Monday, July 9, 2012

Moroccan Tagine Chicken with Preserved Lemon

I was able to experience two very exciting Firsts this past weekend.  One was cooking in my friend's tagine for the first time, and the other was using my new digital camera for the first time (RIP old Olympus, lord knows how many food photos passed through you over the last three years...)

A tagine is an earthenware cooking vessel that is very widely used in Morocco and northern Africa.  Its unique shape creates the perfect, moist atmosphere for whatever is cooking inside; keeping all juices in a rhythm of evaporating, condensing on the inside of the lid, and then dripping back down into the base to continue to baste the deliciousness that is stewing below.  That evening we decided to go with a very traditional tagine combination of chicken, green olives, and preserved lemon.

Preserved lemon is the ingredient that really makes this dish special.  Like so many other delicious I-never-knew-I-could-make-this-myself foods, making preserved lemons is head-scratchingly simple.   They are as simple as putting lemon halves in a jar with a lot of salt.  That's it.  After some time and patience, the salt will encourage the juice out of the lemons, and a natural curing liquid will appear and envelop the citrusy domes of flavor.  We were lucky enough that day to be able to use my friend's homemade preserved lemons.  Their slightly bitter acidity pairs beautifully with the briny olives, caramelized shallots, and the sweet raisins we put in the couscous.  

We cooked mostly from the hip last night - pulling what we wanted from the shelves as we went and not knowing exact ingredient amounts - but I've included a guided recipe from Simply Recipes below that reads very close to how we made our tagine creation that night.  Below are more pictures from the first round of camera use as well.  Taking on all of these Firsts never looked or tasted so good!

Moroccan Tagine Chicken with Preserved Lemons
from SimplyRecipes

Prep time: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour

This recipe shines with preserved lemons. If you don't have access to any, you can use thin slices of regular or Meyer lemon, and you'll likely need to add quite a bit of salt to the dish at the end. If you use a tagine, you will likely need to soak it in water over-night before subjecting it to the heat of the stove. Doing so will help keep the tagine from cracking.


2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 chicken, 3-4 lbs, cut into 8 pieces (or 3-4 lbs of just chicken thighs and legs, the dark meat is more flavorful)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
The rind from 1 preserved lemon, rinsed in cold water, pulp discarded, rind cut into thin strips (if you don't have preserved lemon, use whole thin slices of regular lemon)
1 cup green olives, pitted
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


1 Combine all the spices in a large bowl. Pat dry the chicken pieces and put in the bowl, coat well with the spice mixture. Let the chicken stand for one hour in the spices.

2 If you are using a clay tagine (if you have one, you must soak the bottom in water overnight before using), place it on a heat diffuser on the heating element to prevent the tagine from cracking, and place the olive oil in the tagine and heat it on medium heat. If you do not have a tagine, you can use a thick-bottomed, large skillet with a cover. Heat the oil in the skillet on medium high heat. In either case, sprinkle the chicken pieces very lightly with salt (go easy on the salt, the olives and preserved lemons are salty) and place skin side down in the tagine or skillet for 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the garlic and onions over the chicken. Cover and let cook for 15 minutes.

3 Turn chicken pieces over. Add the lemon slices, olives, raisins, and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a simmer on medium heat, then lower the heat to low, cover, and cook for an additional 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and quite tender.

4 Mix in fresh parsley and cilantro right before serving. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve with couscous, rice, or rice pilaf.

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