coriander 
2 teaspoon cloves powder or allspice powder 
2 teaspoon cardamom powder

For the chicken mandi marinade:
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon hawaij spice mix
salt to taste
approx 900gms whole chicken with skin, cleaned, washed and pat dried

For the mandi rice:
2 tablespoon ghee or butter or olive oil
1 large onion, diced finely
2 cups basmati rice, washed and drained
6 cloves
4 cardamom
10 peppercorns
1-inch cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon raisins
3 to 5 green chillies
3 cups of water
Salt to taste

For smoking:
a piece of charcoal
steel or foil bowl
a splash of oil

For garnish:
Fried almonds and raisins 
Lemon slices

For Zahawiq (Salata Hara):
1 large tomato
1 to 2 garlic cloves
1to 2 green chillies
a pinch of cumin seeds
lemon juice to taste
greens - fistful coriander or mint or parsley or a mix of all
salt to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

Prepare ahead:
  1. Brew the saffron by soaking in hot water overnight or at least 2 hours ahead
  2. Prepare the hawaij spice mix by adding all the ingredients in a jar and mix it thoroughly. Store in an airtight jar. 
  3. Marinate the chicken and refrigerate overnight or at least for an hour 
  4. Soak almonds in hot water, peel, slice and pat dry and refrigerate to fry later (or use store-bought almond slices)
Prepare chicken mandi:
  1. Preheat oven at 200℃
  2. Heat oil in an oven-friendly wide-mouthed pot on the stovetop
  3. Fry the almonds until golden and remove and keep aside for garnish
  4. Add more oil if required and saute the onions until translucent and then switch off the stove
  5. Add the drained rice, whole spices and raisins, green chillies, water and salt to taste
  6. Place a wire rack over the pot or keep the pot under the wire rack in the oven or use a thick foil and cover the rice pot
    • If using the foil method, make a few holes all over the foil before you place the chicken over it
  7. Place the marinated chicken over the wire or foil 
  8. Keep this on the lower level of the oven and bake for 20 mins 
  9. Reduce the temperature to 150℃ and bake for 1 hour and 30 mins or until the chicken dripping is reduced or stopped
    • If you use wire rack, you may stir the rice once during the baking time but with foil method that is not easy
Smoke the chicken and rice:
  1. Remove the chicken and rice from the oven 
  2. Start burning the charcoal piece
  3. Fluff up the rice, place the chicken on the bed of rice, tuck a few lemon slices, and pour the saffron water all over the rice and chicken 
  4. Place a foil cup or a small steel bowl inside the rice pot tucked well so that it doesn't topple. Add a splash of oil into the cup. 
  5. Pick the fully burnt charcoal using tongs and carefully place it into the foil cup - it will start smoking up immediately so cover it with a tight lid or foil and you may also use a kitchen towel to trap the smoke inside. 
    • You may also place the chicken and rice back into the oven and do the smoking process inside the oven itself
  6. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes to infuse the smoky flavour to the chicken and rice
Prepare Zahawiq 
  1. Meanwhile, prepare the dip by grinding all the ingredients together and adjust the flavours as per your taste
  2. Serve Yemeni chicken mandi with prepared zahawiq (Salata Hara), yoghurt, and some salad!
Yemeni Chicken Mandi | Smoky Chicken Rice

Recipe adapted from Sheba Yemeni Food and a lot of reading and comparing. 

What is the difference between Kabsa and Mandi?

Home to Saudi, Kabsa is derived from the word kabs, meaning "press", the technique used in cooking Kabsa where the meat or poultry is normally simmered and boiled and the rice is cooked in the broth. Mandi is also a rice and meat dish originating from Yemen and means "dew" referring to the dewy texture of meat cooked in tandoor oven above the pot of rice. The technique, the spice blend and the accompaniments are different for both Kabsah and Mandi. 


TRIED THIS RECIPE? 

I would love to hear from you. If you have made this recipe then do leave a comment below. If you like this recipe then do share the recipe link on Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Follow me on Instagram and mention @butfirstchaai or tag #butfirstchai so that I can see your creations!

Comments

ad