Moroccan Lemon & Olive Chicken

This is my second venture into the world of Moroccan flavored food (the other part: a delicious side of tagine veggies) and was the original dish that prompted me to start preserving lemons. A whole chicken is braised and simmered in an herby, lemon-olive sauce, and is then cooked in a tagine for a delicious, savory meal.

Lemon & Olive Chicken (breast meat)

The dish sounds pretty simple and the name, also, simple–simple enough that you might doubt the flavors. I mean, yeah, lemons are good and olives are good, its a curious pair, but will it really go anywhere?

Well, I really can’t do the chicken justice–the combination of lemons and olives simmering in a slow heat, somehow, some way, brings out the best of those two to create something new and exciting. They just sort of merge into one harmonious taste. The chicken itself is spiced in a curious, savory way and the meat itself is incredibly tender, prepared essentially like a braise, but in a tagine. The chicken becomes infused with the lemon and olive flavor, but it also leaves a fantastic sauce that is lively, but not overwhelmingly, citrus. Despite using two preserved ingredients as the major sauce flavor (preserved lemons and olives), the result was not briney–just sweet, citric, lively, rich, and surprisingly complex. This dish is definitely worth buying/making preserved lemons–its different and delicious. This is also my entry for this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Ulrike from Kuchenlatein.

  • 1 whole chicken (~4-5 lbs)
  • 1 shallot
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 3 preserved lemons, de-seeded (or substitute Meyer lemons, zest and juice)
  • 1.5 cups black olives (I used kalamata)
  • Ras el Hanout (a dry spice mixture, some example flavors to include in no particular amount)
    • ground cardamom
    • nutmeg
    • cinnamon
    • chili powder
    • ground peppercorns
    • anise
    • fennel seeds
    • allspice
    • cumin
    • little tumeric (for color)
    • paprika
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup parsely
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • ground black pepper

Ras el Hanout mixture for rubbing the chicken

The chicken in this dish is essentially braised. So to get started, break down the chicken into convenient components (breast, legs, wings, etc) and keep the skin on. In a separate bowl, prepare the ras el hanout (or if you have some on hand, you’re good to go!). I didn’t include precise measurements because this is a mixture that, from what I understand, is more haphazard and I can say mine was in keeping with that. Sniff it as you mix it and you’ll wind up in a happy place.

Once the rub is ready, rub it all over the chicken pieces, massaging it into the skin and flesh as best you can.

Brown chicken briefly

If you have a proper tagine, work in that. I don’t, so I warmed up a dutch oven and added a bit of olive oil. Brown each chicken piece on all sides for about 5-10 minutes, working in batches so as not to crowd the chicken (you don’t want to steam it, you just want to put some color on it). Once you’ve worked through all of the chicken pieces, set them aside, off of heat.

Sautéed the veggies, simmer the chicken

Now with the dutch oven empty again, its time to get the veggies going. So finely dice up the shallot, garlic, and ginger, add some more olive oil in the pot (if you need to) and sauté the shallot for about 3 minutes. Then, add in the garlic and ginger for a minute or two, after which, you should add in the water and deglaze. Carefully return all of the chicken to the pot and cover, letting this cook for about 15 minutes or so.

While you’re waiting on the chicken, there’s some more prep to do. The star of the show has not come out just yet–lemon and olive chicken wouldn’t be so exciting if we forgot the lemons and olives. So pit and halve the olives and dice up the preserved lemons (or fresh Meyer lemons if you don’t have any preserved lemons handy, like me at this point. Add some salt to make up for it not being preserved). I didn’t dice the lemon too finely–just make smallish strips of peel and chunks of flesh. You should probably rinse the olives to take some of the brine off–you’d like the olive taste, not that of the salt which cured them.

Lemon & Olive Chicken (super tender)

Once time has passed, add the lemon and olives into the pot. Also mix in the honey and cover, cooking for another 20 minutes. Sadly there’s one more bit of prep to do: the herbs! Coarsely chop up the parsely and cilantro, and once time is up, throw this in the pot to add an earthy flavor component to the sauce. Also add a dash of pepper as you see fit. Cover this again and let it cook for another 10 minutes, at which point, its done, falling off the bone fork-tender, and ready to eat.


