I've long been fascinated by the idea of a "tagine." A tagine is a Moroccan stew as well as the conical lidded terra cotta pot in which it is cooked. There are chicken, beef, fish and lamb tagines. But the Moroccans do not eat pork. My aunt was born in France but when she was still a young girl, they moved to Morocco where her father was president of a textile company. She used to tell us tales of the Moroccan way of eating--everyone eating from the communal tagine using bread to scoop up the food instead of a spoon or fork.
My daughter spent three weeks in France recently with a friend of hers and while they were in Toulouse, they had lunch at a restaurant that served Moroccan food including a tagine with sausage and chicken that they had to order the day before! That only fueled my desire to try it.
Moroccan restaurants are a little thin on the ground in the Midwest so I knew I'd have to make it myself. And that is the reason for so many of the recipes I've tried! I found a tagine in World Market for a very reasonable price. Next came seasoning it--something I learned online. You soak the pot in water for anywhere from several hours to overnight, then you rub the inside with olive oil, put it in a cold oven which you heat to anywhere from 200 degrees to 350 degrees (depending on which source you are referencing) for an hour or so. You then let it cool in the oven and it's ready to use.
I found numerous recipe online for chicken tagine, all vaguely similar. I fiddled around with a couple of them and came up with this one.
But first I needed preserved lemons. They take at least a month to make, but I found Mark Bittman's recipe for "express preserved lemons" and decided to try that.
Ingredients for chicken tagine:
Skin your chicken and cut into serving pieces (or buy a chicken already cut up--I like dismembering things so I do it myself. Hey, I write murder mysteries, remember?) Combine onion, herbs and spices in a large bowl.
Add chicken pieces and cover with chopped ingredients.
Add a dash of the lemon juice that has collected in your bowl of preserved lemon. It's not exactly a marinade since it isn't very juicy. Marinate chicken for a couple of hours in the fridge. By the time I removed it to cook it, it was already very tender.
Remove chicken from marinade and scrape off bits of onion and herbs. Put aside. Pour enough of the 1/3 cup olive oil to cover the bottom of the tagine. Scrape marinade out of the bowl into the tagine. Add olives (I cut them in half for easier eating) and about 1/4 cup of the preserved lemon bits.
Add water and stir. Place chicken on top (one chicken fits nicely in the tagine I bought.) Drizzle remainder of olive oil over the top (try not to think about the quantity of oil you're using or the calories therein.)
Put in COLD oven and set for 350 degrees. (This can also be cooked on top of the stove but you MUST have a heat diffuser or you may crack your tagine.) My chicken was done in about an hour and a half.
Chicken nestled into tagine
Mark Bittman's Express Preserved Lemons
Either purchase organic lemons or dip regular lemons in a bath of boiling water for at least 30 seconds and rub off wax coating with a clean towel.
Cut lemons into small dice and toss with 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 2 tablespoons sugar in a glass bowl.
Cover and let sit for at least three hours. Can be transferred to a glass jar if desired and kept in refrigerator.
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