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Eric Akis: Keep dining cool for the hot weather

When dining on a very hot summer day, flavourful food served very cold is obviously well suited for that kind of weather.
This spiced and crusted chicken can be baked in the morning, chilled and served cold for dinner later in the day. ERIC AKIS

When dining on a very hot summer day, flavourful food served very cold is obviously well suited for that kind of weather. Something you can cook in the morning, cool to room temperature, refrigerate and serve well chilled for dinner, or pack for a picnic later in the day.

They are many possibilities on what you can make, but one of my favourites things is coated, baked, chilled chicken. For those of you who have followed this column over the years, you’ll know I’ve offered a variety of recipes for it.

Today’s coating is a heavenly aromatic one where spices, including ground coriander seed, cumin and smoked paprika, are mixed with breadcrumbs and cornmeal.

To make that coating adhere, the chicken is first lightly coated with mayonnaise, which has an adhesive effect when you set the chicken on the breadcrumb mixture and coat it.

After the chicken has baked 40 minutes, you drizzle it with honey, and then bake it 10 minutes more, or until cooked.

The sweet honey nicely complements the taste of the robust spices. And, after the baked chicken has been chilled, all its flavourings marvellously meld together, creating something that’s quite a delight to eat.

Because the chicken has a Middle Eastern-style flavour profile, I decided to serve it with a Middle Eastern-style salad: Tabbouleh. It’s a nicely seasoned, parsley-rich one, with bits of tomato, cucumber and mint that’s most often made with cooked, cooled bulger.

I decided to use quick-cooking couscous instead, and when served alongside the chicken, the two paired very well together. Like the chicken, the tabbouleh can also be made in the morning, refrigerated and enjoyed later in the day.

Chilled Honey Spice Chicken

Nicely spiced and crusted chicken you can bake in the morning, chill and have cold for dinner later in the day. The cold chicken is also something you can pack up, put into an ice-cold cooler and enjoy at a picnic.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 50 minutes

Makes: Four to six (two to three piece each) servings

2/3 cup dried fine breadcrumbs

1/3 cup cornmeal

1 tsp ground coriander seed

3/4 tsp ground cumin

3/4 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp onion powder

1/8 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1/3 cup mayonnaise

6 large chicken thighs (see Note)

6 large chicken drumsticks

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 Tbsp honey

Preheat oven 375 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the breadcrumbs, cornmeal, coriander, cumin, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and cayenne pepper on a wide plate or pieplate. Place the mayonnaise in a large bowl.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the mayonnaise and toss to coat, ensuring each piece has a thin film of mayonnaise on it.

Coat a piece of the chicken in the breadcrumb mixture, pressing it on to help it adhere. Set the coated chicken on the baking sheet. Coat the remaining chicken in this fashion.

Bake the chicken 40 minutes. Remove chicken from the oven and drizzle with honey. Set chicken back in the oven and bake 10 minutes more, or until cooked through. Line a second large baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer cooked chicken to that baking sheet and cool to room temperature. Now refrigerate chicken and chill at least two hours before serving.

Note: Ground coriander seed and smoked paprika are sold in the bottled herb and spice aisle of most supermarkets. If desired, you can remove the skin on the chicken before coating it.

Eric’s options: Instead of chilling the baked chicken and serving it cold, on cooler days you can, of course, serve it hot, right out of the oven.

Couscous Tabbouleh

In this recipe, couscous replaces the bulger often used in tabbouleh. Couscous only takes a few minutes to cook and when cooled and mixed with the salad’s other ingredients, it wonderfully absorbs their flavours.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: Five minutes

Makes: Six to eight servings

1 1/4 cups water

1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp olive oil

1/4 tsp salt, plus some to taste

1 cup couscous

2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (see Note)

3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1 or 2 large garlic clove, minced

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 medium, ripe, on-the-vine tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1/2 medium English cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/3 cup chopped fresh mint

Place the water, 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1/4 tsp salt in a medium pot, set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover, turn off the heat, and let stand five minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork to separate the grains. Now spread out on a plate and cool to room temperature.

Combine the 1/3 cup oil, zest, juice, cumin, paprika, cayenne, garlic, salt and pepper in a salad bowl. Add the couscous, tomato, cucumber, parsley and mint and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate salad until needed. It can be made many hours before servings.

Note: One medium to large lemon should yield the zest and juice needed here.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.