This recipe for chicken sajji is an urban take on a favorite food of nomadic goat herders and shepherds in Balochistan. Traditionally, the meal consists of lamb, slow roasted over an open fire and stuffed with rice and papaya paste.
For this recipe, we’re using chicken (more common in urban Pakistani recipes). Our chicken is thrice cooked (browned in a pan to seal in juices, then baked in the oven and finished off with smoky outdoor grill flavor). However, you can simplify but popping straight into the oven and baking through. The lemon/garlic/pepper marinade and special sajji masala spices are what make this chicken so delicious.
Peel and mince the garlic.
Cut the lemon in half. Juice half of the lemon and set the other half aside for later.
In a bowl large enough to accommodate the entire chicken, combine the following:
Whisk to thoroughly mix the ingredients. Place the chicken in your marinade bowl. Seal and allow to marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 hours (overnight if possible). Turn the chicken often while marinating, to fully coat all sides.
Whisk the spices to blend them well.
Heat a pan over medium and add the spice mixture. Stir continuously to avoid burning the spices. Cook just until the spices become fragrant (about 1 – 2 minutes), then remove them from heat.
Transfer the spices to a mortar and pestle—or spice grinder—and grind them into fine powder. If any large bits remain, run them through fine mesh sifter/strainer. Set mix aside for later.
Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium. Remove the chicken from your marinade and place it in the heated pan. Cook the chicken for about 5 – 6 minutes, turning the bird to brown on all sides. Remove the chicken from heat and allow it to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Transfer the chicken into an ovenproof baking dish and place in the oven.
Using an outdoor grill for smoky flavor finishing touch: bake the chicken for 30 – 45 minutes and then transfer to a hot grill over coals (propane will not provide the smoky flavor). Grill the chicken until its outer skin is crispy and dark. Insert a meat thermometer into the chicken thigh to check its temperature. If the thermometer reads 175 degrees, your chicken is fully cooked. If not, continue baking the chicken in the oven at 350 degrees until it is cooked through.
Baking in oven only: bake the chicken at 350 degrees until a meat thermometer reads 175 degrees (about 1 hour).
Periodically pull juices from the bottom of the pan and drizzle over the chicken while baking in the oven.
Allow the chicken to cool for 10 – 15 minutes. Drizzle juice from the remaining half of the lemon over the top and sprinkle with the Sajji Masala spice mixture.
Cut and serve. Try with the Pakistani Biryani Rice, the perfect accompaniment to your chicken sajji.