Chicken mandi is a delicious Yemeni dish that is popular for its unique blend of spices called Hawaij and tender chicken. In this recipe, I am sharing how to make chicken mandi rice using oven with homemade hawaij spice mix.
I got to taste Chicken Mandi in a new bare apartment void of any furniture the very next day after I landed in Yanbu in 2014. F spread the sufra on the floor and opened two foil boxes of warm rice - one was kabsa and the other mandi. Once you try chicken mandi, you'll understand why it's a favorite dish among food lovers worldwide.
After we moved to UAE, I shared the Bahraini Chicken Machboos recipe which so many of you loved. But then I started getting a lot of requests for a Chicken Mandi recipe. So you know me, I have to research and read before I zero in on a recipe. I am glad I did.
What is Chicken Mandi?
Chicken Mandi is a popular Arabic dish that is traditionally made by cooking seasoned chicken with rice in a clay oven, which is also known as a tandoor. Mandi is Arabic for "dew" referring to the dewy texture of meat resulting from slow cooking it in a clay oven or tandoor. The dish is cooked with a variety of aromatic spices, including cumin, coriander, saffron, and black pepper, which gives it a unique and flavorful taste.
Mandi is usually served with a side of salad and a spicy tangy tomato sauce called Zahawig that complements the flavors. A delicious and filling dish that is perfect for sharing with family and friends, and is enjoyed throughout the Middle East and beyond.
The smokiness of the burned wood or charcoal is what makes Mandi different from the rest of the Arabic rice dishes. As the traditional cooking technique is laborious and slow, Mandi rice is served on special occasions, such as Eid, weddings, and feasts.
But we can still enjoy this smoky chicken rice by replicating the concept in our indoor kitchen oven! It is not a match to the traditional method but you will notice how dewy the meat gets... so let's make Yemeni Chicken Mandi at home!
To make chicken mandi, you will need to marinate the chicken in a Hawaij, a mixture of spices. Making a small batch of Hawaij is easier than buying a box when you already have all the ingredients in your kitchen.
- Hawaij spice mix (recipe in card)
- Cooking oil
- Whole chicken
- Produce: onion and green chillies
- Basmati rice
- Whole spices: cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon and bay leaf
- Black or golden raisins
- a piece of charcoal
- Lemon juice
See recipe card for quantities.
Did you know?
Mandi, Kabsa, Machboos, Madbhi and Madfoon are all different types of rice and meat dishes and each has its technique and method of cooking the meat or chicken. So, if you find a Mandi recipe where the chicken is boiled, then it is essentially Machboos or Kabsa. Like always, I only share recipes close to the authentic way and that is important to me for many reasons: respect and love for the culture and their food.
How to make it?
Making chicken mandi cannot get any simpler, wondering if it is even a festive food😂! The only thing you need to worry about is finding 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 chops for the Zahawig, but how easy it is to prepare! just blitz!
Here I am sharing a step-by-step recipe with pictures. For detailed recipe, please check the Recipe card below.
Brew Saffron and marinate chicken
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 it.
Brew the saffron by soaking it in hot water overnight or at least 2 hours ahead (this is optional but highly recommended).
Next, I made the hawaij spice mix and used some of it along with other ingredients to marinate the chicken with skin. Let it sit for at least 2 hours or overnight in the fridge. Chicken with skin-on is best to retain the moisture and prevent drying.
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 stopping from cooking further!
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 I fried and kept them aside before starting the mandi process. This is optional.
Next, I sauteed the finely diced onions until translucent and then switched off the stove.
Took the pot to the counter to add the rest of the ingredients.
Now just dump the whole spices, raisins,...
...green chillies, washed and drained rice...
...water (a little less than actual) and salt to taste.
Remember, we don't soak the rice because it will slowly get baked along with the chicken. We add less water because the chicken fat will add moisture to the rice so it gets cooked completely.
Bake Yemeni chicken mandi
When I tried this Yemeni Chicken Mandi recipe for 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.
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. 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.
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 using a meat thermometer to check if the chicken is cooked but I don't have one and neither many of you... the baking time depends on the size of the chicken and of course the temperature of the oven.
Smoke the Mandi rice
Remove the chicken and rice from the oven
and start burning the charcoal piece.
Hint: In my first attempt, the baked rice had a crispy golden bottom that looked burnt, but it is celebrated in Persian dish, tahdig. That was because I have used only butter. A mix of cooking oil and butter will fix this.
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 to not 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. 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.
Meanwhile, prepare zahawiq by grinding all the chopped up ingredients together and adjusting as per your taste.
Serve chicken mandi
Serve Yemeni chicken mandi with prepared zahawiq (Salata Hara), yoghurt, and some salad! 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!
