While traveling in Morocco, I made sure to have tagine – essentially a slow-cooked stew original from North Africa. The word tagine describes a method of cooking. It also describes the cooking vessel – a two-piece earthenware with a cone-shaped cover that funnels condensation directly back to the food for moist, tender results.
It is difficult to find Moroccan food where I live, so I decided, why not make my own?
I started by looking for a traditional tagine. Williams-Sonoma sells some beautiful hand-painted tagines from Tunisia that are cooktop and oven-safe. I got my terracota tagine at World Market; it is plain, but inexpensive. (This particular one requires you use a heat diffuser. I actually made mine in the oven, without a diffuser. I add the oven instructions under “preparation”). Just keep in mind, you do not need a tagine to make this dish. A Dutch oven or a deep heavy pan will do, but if you can get a tagine, the cooking and the experience will be more authentic, plus the presentation from the stove/oven to the table will add drama that your guests are sure to enjoy.
I had a few versions of tagine in Fez, Casablanca, and Tangier – there was lamb, chicken, and just vegetables. Some were made with dried fruits, like apricots, while others were more acidic. Below is a recipe for a chicken tagine with olives and lemons. It is exotic, aromatic, and healthful. The fragrant spices like saffron, turmeric, ginger, and cumin add warmth and full flavor to the dish, while the preserved lemons lend a pleasant salty-tart flavor to the Moroccan stew. Serve the tagine on top of basmati or other white rice.
- PREP TIME: 2+ hrs (I’d recommend marinating the chicken overnight in the fridge, or for at least 2 hrs.) COOK TIME: 1 – 1.5 hrs.
INGREDIENTS: (makes 4)
- 1/4 tsp. saffron threads
- 2 Tbs. warm water
- 2 large yellow onions, diced
- 1/2 cup (20g) fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped (reserve a little for garnish)
- 1/2 cup (20g) flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped (reserve a little for garnish)
- 2 Tbs. (60ml) fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 whole chicken, about 3 lbs., chopped into 8 pieces, skin removed.
- 1/2 preserved lemon (I got a jar at Williams-Sonoma. To make your own, follow this recipe by Chef David Lebovitz).
- 1/2 cup (125ml) chicken stock
- 1 1/2 cups (250g) cracked green olives
1. Drop your saffron threads into a small cup with the warm water. Soak for about 10 minutes.
2. In a food processor, combine the onions, cilantro, parsley, 1 Tbs. lemon juice, cumin, ginger, turmeric, saffron and its soaking liquid, salt.
3. Process to a pulpy puree.
4. Transfer marinade to large sealable plastic bag. Add the garlic, olive oil, and chicken. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. (I prefer to marinate it overnight).
5. Cut the preserved lemon in half and scoop out and discard the pulp. (The ones from Williams-Sonoma come in quarters of different sizes. I use only 2, as they have a strong flavor). Cut the rind into paper-thin strips, set aside.
6. If using a tagine for cooking, pre-warm it slowly on very low heat or soak it in hot water before using it on the stove.
7. Transfer the marinated chicken to a tagine or a Dutch oven. Add the chicken stock. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, then cover, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the chicken is tender when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes. (Using a diffuser will add time to the cooking). **You can make this dish entirely in the oven; no need for a diffuser. Heat the oven to 325°F (still pre-warm the tagine), then add the marinated chicken and cook for 15 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 275°F. Cook for another 45 and then check the chicken for doneness. You want the chicken falling off the bone. Since cooking times will vary depending on the size of the chicken and at what altitude you live, you may have to cook it for 1 hr or a few minutes more.
8. While the chicken is cooking, drop the olives in a saucepan of boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
9. When you determine the chicken is just cooked and tender, add the olives, the lemon-rind strips, and the remaining 1 Tbs. of lemon juice. Cover again and shut off the heat (or take out of the oven). Just before serving, uncover the tagine and garnish with the chopped cilantro and parsley. Serve right away atop a bed of white rice, like basmati.
*This recipe is an adaptation of Williams-Sonoma’s recipe, with my own modifications.