Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Chicken Tagine

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: my preserved lemons were a success. 

The long-awaited moment arrived last Thursday when the four-week anniversary of my first preserving attempt proved fruitful.  The rinds were perfectly spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, coriander, and anise.  The flavor was supremely lemony, briny, and was basically like eating Morocco.  My next step was obvious: make tagine.

Tagine is amazing.  And, no, you don't need the traditional tagine cooking apparatus to make it.  The method is essentially a braise using a North African spice mix called ras el hanout (below), so a dutch oven will work just fine.  While you have a chicken recipe here, the method would essentially be the same for a vegetarian version (seven vegetable tagine being traditional), simply skip the first step of browning the meat and go straight for the vegetables.  Perhaps go a bit lighter on the spices, as well.  Of course, you could also implement the same exact process with lamb (in which case, keep the spices coming).  

Yes, tagine is traditionally served with North African couscous because it functions as a fantastic sponge for the ultra-flavorful braising liquid.  I skipped the couscous, opting instead to lap up the broth with a spoon (it worked).  For me, the carrots and potatoes made the dish hearty enough, but the couscous certainly makes for a pretty presentation. 

If you go vegetarian or use a leaner cut of chicken (I opted for the breast instead of the thigh or wings), tagine is an extremely healthy dish.  Don't be deterred by the list of spices here, either go stock up your spice cabinet or cut out the whole cardamom, cloves, and coriander seeds.  The homemade preserved lemons were delicious, but if you can't wait a month for this awesome dinner I'm sure you can find them in more specialty grocery stores. 

Ingredients (makes 4 servings):
  • 2 bone-in chicken breasts with rib meat
  • 5 whole carrots, leaves and ends trimmed off
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 5-6 golden potatoes, quartered
  • 2 preserved lemons, julienned
  • 1 cup cracked green olives
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 4-5 cardamom pods
  • 4-5 whole cloves
  • pinch of saffron (optional)
  • 8-10 whole coriander seeds
  • salt and pepper for seasoning
  • Moroccan spice mix (ras el hanout)
Ras El Hanout Spice Mix:
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric 
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander 
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a dutch oven or large pot, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil.  Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and sear each side until crispy and golden brown (about 4-5 minutes each side).  Remove from pot and set aside when done.
While the chicken browns, chop your onion, potatoes, parsley, and cilantro.  Trim your carrots.
Prepare your spice mix.
After you remove the chicken, add the onions to the pot with all but 1/2 tsp. of the spice mix.  Stir well and let them cook until softened, about 6 minutes.  Add the potatoes and carrots, and continue to cook the vegetables for another 10-15 minutes, until deep brown.  Stir in most of the parsley and cilantro.

Sprinkle the remaining spice mix on the chicken breasts.  Add the chicken back to the pot along with the stock, cardamom pods, cloves, coriander seeds, and saffron.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  
While I think you can get away with covering the pot on the stove top and simmering over low heat, I transferred the covered pot to the oven to braise for about 25 minutes.  Meanwhile, julienne the preserved lemons and drain the olives.
Return the pot to the stove top over low heat.  Add the preserved lemons and olives, cooking for another 5 minutes while simmering.
Garnish with the remaining parsley.  Serve with couscous if you prefer, or with a spoon to enjoy the flavorful broth.


  1. damn girl, i can imagine how incredible this makes the kitchen smell.

  2. I tried this, the end result was wonderful. One warning, the braising in the oven took 1 hour and 20 minutes to get the chicken tender.


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