A tagine of chicken is something you expect to eat in the warm climes of northern Africa with a Moroccan kasbah as a backdrop, but it goes down just as well with temperatures of minus 15 degrees outside as it was recently when we sat down with friends in our kitchen to savour the lemony and spicy aromas of this ras-el-hanout imbued dish following a morning walk in the local woods.
I prepared the marinade, called chermoula, the day before and placed the chicken pieces in it to marinate overnight.
For the marinade you need some preserved lemons, for about 6 pieces of chicken I used one and a half preserved lemons. These are lemons which I cut in four halfway down lenghtways and put about one tablespoonful of salt into each lemon and squeeze about four or five such lemons into a sterilised jar and top it up with previously boiled but cooled down water and I squeeze in the juice of another lemon and another spoon of salt for luck. I then close the jar and leave it for a minimum of three weeks to preserve. I am not sure how long you should keep them before using them, but I have sometimes kept them for four months and then used them, and have lived to tell the tale.
So for the chermoula marinade, I chop up three quarters of one lemon and put it in a bowl, to which I add some chopped garlic, onions, grated ginger, ras-el-hanout, chili powder, fresh coriander, fresh parsley, saffron or failing that, turmeric, a bay leaf, salt and some olive oil. I then blend all that so it is still quite lumpy and place the chicken pieces inside. I leave it covered in the fridge overnight, though a few hours would probably be ok.
The next day, I chop up some tomatoes and onions and dip them in some of the marinade after removing the chicken pieces and put a layer of this on the bottom of my tagine dish. I place the chicken pieces on top of that and add a few more slices of onion, tomato and a little more sliced preserved lemon and top it with some olives and more fresh coriander. Finally, I pour between a quarter and half a cup of water over this.
I then place the dish with the lid in the oven. Because the lid is so high, you will probably have to put the dish on the floor of your oven and then bake it for between 50 mins and an hour.
Meanwhile I prepare the couscous which I usually prepare by adding some boiling water and a pinch of salt to it and leaving it for about ten minutes with a plate on top ; I then comb through it with a fork and spoon it into a saucepan with a spoonful of heated olive oil and then on a very low heat stir it more or less continually until it becomes soft and fluffy. It shouldn’t be sitcky or lumpy in any way; if it is, it probably means you added too much water in the first stage.
I usually serve this tagine dish together with a very simple salad of raw beetroot and apple sliced like matchsticks and a very lemony vinaigrette, sprinkled with parsley and some previously dry fried pumpkin seeds. The crunchiness of this salad goes very well with the softness of the texture of the chicken dish.
It’s a very tasty dish and the aromas help to enhance what otherwise does not look like a terribly grand dish.
Chermoula marinade :
- 4 cloves of garlic
- grated root ginger (about 2 cm piece)
- 2 onions
- ¾ preserved lemon
- a bunch of fresh coriander
- some fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon chili
- 1 and a half tablespoons ras-el-hanout (my easy version: mix ground cinamon, cumin, cardamon, allspice, nutmeg, pepper, turmeric, coriander seeds)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- some salt
- 1 bay leaf
- some saffron threads soaked in water, or some turmeric
-6 pieces of chicken, brown and white, with skin
-a handful of green olives
-some more of the fresh coriander
-¾ preserved lemon cut into wedges
This recipe is from Hassan M’Souli.