Out of Africa

There was quite a lively discussion this morning at my house about the origins of the dish pictured above, Chicken Tagine, which was our dinner last night, along with Pearl Couscous and Chickpeas.

Our son insisted that it must be Mediterranean.  I countered with “No, it is North African–Moroccan, to be exact.”  He did not see the difference, but there is one. The basic flavor profile of North African cuisine includes spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, paprika, and herbs like parsley and cilantro.  Flavor enhancements and aromatics include olives, garlic, onion, and preserved lemon.  Chicken, lamb, and goat are the usual proteins.

As this was my first time cooking North African food, I used a recipe from a respected Amercian source–someone who is also (like me) largely self-taught.  Someone who knows how to adapt other cuisines to the American market and kitchen.

Thus, this recipe comes from Ina Garten’s, show, “Barefoot Contessa: Cooking for Beginners”

Note: this dish takes overnight to marinate!

Moroccan Chicken Tagine

  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large Spanish onion, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons canola, grapeseed or olive oil (not a heavy olive oil)
  • 1 to 2 preserved lemons, depending on size (See recipe below)
  • 8 chicken thighs, with bone and skin
  • Stems from the parsley and cilantro, tied with twine
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered saffron or 1/4 teaspoon powdered turmeric and 4 strands saffron
  • 1 cup pitted green Moroccan or Greek olives
  • 1/2 bunch Italian parsley, about 1/4 cup chopped
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, about 1/4 cup chopped

In a large bowl, mix the garlic, cumin, ginger, paprika, salt and pepper, 1/2 cup grated onion, and the oil.

Rinse the preserved lemons, and remove the pulp. RESERVE the lemon peel for later use.

Add the lemon pulp to the mixing bowl. Add the chicken. Mix everything together and place in a large plastic bag to marinate overnight in the refrigerator. (Twenty-four hours really gives the chicken the best flavor.)

In a large Dutch oven or casserole, place the chicken and marinade; add the stems of the parsley and cilantro, the rest of the grated onion, the powdered saffron and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, turn down to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Remove the cover, stir the chicken and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is tender.

Remove the chicken to a serving dish and cover with foil to keep warm. Keep sauce on stove and begin to reduce.

Slice the preserved lemon peel into thin slices and add to the sauce along with the olives, parsley and cilantro. Reduce until the sauce is just a little thick. This shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes at most.

Uncover the chicken and remove the skin from the chicken. (It doesn’t look pretty and who needs the extra fat.) Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

Preserved Lemons, Extra Quick-Style:

  • 2 to 3 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Cut the lemons into sixths, lengthwise, sprinkle with the salt and place in a non-corrosive dish (glass is good). Cover the lemons with water and cook in the oven for 3 hours. Allow to cool and then refrigerate.

Cook’s Note: The lemons can be refrigerated for up to 6 months as long as they are covered and stored in a glass canning jar.

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One response to “Out of Africa

  1. Great, thanks for doing the research and sharing this with us!

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