Chicken Drumsticks, Ethiopian Style

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Check out these Ethiopian chicken drumsticks from Hank Shaw! The berbere spice mix is outstanding. ~Elise

This dish sounds a lot more exotic than it really is. It is a recipe I’ve been making, on and off, for 20 years, and it’s nothing more than chicken drumsticks coated in oil or melted butter, dusted with a dry spice rub and baked — or slow-cooked on the barbecue.

What makes this recipe Ethiopian is the spice mix, which is called berbere (ber-BERRY). I learned how to make it from my boss at the first restaurant I ever worked at, the Horn of Africa in Madison, Wisconsin. My boss, a tough old Eritrean named Meselesh Ayele (Eritrea used to be a province of Ethiopia, and is now an independent country), told me that berbere was the original curry, that the Indians copied the Ethiopians.

That was a common refrain in the kitchen: Ethiopia invented everything, and the rest of the world just copied it. They happen to be right when it comes to coffee, but I’m not sure I believe her on the curry thing. What I can tell you is that berbere is indeed a magical spice mix: Think of the sweet aromas of Moroccan food with a muscular punch of garlic and chile. No two berbere mixtures are the same, and cooks guard their secret mixtures with as much vigor as Southerners guard their barbecue recipes.

But there are a few constants: chiles and/or paprika, lots of garlic, black pepper, salt and ginger. Meselesh’s berbere always had a healthy hit of cardamom and fenugreek, too. Without those two ingredients, it just doesn’t smell Ethiopian to me. Other spices not in my berbere, but which are perfectly normal, include anise seed, turmeric, cinnamon, allspice, coriander and dried herbs like oregano and rue. Tinkering is not only allowed, but encouraged.

Cook the chicken how you want. You will need to reach an internal temperature of at least 175° for it to taste right, but I like to cook them slow and low until the meat is almost falling off the bone. The longer you cook, the more you need to baste with all that chicken-y goodness that renders out of the drumsticks.

I was a line cook when I made this recipe as a part of my rotation, which means I didn’t make much money. So for a cheap dinner I used to eat these drumsticks with a little white rice while watching the Wisconsin Badgers play on TV, drinking Leinenkugels or Point beer. Simple pleasures from a different time.

Chicken Drumsticks, Ethiopian Style Recipe

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  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 2 hours
  • Yield: Serves 6-8.

You can do this with chicken wings or thighs, too, but don't use breasts — they will dry out.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 pounds chicken legs, thighs or wings
  • 2 Tbsp peanut oil, or melted butter (or ghee)
  • Salt
  • Lemons or limes for serving

Spice Mix:

  • 2 Tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1 Tbsp hot paprika, or 1-2 teaspoons cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Method

1 Preheat oven to 325°. Coat the drumsticks in the peanut oil or melted butter, then sprinkle with salt.

2 Mix all the spices together in a small bowl. In a large bowl, mix half of the spice mix with the chicken, then arrange the drumsticks in a casserole dish lined with enough foil to make a package; you will be cooking these legs covered for most of the time.

3 Sprinkle more of the spice mix over the drumsticks. You can use all of the spice mix, or stop whenever you want. The more mix, the spicier the chicken. Fold over the foil to seal up the drumsticks and bake for 90 minutes.

4 At 90 minutes, open up the foil packet to let the chicken continue to cook uncovered. Continue cooking for at least another 15 minutes, and as long as you like. I like the meat to almost fall off the bone on my drumsticks, so I cook uncovered for another 30-45 minutes.

5 To serve, baste with a little of the sauce that forms at the bottom of the pan, and use the rest to flavor some rice or flatbread. Squeeze some lemon or lime juice over the chicken right before you serve it. A green salad is a good side dish, too.

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Hank Shaw

A former restaurant cook and journalist, Hank Shaw is the author of three wild game cookbooks as well as the James Beard Award-winning wild foods website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. His latest cookbook is Buck, Buck, Moose, a guide to working with venison. He hunts, fishes, forages and cooks near Sacramento, CA.

More from Hank

Links:
Ethiopian Chicken Stew, Doro Wat - from Rice and Wheat
Berbere Roasted Chicken Legs - from Gluten Free Girl
How to Make Traditional Berbere Paste - from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

Showing 4 of 34 Comments

  • Esther Hardman

    The true Ethiopian classic dish, this is not. But if you don’t have 5 hours of free time….then this is good in a pinch. And I use Penzey’s mix. Doubling the amount of spice and serving with quartered hard-boiled eggs.

  • Krystle

    I made this last night for the fam – it was good!

    I couldn’t find any fenugreek at Whole Foods. I Googled it and it suggested that curry could be a substitute (not sure if that’s true, but that’s what I did). I also didn’t have any cardamom, so I used a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg instead. There are so many spices and flavors that it really is a very forgiving recipe. I completely omitted the hot paprika and used smoked instead, since my stomach is kind of a baby.

    The recipe was so simple, which I appreciated. Mix some spices in a bowl? Check. Toss it on the chicken? Check. Toss the chicken in the oven? Check. That’s pretty much it. Simple dinner recipes that are tasty are hard to find, so this will go in my recipe box.

    Regarding the taste – it was spicy, but more of a warm spice than a hot spice. It was very good. The folding of the foil over the chicken did make it very tender indeed. My only concern was that the chicken still looked a little pink to me at the end. Maybe that’s just because drumsticks are dark meat. I cooked them for 325 for 90 minutes and then uncovered for 15 more. Next time, I’ll do uncovered for 30 minutes instead of 15, just to make sure. Maybe one day I’ll get myself a meat thermometer..thanks, Elise!

  • Tracy

    So excited to read all the Madison references! I’m going to try these this weekend. For all of you Penzey’s lovers, they now have this as a ready made spice blend:

    https://www.penzeys.com/online-catalog/berbere-seasoning-blend/c-24/p-155/pd-s

  • CodieD

    I made a double batch of thighs. HOLY YUM! My hubby and I cannot stop eating this chicken. It’s so good with some rice and veggies.

  • debeehr

    Did this with drumsticks twice–didn’t have any fenugreek unfortunately (I haven’t been able to find it). Even without it, it was great both times, and very quick to put together.

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