Chefs' Recipes

Ben Williamson's harissa chicken, smoked labne and charred lime

The smoke-kissed chook from Brisbane's Agnes restaurant.

By Ben Williamson
  • 35 mins preparation
  • 1 hr 45 mins cooking (plus brining, drying, cooling)
  • Serves 4
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"At Agnes, the chicken is suspended above the coal bed in our hearth and cooked over low heat, using pecan or olive wood, for three hours," says Ben Williamson. "Cooking over coal and using smoking chips is the best way to achieve the smoky flavour." Begin this recipe a day ahead to brine the chicken and to dry out its skin.


  • 70 gm brown sugar
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 coriander stalks
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • ½ head of garlic
  • 2 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 4 long dried chillies
  • 1 lime, quartered
  • 1 orange, peel only, cut into strips
  • 1 chicken (about 1.6kg), butterflied
  • 100 gm woodchips (see note), such as oak or hickory, soaked in cold water for 5 minutes, drained
  • 125 gm chilled butter, cut into 1cm pieces
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice, or to taste
  • Fried curry leaves and charred lime halves, to serve
Smoked labne
  • 500 gm natural yoghurt
  • 3 cups woodchips (see note), such as oak or hickory, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes, drained
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice or to taste
  • 500 gm very ripe long red chillies, seeds removed
  • 80 ml (⅓ cup) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 4 golden shallots, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp chilli flakes
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds, dry-roasted and ground
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds, dry-roasted and ground
  • 1 cinnamon quill, dry-roasted and ground
  • 2 tbsp Sherry vinegar or to taste
  • 1½ tsp fish sauce


  • 1
    To brine chicken, place 2.5 litres water and 90gm salt flakes in a large saucepan with sugar, black peppercorns, coriander, bay leaves, garlic, chilli flakes, dried chillies, lime and orange peel over high heat. Bring to the boil, then remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Transfer brine to a container, submerge chicken and refrigerate for a minimum of 12 hours. Remove chicken from brine, rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Refrigerate chicken, uncovered for 6 hours to dry out skin.
  • 2
    Preheat a wood-fired oven or oven to 220˚C. For harissa, place chillies and 2 tbsp oil in a baking tray, season to taste and toss to combine. Roast, loosely covered with foil, until chillies are softened and slightly caramelised (30 minutes). Remove from oven and leave covered to cool until room temperature. Meanwhile, heat a small saucepan over medium heat; add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent (5 minutes). Transfer to a blender with the chillies (add all chilli roasting liquid), spices, vinegar and fish sauce and blend until finely chopped. Season to taste and set aside. Makes about 300gm.
  • 3
    To roast chicken, prepare and preheat a wood-fired charcoal barbecue for indirect grilling (see note). Build fire and let it burn until coals are glowing and no longer emitting flames, keep the barbecue chamber at around 140˚C. Scatter half of the woodchips around coals. Place butterflied chicken breast-side up on an oven tray that fits inside your barbecue and brush all over with one-quarter of the harissa; season to taste. Place tray in barbecue and close the lid. Roast for 40 minutes then scatter over remaining woodchips. Baste with one-third of the remaining harissa and drizzle over some olive oil. Feed the fire and increase the temperature to 180˚C. Roast until chicken is just cooked and flesh is blackened (25-30 minutes); remove chicken from barbecue and rest for 20 minutes, before carving in half.
  • 4
    To smoke labne, prepare and preheat a wood-fired charcoal barbecue for indirect grilling (145˚C; see note). Burn coals until they turn white, then add woodchips around coals to smoke. Transfer labne to a fine metal sieve and place on a rack over smoking woodchips and coals. Smoke at a low temperature until lightly golden (40 minutes). Transfer to a bowl, whisk in lemon juice until smooth, and season to taste. Set aside until ready to use.
  • 5
    Meanwhile, for harissa sauce, place remaining harissa in a small saucepan over medium heat. Gradually whisk in butter until combined. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice; season to taste and keep warm until ready to serve.
  • 6
    Divide labne between two large plates and spoon over a little harissa sauce. Place halved chicken on top and drizzle with cooking juices from tray. Serve with fried curry leaves, charred lime and remaining sauce on the side.


To regulate the barbecue temperature, feed the fire with more wood every 20 minutes. Indirect grilling is cooking away from heat. It's important to have your coal base well established and glowing before adding woodchips.