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19 Responses to “Moroccan Lemon & Olive Chicken”

  1. Ulrike aka ostwestwind Says:

    Thank you for participating Weekend Herb Blogging! I’ll post the round-up next Monday (GMT +1)

  2. Nora Says:

    Fall-off the bone, fork tender – that’s perfect braised chicken. This Ras el Hanout spice got me really curious, off I go to google it. An ex-colleague gave me some homemade berbere spice and it tasted so great rubbed onto a whole chicken and then roasted. I can’t seem to get teh same combination of spices to replicate his version. I suspect that it would be the same with the Ras el Hanout. Did you blend it make it yourself?

  3. Bellini Valli Says:

    I will have to Google the Ras el Hanout for proportions. Cooking meat in a tagine makes it so moist and succulent….that is the perfect word :)

  4. Helene Says:

    Thanks for the tip for my pizza. I’ll have to try that next time I make pizza. I can smell that chicken from my home.

  5. Lydia Says:

    That looks delicious! You’re going to find so many things to make with your preserved lemons — I always have a couple of jars going in the fridge.

  6. swirlingnotions Says:

    I just used the last of my preserved lemons on Monday, so thanks for the inspiration to make some more!

  7. Pam Says:

    Looks great! When will your preserved lemons be ready?

  8. RecipeGirl Says:

    I agree… there’s something about lemon and olives cooking together that turns chicken into a flavorfest. Looks really delicious!

  9. mike Says:

    Ulrike — thanks! I look forward to it!

    Nora — I’d never heard of berbere before, but from the looks of it, it sounds really tasty! As for the Ras, I blended it myself. I normally try to be careful about remembering quantities for the sake of posting it here, but I kept adjusting and adding a little more of this and that, so in the end, I couldn’t really say how much of what went into it (but I did list everything that went in).

    Bellini — its amazing what wonders a braise can do for meat! And sorry about the lack of proportions for the Ras–next time, I’ll try to be more methodical about recording what I did.

    Helene — no problem, I hope it helps. And thanks!

    Lydia — thanks! I’m eagerly counting the days on the lemons…

    swirl — haha, glad to be of service. I was hoping to get another bottle going, but now I can’t see to find any Meyer lemons around town. I’ll hold a little longer…

    Pam — thanks! About 2 or 3 more weeks now. I’ll have to start lining up other dishes in the queue so as use them after all of this waiting.

    Recipe — thanks! I’ll have to find some other dish that merits the lemon and olive treatment, because it is definitely a winning combination.

  10. Laurie Constantino Says:

    Mike, this sounds absolutely wonderful. I haven’t made preserved lemons in years, but keep thinking how this dish or that would be better with them. You’ve inspired me — I’m going to start some preserved lemons today. Thanks so much for the kick in the pants!

  11. mike Says:

    Laurie — thanks and glad to hear it! I can’t wait to see where you put them to use. It sounds like there’s a lot of good ideas for them out there…

  12. Georgetta Says:

    Wow, that sounds lovely! We had a morroccan cheese this week, and I’d like to try more of this food genre.

  13. Kalyn Says:

    This sounds just fantastic. I went to Morocco once, but didn’t taste any preserved lemons. Someday I’m going to find time to try making them.

  14. A scientist in the kitchen Says:

    I’m drooling!!!

  15. Peter Says:

    Mike, fab job on the chicken…the recent Moroccan dishes I’ve seen on blogs is inspiring me to delve into this cuisine, thanks!

  16. mike Says:

    Georgetta — thanks! I would also be keen on trying more Moroccan food and hopefully will have some more things to post in the future (gotta use those preserved lemons somewhere!).

    Kalyn — thanks! That must have been quite a trip. My wife and I went to Spain but didn’t have the time to add Morocco to the trip. One day…

    scientist — thanks! :-)

    Peter — thanks! Definitely worth trying. If I had to summarize my impression of Moroccan food: simple, healthy, and incredibly flavorful.

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