Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olive

This is my third post on Moroccan cuisine. The first was harira, a popular dish many Moroccans use to break the Ramadan fast. (That post was picked up by WBUR's online site: http://publicradiokitchen.wbur.org/2011/10/28/food-therapy-from-in-the-kitchen-with-eva). It is a hearty stew featuring either beef or lamb, chickpeas, lentils, pasta, and green beans in a flavorful broth.

When I look at recipes, I'm as interested in the spice palette as I am the main ingredients. The Moroccan use of cinnamon, saffron and cumin won me over and I spent time looking for more recipes to try. I really appreciate the fact that Moroccan dishes are committed to ensuring that the spices blend with the main ingredient, through long, slow cooking.

In my recipe search, I came across a dish that is very popular in Morocco: chicken with preserved lemon and olives. My interest was piqued by the use of preserved lemon, which I had never used before. And there's a reason for that; preserved lemon are not readily found in most supermarkets. That was fine by me as I knew that there had to be a recipe out there. And there was! I was pleased to discover that preserved lemon was relatively easy to make (http://inthekitchenwitheva-eva.blogspot.com/2011/11/preserved-lemons.html). The only drawback was that I would have to wait three weeks to use them to make the chicken dish. It takes that long for the salt and lemon/vinegar to infuse into the lemons and tenderize the rind. This was my second post on Moroccan cooking.

Three weeks passed and by the time the preserved lemons were ready for use, I had spent considerable time reviewing a wide range of recipes for Moroccan chicken with preserved lemon and olives. I chose one that I found online (closetcooking.com).

I did not have harissa (a Moroccan spice paste made from dried chili peppers, garlic and spices)) on hand and had to make it. The end result made the effort worthwhile, although it was somewhat time-consuming.

I recommend doubling the recipe so that you have a good amount on hand for other dishes that require harissa. Be forewarned that using dried red chilies --even if you are careful to remove all the pith and seeds -- will still yield a very fiery harissa. If you can't take too much heat, consider using milder chilies. The point is for you to be able to enjoy the dish and not have to focus on the sensation of heat permeating through your mouth. I love heat so I used Southeast Asian dried red chilies. Not for the faint of heart!

I had all the spices on hand for the harissa except for caraway seeds. They were on the expensive side - $5.99 for a very small bottle. I ground them in the coffee grinder before adding them to the rest of the mixture. If you want to release more flavor, you could heat the seeds over a low flame in a non-stick pan. Let them cool before grinding them.

The spice palette for the harissa is ground coriander, caraway seeds and cumin.

Harissa (recipe taken from mideastfood.about.com)


10-12 dried red chili peppers
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin


Soak the dried chilies in hot water for 30 minutes.

Drain. Remove stems and seeds.

In a food processor combine chili peppers, garlic, salt, and olive oil. Blend.

Add remaining spices and blend to form a smooth paste.

Store in airtight container. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on top to keep fresh. Will keep for a month in the refrigerator.

Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons
(makes 4 servings)
Printable Recipe

1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch saffron
salt and pepper to taste (The blogger makes a good point -- go easy on the salt. Olives and the preserved lemons both have their fair share. Wait until the end to add salt, if it's needed.)

1 whole chicken (cut into 8 pieces, or chicken thighs or breasts - I used drumsticks)
1 tablespoon oil (vegetable oil is good for cooking with a high flame)
1 onion (sliced)
2 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 teaspoon ginger (grated)
1/2 cup water (or chicken stock)
1 preserved lemon (pith removed, and peel rinsed and sliced)
1 cup olives
1 tablespoon harissa (You could probably find it in specialty shops, but I opted to find a recipe for it and make it myself. Make it before you tackle the recipe.)
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup parsley (chopped)
1/4 cup cilantro (chopped)


Mix the paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron, salt and pepper

and rub it into the chicken.

Make sure you clean the chicken well. I use either lemon juice or white vinegar.

Heat the oil in a large pan.

Add the chicken and brown on all sides and set aside.

Let the chicken darken to a beautiful spice-infused brown.

Remove the browned chicken from the pot and set aside.

Add the onion, and saute for 3 minutes.

Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about a minute. I used a bit more ginger because I love it so much!

Add the water (I recommend using chicken stock as it's more flavorful)

and chicken.

Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the preserved lemon (Remove the flesh and pith and slice the peel thinly. I actually used a bit of the flesh, which was a great combination of salt and lemon.)

The preserved lemon really has an elegant look! I had to stop myself from eating all the slices.

Add the olives (I used a combination of Spanish and nicoise olives).

Add the harissa

and honey

and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes.

Remove from heat and mix in the parsley and cilantro.

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