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The Golden Bird

July 16, 1997|FAYE LEVY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Levy is the author of the "International Chicken Cookbook" (Warner Books, 1996)

A quick way to prepare chicken for summer grilling is to season it with a spice rub. You don't need to do it hours ahead, as you do with marinades, and you're not adding any fat.

I've experimented with many spice rubs, and my favorite is a mixture of cumin, turmeric and black pepper, which gives the bird an appealing golden color and a wonderful flavor. My mother-in-law taught me how to make and use this spice blend from her native country, Yemen, where it's called "soup spice." In Israel, it has become so popular that it is sold in outdoor markets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Although this spice rub is Middle Eastern, I often like to serve the grilled chicken in the French fashion, accompanied by a green salad, the way the Parisian landmark restaurant La Tour d'Argent serves grilled duck legs. I find that mixed fresh lettuces with a sharp vinaigrette make an outstanding complement for the rich-tasting chicken.

At other times I serve grilled chicken in the eastern Mediterranean style, accompanied by a chopped salad of tomato, cucumber and green onion and a rice pilaf sprinkled with toasted pine nuts.

GRILLED WHOLE CHICKEN WITH MIDDLE EASTERN SPICE RUB

If using a gas grill, preheat for indirect heat and set the thermostat at medium, 350 to 375 degrees. If using a charcoal grill, heat coals until covered with gray ash with only a hint of red. Move coals to the edge of the grill and place drip pan in grill's center. If grill grate is adjustable, set it about 6 inches above coals.

1 (3-1/2 pound) chicken, giblets removed

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

Oil

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Combine cumin, turmeric, pepper and salt in small bowl. Rub spice mixture into chicken, both inside and out. (Note: Wash hands immediately so turmeric doesn't stain fingers.)

Brush grill rack lightly with oil. Set chicken, breast side up, on rack on grill but not directly over heat source. Cover and cook 45 to 60 minutes. To check for doneness, pierce thickest part of thigh near bone. Chicken is done when juices run clear and meat is no longer pink. (Note: If using chicken pieces, cook breasts 20 minutes and thighs and drumsticks 30 to 35 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking time.)

Transfer to platter and let stand 10 minutes before carving.

4 servings. Each serving:

439 calories; 291 mg sodium; 152 mg cholesterol; 31 grams fat; 1 gram carbohydrates; 38 grams protein; 0.10 gram fiber.

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