Emirati Recipe: Rice with Chicken in the Bottom (De-jaj ta-ha-tah)

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As per this post, the first dish in my latest cooking project is: Rice with Chicken in the Bottom (De-jaj ta-ha-tah).

This was my first attempt at an Arabic recipe. It is from Celia Ann Brock-Al Ansari’s “The Complete United Arab Emirates Cookbook.” I will not be re-printing the recipe here but you can access it via the above link.

About this dish, Celia writes:

“This must be prepared in a non-stick pot, for once it is cooked, the process of transferring it to a round rice platter can be tricky. Care must be taken to avoid breaking the crust which forms around the bottom of the rice pot.

A very attractive dish to present, it is usually served with plain yoghurt, sliced limes and raw sliced onion.

Considered to be a modern local dish, it can be also feature fish or meat instead of chicken.”

I’m going to say right off the bat that I’m not sure if this dish came out the way it was supposed to. I made so many changes to the recipe (some intentional, some not) that it could be considered a failed first attempt. But it did turn out very tasty!

The recipe calls for an Arabic spice mix called bezar or bizar. It is widely available in grocery stores, contains these ingredients and it cost me 11 dhs (US$3). Like Indian curry powder, you could make it yourself from grinding up whole spices but I bought mine pre-mixed:


To start, I cleaned and cut up a whole chicken (1 kg / 2.2 lbs), rubbed it with the bezar, salt, cardamon and turmeric and I let it sit for 15 minutes. I really wanted to pepper the chicken b/c I tend to salt and pepper everything. But the recipe didn’t call for pepper so I resisted the urge.

While the chicken was hanging out, I boiled 1 cup of basmati rice in salted water. The recipe called for 4 cups but I think that’s a lot of rice for 2 people. Even 1 cup of rice lasts us a few days – I can’t imagine 4 cups! That’s like dinner for 12!

After the chicken parts had been sitting in the dry rub for 15 minutes, I browned them in vegetable oil:

The browning of the chicken smelled so good – all the aromas of the spices (expecially the cardamom) wafted through the kitchen. After the chicken was browned, I took it out of the pan and set it aside.

Next, I browned up some onions and garlic in more vegetable oil. Added some ground loomi (dried limes), chickpeas (just a little as I hate chickpeas), and tomato paste with a little water. The recipe called for tomato puree but what I thought was puree in my pantry was actually diced tomatoes so I had to improvise with the paste and water:

Now it was time to assemble everything!

I put some oil in the bottom of a pot, added the rice, chicken, and the onion/chickpea mixture. I pressed everything down with a spoon and then poured in the saffron that had been soaking in hot water:

I was supposed to cover the pot with a wet cloth but I didn’t have one so I used a wet paper towel instead. I let the mixture simmer for 20 min and then took it off the heat and let is sit for 10 min:

At this point, I re-read the instructions and realized too late that I was supposed to use a nonstick pot. Oh well, I don’t have a nonstick pot anyway and I don’t think it would have made much of a difference to the final product considering the mess that I had already made of things.

This is what the dish looked like when I flipped the pot upside down onto a plate:

Well, it certainly is “rice with chicken in the bottom” but there was no “crust” formed at the bottom of my pot. Maybe I didn’t use enough oil or my rice was too wet. I was so upset with this dish that I didn’t even have the motivation to make it look nice or garnish.

Anyway, here’s what the dish looked like when plated:

The night I made this dish, I just wanted to cry at the way it turned out. But now, I just want to laugh – I mean – how ridiculous does that plate look? I should send myself to culinary school. You definitely won’t be seeing me on the next Top Chef or The Next Food Network Star anytime soon.

As per the instructions, I served it with yogurt, sliced onions (I’m assuming raw?) and sliced limes. It doesn’t look like much does it? Besides the fact that I need to work on my plating skills!

I was also worried that it wouldn’t taste like much but it was surprisingly quite good for a botched up attempt! Scotch, who had not been looking forward to this cooking project of mine, was also pleasantly surprised that he liked the dish and ate it with much gusto!

So there you have it: Arabic Cooking Part I. Hopefully, next week’s attempt will turn out better!

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Up nextLamb Stew  (La-ham murraq/Saloona)

Note: This post is part of my Cooking Local project.

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  1. mmh… it seems delicious. :)) I've been in Saudi Arabia and tried one kind of rice there. Well, actually i really didnt like it. Arabic rice is different from ours (Turkey), it's more strict.

    I hope i'll try once Dubaian rice too. :))) Ameeeeeen. lool

  2. Celia – looking forward to your new book. will it be available at Borders?

    Jackie – thanks for the encouragement. haven't had much time lately to cook unfortunately.

    NJJ – thanks for your recipe – will give it a try when I get the chance!

  3. Hi, there. I think there may have been a slight problem with the recipe instructions. The original recipe's picture suggests that when the pot is inverted, the chicken and vegetables come out on top. This would require that when assembling the ingredients in the pot, the chicken and vegetables would go in first, followed by the rice.

    Granted, I've never tried this recipe before (just stumbled upon it while looking for ways to use loomi), but in my Palestinian family, we often make a similar dish called "maqlooba" (translated: turned upside down) that entails putting a layer of fried onions on the bottom of the pot, followed by browned chicken (you can use pieces of beef or lamb too, but chicken is best), fried cauliflower, potatoes, and eggplant (some add carrots, zucchini, and/or bell pepper, but I'm a purist), and then rice (soaked, not par-cooked). Stock/broth is added to cover (with a dinner plate on top to keep everything in place) and the mixture is simmered until the rice is cooked through and no liquid remains. When inverted, the onions form a nearly blackened crust on top, followed by beautifully mahoganized chicken, the vegetables, and then a bottom layer of rice. Try it — I think you'll really like it. Enjoy!

  4. Don't feel bad. I find some of my ugliest dishes turn out to be the best tasting.

    My first boyfriends mom was from Iran. She made something similar to this one night I had dinner there. The rice on the bottom was almost burned on. Everyone loved it, said it was the best part. I thought it was kinda gross.

    Anyway, your plated dish looks quite good. My hubby is not much into international flavors. I get away with a little curry sometimes, but this does look quite good.

    Keep cooking, it can only get better. 🙂

  5. thank you for trying the receipe.. the reason the crust did not form on the bottom is perhaps you did not have enough oil or did not cook it long enough..

    im in the process of printing a new book, which is so much better than the first…

    thanks for trying one of my receipes