Staying in Africa this month, we move to the north, and to a cuisine that has become a firm favourite around the globe for its use of aromatic spices and, especially, the combination of dried and preserved fruits with savoury dishes.
I lived in Morocco in the 80’s as a young teacher, and was privileged to have learned many classic recipes in my friends’ and colleagues’ homes. One of my best memories is of going to someone’s house on a cold, bright winter’s day and sitting around the chimenea, which would be built into the house, waiting for a luscious tagine to finish its slow cooking. A tagine is a stew, traditionally cooked over the fire in a clay dish with a conical lid designed to trap the heat. Usually, it would be a meat stew- lamb, beef or chicken- with vegetables in a rich sauce, often with dried fruits, such as prunes or apricots. Sometimes the tagine was all vegetables, and the meat or fish came from the barbecue grill, or not at all. Moroccans love their vegetables, and with some sauce and some home- made unleavened bread (khoubz) this was often enough.
This last weekend the Beloved Editorial team and some new members got together to review the magazine and have lunch together. I planned the meal as my contribution to this month’s food section, and chose what is probably the best-loved of the Moroccan tagines to share with the team.
CHICKEN TAGINE WITH PRESERVED LEMON AND OLIVES
Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
1 chicken, about 1.25kg/2lb 12oz
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp good olive oil
1 large red onion, sliced
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5cm/2in piece of root ginger, peeled and grated
A pinch of ground saffron or turmeric
500ml/17fl oz/2 cups hot chicken or vegetable stock
1-3 bay leaves
2-3 wedges of preserved lemon, rind rinsed and finely chopped
15 black olives or a mix of black and green
2 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves
couscous, to serve
lemon wedges, to serve (optional)
1. Before starting cooking, or the day before, cut the chicken into pieces- thighs, drumsticks, breast, wings. Take the remains of the carcass and boil to make stock (or discard). Keeping the skin on, rub the pieces all over with the cinnamon and seasalt.
2. Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan over a medium-high heat and brown the chicken pieces, skin-side down. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. Add the onion to the pan, cover and sweat for 2–3 minutes until translucent, then add the garlic and ginger and cook for a further 1 minute until the fragrance is released.
3. Stir the saffron/turmeric into the hot stock and return the chicken to the pan. Pour the stock over the chicken and add the bay leaf, then cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for 30 minutes or until the meat is tender. Add the preserved lemon and olives to the pan and cook for another 10 minutes. Season with black pepper, stir in the coriander and serve with crusty bread, pitta, or couscous and lemon wedges, according to preference.
Adapted from a recipe found here.
1. I tend to use vegetable stock (Ina Parmaan) rather than chicken stock, but the chicken carcass could be used for this purpose if planning ahead.
2. Be careful when seasoning, as the salt rubbed on the chicken at the beginning, plus any salt in the stock, and the salt in the preserved lemons and olives can make the dish quite salty, so test as you go. I find I never need to add any salt when doing the final seasoning. If it tastes salty before adding the lemon, just wipe the liquid off the lemon, or wash it off before adding to the pan.
2. For preserved lemons- don’t waste a lot of money seeking them out in a specialist shop- make your own (see below).
3. You can use any kind of starch to accompany the tagine, but I used couscous, (see below) as it absorbs a lot of liquid and, when spiced, gives a warming, complementary flavour to the stew. Quinoa works in a similar way if you are gluten-free.
4.I have had this tagine with both black and green olives and I find a mix works best. For the black olives, I prefer kalamata. For the green, the ones stuffed with pimento give a nice flavour. It is best to use pitted olives, to avoid expensive dental bills.
5. Salt: this means sea salt or Himalaya or rock salt. Tip: if you can get Oryx desert smoked salt or Maldon Smoked Salt, this gives a lovely deep smoky flavour.
Take a medium storage jar with a tight lid and seal, and 3-4 large lemons (preferably unwaxed). Cut the lemons one by one into medium thick slices and push them into the jar. Pour sea salt into the jar to cover the lemon slices, pushing them down and adding more lemon and salt until the jar is full. Close the lid tightly and leave for 2 weeks. In that time, the lemon juice will seep out to mix with the salt and provide a liquid cover for the fruit. Open the jar and add several bay leaves. Shake the contents around a bit to ensure even distribution of the liquid and reseal. Leave for another week minimum. After 3-4 weeks, the lemons will be soft and the flavour spicy with the salt. The longer you leave them, the better they taste. Aside from adding to dishes like this, preserved lemons can also be blended and added to sauces and shakes. If they taste too salty, wipe the excess liquid off with a piece of kitchen paper before use.
Put 2 cups of dry couscous into a bowl and cover with 4 cups of boiling water. Leave for 10 minutes or longer for the grains to absorb the moisture. When it is dry when a fork is inserted, drizzle about 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil over the grains, add salt to taste and 1 tsp cinnamon. Mix together with a fork until the oil is absorbed. Then put the couscous into a hot oven, fluffing it with a fork every 5 -10 mins until warmed through and releasing a fragrant aroma. A knob of unsalted butter added shortly before serving will give a richer taste.
A simple dish of green beans in garlic was what I chose to serve alongside the tagine and couscous. Just take 250g of fine green beans, wash and remove the top stalk, then throw them in a heavy bottomed pan with a big knob of butter, 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic, salt and black pepper to taste and a tiny drop of olive oil (to prevent the butter from burning). Cook on a low to medium heat for 10 minutes, shaking them to ensure even cooking. Don’t add water, as the beans will release their own juices and cook in that and the fat.
Otherwise, any green vegetable would do – baby marrows/asparagus/broccoli etc. sauteed in garlic and a little olive oil or briefly roasted in the oven.
For more delicious tagine recipes, take a look at: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/tagine-recipes