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Buried in Vermicelli

2 large whole chickens
4 large onions, chopped coarsely
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon saffron threads or powder
Salt and black pepper
1 1/4 stick (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) butter
1 tablespoon clear honey
2 teaspoons orange blossom water (optional)
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped coriander
1 cup blanched almonds
1 1/2 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil
2 pounds vermicelli nests
To decorate: 2 teaspoons cinnamon; confectioners sugar (optional)


Use two deep pans and put 1 chicken into each. To each pan, pour in 2 1/4 cups water, bring to the boil, and remove the scum. Add 2 chopped onions, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, and 1/2 teaspoon saffron. Add salt and pepper and simmer, covered, for about 1 hour. Turn the chickens occasionally so they are well cooked all over. Lift out the chickens and, when cool enough to handle, remove the skin and bones and cut the meat into medium-size pieces. Pour the chicken stock with the onions into one pan only and reduce by boiling it down until a thick sauce results. Stir in 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) of butter, the honey, and the orange blossom water, if using, and cook a few minutes more. Taste, and add extra salt and pepper if necessary. Add the herbs and return the chicken pieces to the sauce. All this can be done in advance and reheated when you are about to serve. Fry the almonds in the oil until lightly browned, then drain on paper towels. Crush them with a pestle and mortar or coarsely chop them. Just before serving, break the vermicelli into small pieces by crushing the nests in your hands. Cook in rapidly boiling salted water for 5 minutes, until al dente, stirring vigorously at the start so that the threads do not stick together in lumps. Drain very quickly and then pour it back into the pan. Stir in the remaining butter, cut into small pieces, and some salt. Put the chicken with its sauce into a very large, deep, round serving dish. Cover with a mountain of vermicelli, and decorate this with lines of cinnamon, confectioners sugar, if using, and chopped almonds emanating from the center like rays. For buried in couscous (couscous medfoun), the fine-ground couscous, seffa, is used instead of vermicelli. Prepare 5 cups as described on page 112 and heat it through in the oven. Cover the chicken with a mountain of couscous. As above, make a design by sprinkling thin lines of cinnamon and confectioners sugar, fanning down like rays from the top, and decorate the bottom of the mound with whole or chopped toasted almonds or walnut halves and raisins or dates.

Source: www.epicurious.com