Saturday, March 7, 2015

Moroccan Chicken Tagine

by Peg Cochran

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:

1 chicken, skin removed and cut into pieces (I saved the back and wings for stock)
2 onions, chopped
handful of parsley, chopped
handful of cilantro, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped or pressed through a garlic press
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4  teaspoon smoked hot paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric (for color)
salt to taste (I didn't use any)
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads if you have any -- I didn't
1 small handful of green olives (I cut mine in half)
1/4 cup of Bittman's express preserved lemons
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water

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. 


Bon Appetit!  The finished dish served over basmati rice

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  1. This sounds luscious. A tagine is one cooking item I don't have (gasp!)--can we adapt it to a regular casserole? A ceramic one? Love Mark Bittman--he's so practical, and turns out great recipes. And love your comment about dismembering things! I once tried to reduce a leg of lamb to chunks for stew, and I pointed to the mess and told my husband, "this is why I am not a surgeon."

    1. Sheila, most recipes you will find online are adapted for a casserole (Ina Garten ahs one). The idea of the tagine is that the liquid does not evaporate and continually bathes the dish. If you cooked it on the stove, you would cook it at such a low flame that it would take nearly 20 minutes to come to a simmer. A tagine is a sort of non-electric slow cooker!

  2. Oh my gosh Peg, this sounds amazing! I wish I had some for breakfast...

    1. The leftovers were even better the next day!

  3. I am a kitchen gizmo junkie! They fascinate me and I have to be careful not to buy every one I see. I've debated a tagine for some time now. the whole Idea sounds so wonderful.
    What a great description, "sort of a non-electric slow cooker"
    I have an olive question. What would you say the difference is between green and black olives (other, obviously, than color!).

    As to gizmos--just got this one. It isn't perfect, but it works pretty well. I did kale with it and this afternoon I will try fresh thyme.

    1. Libby the difference between green and black olives is the fact that my husband likes the green ones better! LOL. I think it would taste great with either. I used common, garden variety olives, but I'm sure some of the fancier ones would be fantastic. And that gizmo is so very tempting...

  4. Peg, this is amazing. You really outdid yourself. Sounds like the tangine does what a Dutch oven does, except there's that hole in the top of the tangine, so I guess some of the heat must escape. I bet it was fabulous!

    1. Krista, actually there isn't a hole in the top so the steam stays inside. Tagines are really meant for super slow cooking over a flame--like braziers or charcoal fires. The tagine keeps the food moist and you can cook meat till it falls off the bone without drying it out. Apparently modern Moroccan women now use pressure cookers!

  5. Peg, what fun to have the story with this!! I've never heard of preserved lemons. ;)

    1. Daryl, I don't know if other cuisines use preserved lemons, but they are used in a lot of Moroccan dishes. They keep for months so I suppose that was their way of keeping the fruit from rotting in the heat of the desert.

  6. What a terrific post, Peg. I've had wonderful chicken tagine, but never though about making it. I'm so glad to know how to preserve lemons - they keep popping up as an ingredient.



    1. MJ, it was my first tangine but not my last! Delicious!

  7. Peg, this recipe is amazing and I am going to have to try it, I've enjoyed tangine but never knew how it was prepared. Now I can't wait to make one myself. Thank you!

    ~ Cleo