Syrian chicken, bread and yogurt dish
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
The word fatteh comes from a verb meaning to shred or tear apart, referring to the torn pieces of pita that form the base of all fatteh dishes. There are many different varieties of fatteh made with layers of different ingredients such as chickpeas, stuffed aubergines, artichokes, stewed meat or tahini and garlic yogurt.
My family usually makes chicken fatteh at the beginning of Ramadan or at the start of the year as the whiteness of the dish from the yogurt and rice symbolizes good luck and a pure beginning. It also happens to be my favourite fatteh dish, with the mixture of rice, bread, yogurt and chicken making a comforting and filling yet also very refreshing dish.
I always like to poach a whole chicken for dishes like this as I always like to use any leftover chicken or stock to make other dishes. However, you can just as easily make the dish by poaching two chicken breasts or thighs or a mix of the two depending on your taste.
It is best to eat fatteh straight away as the bread will get soggy the longer it sits. Not that it will sit around for that long, it’s too delicious!
For the chicken
1 whole chicken
3 bay leaves
1 onion, quartered
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Aleppo spice mix or Lebanese seven-spice mix*
2 teaspoons salt
Hot water to cover
For the yogurt sauce
500g plain natural yogurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon tahini
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup uncooked white rice
3 small pita breads, cut into 2cm squares
Chopped parsley and toasted almonds or pine nuts to decorate
*The Lebanese seven-spice mix is easily found in most Middle eastern stores. Otherwise, you can replace with ½ tsp allspice, ¼ tsp ground black pepper, ¼ tsp ground cinnamon, ¼ tsp ground nutmeg, ¼ tsp ground cardamom, ¼ tsp ground cloves
To make the chicken and rice
Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan. Place the chicken and turn it around to sear the different sides in the oil. Add the quartered onion and the bay leaves. Pour the hot water over the chicken so that it is covered and add the salt and spices. Bring the water to a boil and then turn down the heat and simmer the chicken for 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
Remove the chicken from the stock, reserving the stock, and once it is cool enough, remove the chicken meat from the bones, discarding the bones. If you have used boneless chicken pieces, shred the chicken pieces into large pieces.
In the meantime, cook the rice in 2 cups of hot salted water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes until the rice is cooked through.
For the pita squares
Toss the pita bread in a bowl with some vegetable oil. Transfer into a baking tray lined with parchment paper and bake at 180C for 10 minutes or until the pita squares are a light golden colour.
To make the yogurt sauce
Mix the yogurt with the tahini, garlic and salt in a glass bowl. Heat the yogurt in a microwave for 1 minute until it is warm. Be careful to not overheat it or the yogurt will curdle. Alternatively, you can gently heat the yogurt in a saucepan over medium heat until just warm, again being careful to not overheat it.
Putting it all together
Place the pita crisps in a deep serving dish. I like to use a glass baking dish so that the different layers are more visible. Using a ladle or large spoon, lightly cover the bread with some of the warm chicken stock.
Cover the bread and stock with a very thin layer of the cooked rice. This helps to keep the bread from becoming soggy too quickly from the yogurt.
Pour the yogurt sauce over the bread and rice, spreading it out to make sure the dish is evenly covered with the sauce.
Spoon the remining rice over the yogurt. Place the shredded chicken on top of the rice and decorate it with toasted almonds or pine nuts and the chopped parsley.
It is best to eat the fatteh immediately before the bread becomes soggy.