Monday, November 12, 2012

Simple Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons

 "Food is the most vivid expression of culture."  This is a phrase that I have adopted and truer words are hard to find.  I remember my first taste of Moroccan food vividly.  I'm not sure if it was jet lag setting in or the long hours spent with cold airplane food, but what I was sure of was it was time to eat and the food smelled amazing!  We had flown into Agadir, a small seaside town south west of Marrakesh.   Warm greetings and hot mint tea awaited us at the Sofitel Agadir.  After a quick refresh in my room, I hurried down to the lobby to begin my hunt for Tagine.  A traditional North African cooking vessel, Tagine also refers to a slow cooked stew of meat, fruit and vegetables cooked in the pot.  My conversation was very brief with the concierge before he understood what I was after.   It  was not long before I was digging into a Tagine of chicken flavored with coriander and apricots.  A few common Moroccan spices such as cumin, cinnamon, coriander, chili and ginger where present, but not overwhelming.  The meat fell off the bone and swam in spice infused bliss soaked up by couscous.   Just as food expresses culture, the Tagine tells a story of Nomadic tribes wandering North Africa  trading spices.  If you don't have a traditional Tagine laying around you can substitute with a dutch oven or deep skillet with a tight sealing lid.  The recipe following was written the other night after searching the web looking for some guidance on cooking with Moroccan Preserved Lemons.  Preserved Lemons are whole lemons preserved in a salt water brine and widely used in Moroccan cuisine.  I found some recently at an Arabic market near my house and have been curious to cook with them.  There are a ton of resources online and some great YouTube videos on Moroccan cooking.  This is a culmination of what I found as a very simple and traditional Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Olives.   I hope soon to return to Morocco with my family and share this most amazing place with them.      

Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives

3-4 lbs           bone in chicken pieces legs and thighs are best
2                      brown onions
3                      tomatoes
1                      bunch fresh cilantro (coriander)
6                      cloves garlic minced
2                      tsp grated fresh ginger (powdered is ok however reduce to 1tsp)
5                      potatoes peeled and quartered (optional)
1 1/2               tsp tumeric
1 1/2               tsp paprika
1 1/2               tsp cumin
1/2                  tsp cinnamon
1                      pinch saffron soaked in a few ounces of water
1                      tsp salt
1                      tsp black pepper
2                      Preserved Lemons rinsed and thinly sliced (or zest of 3 fresh lemons)
8 oz                pitted green olives
1/2                 cup olive oil

 In a blender combine all spices, half of one onion, garlic, ginger, 1 1/2 preserved lemon, olive oil and liquify.  Pour mixture over chicken in a large bowl or baking dish and toss to coat.  Refrigerate at least two hours to overnight.  Reserve the left over marinade, there should be a cup or two remaining.   Unless you have a traditional Tagine laying around, find a large heavy bottom pot with a fitted lid.  A deep skillet or a dutch oven will work fine. Roughly chop about one cup tomato and one cup onion and lay them in the bottom of the pot.  Mix half remaining marinade with the tomato and onion, this will act as a bed for the chicken to sit on and help to prevent burning.  Arrange chicken neatly around the bottom of the pot and layer if necessary.  If you use potatoes mix them with some of the marinade and tuck them around the edges of the pot and add the olives now as well.  Thinly slice remaining tomato and onion and arrange slices on top of the chicken.  Chop remaining cilantro and mix with remaining marinade and a sprinkle if water and add this to the top of the onions and tomato. Do not add too much water as the chicken, onions and tomatoes will give up quite a bit of liquid to the pot.  Cook tightly covered over med-low heat for 1 hour or until chicken pulls apart easily.  Serve chicken with couscous covered with plenty of the sauce. 

Marinading Chicken

Ready to cover and cook

Ready to serve over Couscous