Hawaij means “mixture” in Arabic. Hawaij spice mix is a traditional Yemeni spice blend that is commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine. This aromatic blend typically consists of a combination of ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, and black pepper, and sometimes includes additional spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. There are two blends of hawaij – one for savoury dishes like here and the other is used in Yemeni coffee and desserts similar to the pumpkin spice mix. Hawaij spice mix is commonly used to flavor soups, stews, rice dishes, and meat preparations, and is known for its warm, earthy, and slightly sweet flavor profile. Whether you are an adventurous home cook or a professional chef, adding hawaij spice mix to your spice cabinet can be a great way to add a little Middle Eastern flair to your favorite dishes!
Zahawig or Zhoug is a delicious Middle Eastern tangy sauce that is commonly used in Yemeni cuisine. It is a spicy chilli dip or sauce similar to salsa or Salata Hara or daqqous of Saudi. It is typically made with tomatoes, fresh herbs such as coriander or parsley, as well as hot peppers, garlic, and various spices. Zhoug can be used as a condiment to add a spicy kick to dishes such as rice, falafel, shawarma, or grilled meats. If you haven't tried Zahawig before, I highly recommend giving it a try!
Looking for other recipes like this? Try these:
These are my favorite dishes to serve with Yemeni Chicken Mandi:
Yemeni Chicken Mandi Recipe | Baked Smoky Chicken & Rice
- 3 pinch saffron
- ¼ cup water warmed
Hawaij spice mix (you will not be using all of this. Store the remaining in a tight jar)
- 2 tablespoon cumin powder
- 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
- 1 tablespoon black pepper powder
- 2 teaspoon coriander powder
- 2 teaspoon cloves powder or allspice powder
- 2 teaspoon cardamom powder
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon hawaij spice mix
- salt to taste
- 900 grams whole chicken with skin cleaned and pat dried
- 4 tablespoon cooking oil (mix of any neutral oil with olive oil)
- 1 large onion finely diced
- 2 cups basmati rice washed and drained
- 6 cloves
- 4 green cardamom
- 10 black peppercorns
- 1 inch cinnamon stick
- 2 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon raisins
- 3 to 5 green chillies
- 3 cups water
- salt to taste
- 1 piece charcoal
- 1 teaspoon oil
- 15 almonds blanched, sliced and fried
- lemon slices
For Zahawiq (Salata Hara)
- 2 large tomatoes
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 green chillies
- 1 pinch cumin seeds (optional)
- lemon juice to taste (optional)
- ½ bunch Fresh coriander leaves or parsley
- 1 sprig fresh mint leaves
- salt to taste
- Brew the saffron by soaking it in hot water overnight or at least 2 hours ahead.3 pinch saffron, ¼ cup water
- Prepare the hawaij spice mix by adding all the ingredients to a jar and mixing it thoroughly. Store in an airtight jar.2 tablespoon cumin powder, 1 tablespoon turmeric powder, 1 tablespoon black pepper powder, 2 teaspoon coriander powder, 2 teaspoon cloves powder, 2 teaspoon cardamom powder
- Make a paste of hawaij, butter or olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Marinate the chicken and refrigerate overnight or at least for an hour.1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon hawaij spice mix, salt to taste, 900 grams whole chicken with skin
- Soak almonds in hot water, peel, slice, pat dry, fry in oil and keep aside. You may use store-bought sliced almonds.15 almonds
Prepare chicken mandi
- Preheat the oven to 200℃.
- Heat oil in an oven-friendly wide-mouthed pot on the stovetop.4 tablespoon cooking oil
- Fry the almonds until golden, remove them, and keep them aside for garnish.
- Add more oil if required and saute the onions until translucent and then switch off the stove.1 large onion
- Add the drained rice, whole spices and raisins, green chillies, water and salt to taste.2 cups basmati rice, 6 cloves, 4 green cardamom, 10 black peppercorns, 1 inch cinnamon stick, 2 bay leaf, 1 tablespoon raisins, 3 to 5 green chillies, 3 cups water, salt to taste
- 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.
- 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.
Smoke the chicken and rice
- Remove the chicken and rice from the oven.
- Start burning the charcoal piece.1 piece charcoal
- 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.lemon slices
- 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.1 teaspoon oil
- 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.
- Let it sit for at least 10 minutes to infuse the smoky flavour to the chicken and rice.
- Meanwhile, prepare the dip by grinding all the ingredients together in a chopper and adjusting the flavours as per your taste.2 large tomatoes, 2 garlic cloves, 2 green chillies, 1 pinch cumin seeds, lemon juice to taste, ½ bunch Fresh coriander leaves, salt to taste, 1 sprig fresh mint leaves
- Serve Yemeni chicken mandi garnished with fried nuts and lemon slices with prepared zahawiq (Salata Hara), yoghurt, and some salad!
This recipe was inspired and adapted from Sheba Yemeni Food and several other sources.