I’ve only set foot in Morocco once, and that was several decades ago when
I was a young student studying abroad in France. I spent a quick 24 hours in Tangiers, hardly long enough to become familiar with the country’s vibrant cuisine. However, in Paris where I was studying at the Sorbonne, I sampled specialties at many of the small, inexpensive couscous restaurants that still dot the city’s student quarter. Over the years in I’ve remained a fan of the fabulous tagines, like the one featured here today.
“Tagine” refers to the Moroccan vessel (a two-part clay pot with a pointed top resembling a tall hat) used, but also to the dish itself. If you don’t own a tagine (and I don’t), you can use a large, deep-sided pot to cook this stew of chicken thighs, scented with Moroccan spices, olives, and preserved lemons. The chicken, which can be prepared ahead and freezes well, is cooked until it is fork tender and melds with the other ingredients.
In a recent cooking class, I included this dish, along with traditional couscous that I sprinkled with toasted almonds and golden raisins. In the space of a few minutes, there were no leftovers. This recipe is perfect for those of us who can’t get to Morocco, but who savor the country’s cuisine here at home or elsewhere.
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Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons
8 chicken thighs (about 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 pds total)
Freshly ground black pepper
4 medium whole carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
5 tbsp olive oil plus extra if needed
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
3 medium garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp loosely packed saffron threads
2 cups reduced sodium chicken stock
1 tsp lemon juice plus extra if needed
1/2 cup each black olives such as kalamatas and green ones such as Castelvetranos
3 tbsp chopped preserved lemon (about 1 preserved lemon with seeds discarded) See market note.
4 tsp chopped cilantro
1. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Trim and discards any dangling skin from the chicken thighs. Then pat them dry with paper towels. Combine 2 teaspoonss salt and 3/4 teaspoon black pepper and season chicken generously on both sides with mixture.
3. Peel carrots and halve crosswise. Then halve each half lengthwise. You’ll have 16 slices.
4. In a large, heavy deep-sided pot (with a lid ) set over medium high heat, heat 3 tablespoons of oil until hot. Add half of the thighs, skins side down, to fit comfortably in a single layer in the pot. Cook until chicken is golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. Remove with tongs to drain on paper towels. Repeat, not adding any extra oil, with remaining thighs.
5. Pour off and discard the drippings in the pot. Then, when pot is cool enough to handle, use folded paper towels to clean out any bits left in it. Return the pot to medium high heat, and add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add carrots, and cook, turning, until lightly seared, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and set aside.
5. If needed add 1 to 2 tablespoons more oil to pot. When hot add onions and garlic, and stir until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Return chicken to pot. Add stock and then stir in ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, and saffron until blended in. Bring mixture to a simmer. Cover pot with foil and place lid on top. Transfer to oven to cook 20 minutes.
6. Uncover pot and remove and discard foil. Stir in carrots, olives, and preserved lemon, combining them with the chicken. Cook, uncovered, until chicken and carrots are very tender when pierced with a sharp knife, 20 to 25 minutes more.
7. Remove pot from oven and cool 5 minutes. Carefully, holding the pot with potholders, strain the liquids into a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir in 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if needed. Pour the sauce (which will be thin) back over the chicken mixture. (Tagine can be prepared 2 days ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat, stirring often.)
7. Serve chicken in the pot or on a serving platter. Sprinkle with cilantro. Serves 4 with 2 thighs per person or 8 with 1 each.
Market note: My Whole Foods sells preserved lemons. You might want to call your local supermarkets to see if they stock them.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2019