Harissa chicken is a Moroccan dish that is spicy, grilled, and a unique entree to serve up at your next barbecue! The harissa marinade is what sets it apart — and what gives it that unmistakable heat!
I’m constantly inspired by North African dishes! One of my favorites to try my hand at is Moroccan cuisine. I love this chilled Moroccan carrots recipe as well as these Moroccan couscous cakes. And I can’t forget Shakshuka for Sunday brunch!
Today I wanted to share a dish that you can use as a main course. Introducing my harissa chicken recipe (watch the video to make this below)! It’s spicy, grilled, and bursting with flavor. I love the idea of serving it up at a barbecue instead of burgers and hot dogs. You’re sure to make an impact on your guests — and their taste buds.
I will say that this dish isn’t for the faint of heart, but spicy food lovers will adore it. You can always use less if you like, too. Harissa is a chili sauce or paste made from dried red chiles, garlic, and a few other key ingredients. I love making my homemade version, but you can also find it at most supermarkets in the international foods section. And with that, let’s dive in!
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Chicken - Opt for chicken thighs or breasts when making harissa chicken. And be sure that they’re boneless and skinless! If you must buy chicken with the skin on, you can remove it before you begin with a paring knife — just be careful!
- Harissa Paste - Again, I love my homemade version. It’s simple and easy to make too! In a crunch, you can buy store-bought at Trader Joe's and other markets.
- Honey - The sweetness balances out the spice wonderfully.
- Olive Oil - You need some olive oil for the marinade!
- Paprika and Black Pepper - You don’t need many other spices for my harissa chicken thighs thanks to all of the heat and flavor in the paste. But, you should add a bit of paprika and pepper to finish everything off!
- Lemons and Plum Tomatoes - I love cooking these special extra ingredients along with the chicken to bring the entire dish together. Plus, they are delicious when grilled!
- Chopped Cilantro - For your garnish.
HOW TO MAKE HARISSA CHICKEN
1. Prepare the Marinade. Add the harissa paste, honey, olive oil, paprika, black pepper, and the juice of one lemon to a medium bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside.
2. Prepare the Chicken. Pat your chicken dry with a paper towel, then use the tip of a knife to make small slits in order to help the marinade really sink in. Season both sides with salt and place in the bowl with the marinade. Make sure to coat both sides evenly! Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Longer is better if you can!
3. Preheat the Grill. Preheat your grill to 350-375°F. While you wait, cut the remaining lemons and the plum tomatoes so that they’re ready to grill.
4. Grill. Place the chicken thighs or breasts on the grill and allow them to cook for 4-minutes on each side. A few minutes before they’re done, add the lemons and tomatoes to the grill with your harissa chicken thighs.
Because poultry doesn't require tenderizing, the sole purpose of marinating chicken is to add flavor.
For this reason, I recommend a marinating time for chicken of 30 to 60 minutes, 4 hours tops.
After an hour, the acids in lemon juice will begin to slowly break down the protein, causing it to become mushy after a long marinade (over 24 hours).
5. Let Rest and Serve. Remove the chicken, lemons, and tomatoes from the grill and let them rest for about 5 minutes. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with a bit of extra harissa paste on the side for dipping. Enjoy that spicy goodness!
What to serve with grilled chicken
Keep the meal light, fresh and healthy by serving it with healthy sides like pomegranate barley salad or warm Moroccan carrots in yogurt sauce.
Other great options are bulgur salad or couscous cakes and Greek plaki beans.
For even more citrus flavor, make a quick lemon pickle to serve with the meal.
How Do You Use Harissa in Cooking?
You can use harissa as a marinade as I do in this harissa chicken recipe! For a less spicy marinade, mix it with a bit of Greek yogurt to tone down the heat a bit. Some other recipes use it to add a bit of moisture (and spice), especially in dishes like meatballs and kofte (Turkish meatballs).
Can I Use Harissa Powder Instead of Paste?
If you happen to have harissa powder on hand, you can certainly make it work. I would recommend picking up the paste or making my homemade version for best results. To use powder in this harissa chicken thighs recipe, simply add a bit of water to the powder to create a makeshift paste. Be aware that the results may not be as spicy.
What Does Harissa Taste Like?
Harissa tends to vary slightly in taste depending on the brand you go for and if you make it yourself. Some varieties are smoky, thanks to the addition of roasted fresh chile peppers along with the dried ones. Others are sharp due to added citrus or vinegar. The consistency also changes. Some are very thick, while others are thin. Choose whatever one you like best for your harissa chicken thighs!
Is Sriracha Similar to Harissa?
Spice lovers are likely already very familiar with Sriracha, another sauce made from red chili peppers and garlic. It’s often served with Vietnamese and Thai food, but I know people who put it on everything! It’s quite similar to harissa, especially in terms of ingredients. The biggest difference is that Sriracha is technically a sauce, while harissa is a paste.
This post, originally published on Silk Road Recipes June, 2021, was updated with new content, photos and/or video in June, 2022.
Harissa Chicken Recipe + Video
- 2 lbs chicken thighs boneless skinless
- ½ cup harissa paste
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 4 lemons
- 2 plum tomatoes sliced lengthwise
- chopped cilantro for garnish
- To a medium bowl, add harissa paste, honey, olive oil, paprika, black pepper and juice from 1 lemon. Whisk ingredients to combine.
- Use paper towels to pat boneless skinless chicken thighs dry. Use tip of knife to make small slits over the thick parts for marinade penetration. Season both sides with kosher salt. Place in the bowl with harissa mixture and turn to coat evenly. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or lid and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut the remaining 3 lemons in half for grilling and preheat grill to 350°-375°F.
- Grill chicken thighs for 4 minutes on each side. In the last 3 minutes of grilling, add the lemons and tomatoes to the grill.
- Remove all foods from grill and allow to rest 5 minutes. Serve immediately with garnish of chopped cilantro and extra harissa paste on the side.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.