Za’atar Fried Chicken with Spicy Thyme Honey Recipe

Look, I’m going to be honest with you: deep frying is a huge pain. It’s hot, it’s splatter-y, sometimes things come out raw, and it’s not exactly healthy. Fun stuff, right?

BUT! Big, big but. It is also, when done right, one of the best things in the world. Deep frying has given us french fries, doughnuts, falafel and, perhaps most importantly, it’s given us fried chicken. If there’s a better food than fried chicken, I don’t know it. 

To give this American comfort food classic an Israeli twist, I added plenty of za’atar and fresh thyme.

Another thing that makes this dish so special is the buttermilk brine. Most fried chicken recipes use either a buttermilk marinade or a spiced brine to tenderize the chicken. This recipe uses both, and to great effect! To keep things kosher, I make “buttermilk” with soymilk and lemon juice, and it works just as well.  Soaking it overnight along with a salt water brine (which has honey, za’atar, lemon + a variety of spices for flavor) seasons the meat and breaks down the proteins in the chicken to keep it moist as it fries.

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 The next day, the buttermilk-brined chicken is breaded in a sumac, thyme, za’atar and paprika-spiced flour mixture. A little bit of baking powder helps the breading brown and crisp more efficiently in the fryer, and the chicken is dipped into the flour mixture twice, which makes the skin even thicker and crispier.

This fried chicken is everything–it’s herby and perfectly seasoned, it’s succulent and juicy from the buttermilk brine, and best of all, it’s got a shatteringly crispy crust that’ll have you wanting more and more. The spicy, thyme-infused honey (which comes together in minutes) adds a touch of heat and sweet that’s positively addictive.

Ready for an epic summer spread? Serve this alongside grilled corn with sumac mayo and minty-fresh limonana. Just don’t be surprised by how fast this chicken goes- it truly is fingerlickin’ good.

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Frying tips: If you don’t have a deep fry thermometer, let the oil heat up for around ten minutes. When the oil has preheated, dip the handle of a chopstick into the oil. If the oil starts steadily bubbling, then the oil is hot enough for frying. If not, let it heat for a few more minutes.

Don’t overcrowd the frying pan- the temperature of the oil will drop and that’ll result in greasy chicken. Fry 3 pieces at a time, preferably in a heavy bottomed pan (I used a cast iron). Use a neutral oil, such as canola, for its high smoke point. If the oil starts smoking at any time, the temperature is too high and must be lowered. If it’s too high, the outside will brown quickly and look done, but the inside will be raw. On the flip side, if the temperature is too low, the chicken will be greasy and overcooked.

Wear long sleeves and closed toe shoes to avoid painful oil splatters while frying. And lastly, once the chicken is fried, let it cool on a drying rack set over paper towels. Paper towels will remove a bit more oil, but they’ll also retain some moisture and make the chicken soggy, which must be avoided at all costs! Anyway, if you fry properly, the chicken won’t be greasy at all. Have fun frying! I know you’ll do great.

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For the chicken and brine:

4 cups soymilk

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 peeled, seeded and halved lemon

1/2 cup honey

2 cups hot water

1/3 cup kosher salt

6 Tbsp za’atar

6 bay leaves

3 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife

6 sprigs of thyme

4 chicken thighs

4 chicken drumsticks

For the flour mixture:

3 cups all purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

2 Tbsp za’atar

3 sprigs thyme

1 tsp sumac

1 Tbsp hot paprika

2 tsp kosher salt

1 quart canola or vegetable oil, for frying

For the spicy thyme honey:

1/2 cup honey

2 Tbsp hot sauce

2 Tbsp chili oil

3 sprigs thyme

a few peppercorns


In a large food safe container, add the soymilk and the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Let it sit until it curdles, around 10 minutes. This is your “buttermilk”.

To the buttermilk, add the peeled, seeded and halved lemon. Crumble in the bay leaves. Add in the za’atar, smashed garlic and thyme.

Dissolve the salt in the hot water. This is the brine. Dissolve the honey in the brine. Add the brine to the container, along with the buttermilk and spices.

Add the chicken to the brine. Refrigerate for 1 day.

The next day, combine the flour, baking powder, za’atar, thyme, sumac and paprika and the salt in large bowl. Mix thoroughly to combine.

Remove chicken from buttermilk brine, but do not throw away the brine.

Coat the wet chicken in a thin layer of the flour mixture, and let come to room temperature on drying rack set over paper towels. (Cold chicken in hot oil will cause splatters and lower the temperature of the oil as well.)

Heat the oil to 370 degrees in large cast iron or heavy bottomed pot. Once chicken is close to room temperature, dip in the reserved buttermilk brine and then in the flour mixture once more, then drop gently into the hot oil.

Fry 3 pieces at a time. Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, until golden brown and until instant read thermometer inserted into chicken reaches 165.

Remove from oil, and sprinkle with fresh thyme. In a small sauce pan, combine the ingredients for the spicy honey. Let come to a boil. Serve drizzled over the hot chicken, immediately.


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