Mandi is a popular Yemeni rice and meat dish that originated from the Hadhramaut region and gradually spread to the rest of the Arabian Peninsula and around the globe so I, an Indian am sharing the recipe! Bake the rice and chicken in a hot oven where the chicken fat drippings flavour the rice. The burned charcoal adds a smoky flavour to both the chicken and rice making Mandi the most sought-after Arabic rice dish.
I got to taste my first Chicken Mandi in a new bare apartment void of any furniture the 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. I was not impressed then but, it took me less than three months to fall in love with Arabic food. Yet, I am not comfortable eating off the supra without plates and spoons.
After we moved to UAE, I shared the Bahraini Chicken Machboos recipe which so many of you loved and 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.
Arabic rice and meat dishes
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.
Let's talk Mandi.
Though originated in Yemen, this dish has won the 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 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.
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 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 them 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 Chicken Mandi prepared traditionally?
From an extensive reading, 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 chicken 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 of the burned wood is what makes Mandi different from the 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 we can still enjoy this smoky chicken rice by replicating the concept in our indoor kitchen using the 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!
How to prepare mandi at home using an oven?
It cannot get any simpler, making you wonder if it is even worth it as 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!
Place the rice pot in the lowest rack and place the marinated chicken on a wire rack above the pot. 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 so easy to prepare again. Once you find the things you need to bake chicken mandi rice, this will be your dish for your next gathering. But please do wear a mask and maintain distance. 😁
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.
Ingredients that you will need
- Saffron: Optional but recommended
- fried blanched almonds (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.
- Basmati rice: I have not tried any other rice. If using Sella rice you may have to soak and adjust the water.
- Whole spices: cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, bay leaf
- Green chillies
- a piece of charcoal
- Lemon juice
How I made Whole Chicken Mandi in my kitchen using an oven
How to make a chicken mandi recipe? The full Yemeni chicken mandi recipe card is down below these steps.
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.
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!
Yemeni Chicken Mandi Recipe | Baked Smoky Chicken & Rice
- 3 pinch saffron
- ¼ cup warm water
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 pepper powder
- 2 teaspoons coriander powder
- 2 teaspoons cloves powder or allspice powder
- 2 teaspoons cardamom powder
For the chicken mandi marinade
- 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
For the mandi rice
- 4 tablespoons oil (mix of any neutral oil with olive oil)
- 1 large onion finely diced
- 2 cups basmati rice washed and drained
- 6 cloves
- 4 cardamoms
- 10 black peppercorns
- 1 inch cinnamon stick
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon raisins
- 3 to 5 green chillies
- 3 cups water
- salt to taste
For Smoking the Mandi
- 1 piece charcoal
- 1 teaspoon oil
- fried almonds and raisins
- Lemon slices
For Zahawiq (Salata Hara)
- 1 large tomato
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 green chillies
- 1 pinch cumin seeds
- lemon juice to taste
- fistful coriander or mint or parsley
- salt to taste
- Brew the saffron by soaking it in hot water overnight or at least 2 hours ahead.
- Prepare the hawaij spice mix by adding all the ingredients to a jar and mixing it thoroughly. Store in an airtight jar.
- 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.
- Soak almonds in hot water, peel, slice, pat dry, fry in oil and keep aside. You may use store-bought sliced almonds.
Prepare chicken mandi
- Preheat the oven to 200℃.
- Heat oil in an oven-friendly wide-mouthed pot on the stovetop.
- 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.
- Add the drained rice, whole spices and raisins, green chillies, water and 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.
- 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. Add a splash of 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 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 and adjusting the flavours as per your taste.
- Serve Yemeni chicken mandi with prepared zahawiq (Salata Hara), yoghurt, and some salad!
This recipe was inspired and adapted from Sheba Yemeni Food and several other sources.