Moroccan Chicken with Lemon and Olives
Updated, from the recipe archive. Originally posted 2006.
A few years ago, I purchased a tagine, an earthenware cooking and serving pot common in North Africa, with which to experiment. Have you ever tried cooking with a tagine? Or another type of clay pot? There’s something special about cooking with clay. The heating is more even than what you would get in a regular skillet, and the liquid that gets released from the food while it cooks bastes the food keeping it moist. A tagine used on a stove-top gives you that wonderful slow, even cooking that you would normally get from an oven-braise. The conical top returns moisture to the food below, and when the dish is done, you can serve it right in the pot.
My first foray into cooking with the tagine was with this Moroccan chicken dish which turned out beautifully – succulent, tender, and full of flavor. I pulled the recipe together from various sources including the New York Times, The New Basics Cookbook, and recipes by Le Souk Ceramique, the maker of my tagine. Preserved lemon is traditionally called for in this dish (very easy to make, by the way, all you need are lemons, salt, and time), and in my opinion, worth making just for this dish. But if you don’t have any, you can easily use thin slices of regular lemon. Also, you don’t absolutely need to use a tagine to make this dish; just use a large, shallow, thick-bottomed, covered skillet.
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.