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.
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
- chili powder
- ground peppercorns
- fennel seeds
- little tumeric (for color)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup parsely
- 1/4 cup cilantro
- 1 Tbsp honey
- ground black pepper
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.
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.
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.
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.