Friday, February 3, 2012

Braised Moroccan Spiced Chicken

I am often asked what is my favorite thing to cook. The (possibly) disappointing truth is that I don't have one favorite thing to cook—my favorites change from day to day, season to season and year to year. Certainly I love to cook whatever I'm hungry for. And for me, what I'm hungry for is frequently a function of the weather. I think if you were to look back over my blog you would find many posts that begin with a discussion of the weather and how it relates to the recipe I'm posting.

Today is no different. I had planned on posting a recipe for baked salmon and vegetables. But it is cold and rainy outside and that particular dish somehow didn't seem like such a great fit. This is a day for a deeply flavorful braise...or a stew—something like the Moroccan Spiced Chicken I made the other night.

with plain couscous and roasted carrots and turnips

If, after reading my recent post on braising/stewing, you have been looking for recipes to practice with, this would be a great one to try.

The recipe for Moroccan Spiced Chicken is a very simple and basic braise. A blending of a recipe for Chicken Tagine by my good friend Nancy and one for Braised Moroccan Chicken that I found at FOOD52, it begins like all braises with the browning of the chicken and the cooking of the aromatics—in this case onion, garlic and a generous quantity of spice. Nancy's recipe adds tomato and I have followed her lead in that. Both recipes end with olives, fragrant preserved lemons and cilantro. It is a warming and hearty dish...just the kind of thing I crave at the end of a damp and chilly day—which would make it one of my favorite things to least, for today.

Moroccan Spiced Chicken

2 T. olive oil
4 chicken thighs and 4 legs (or 8 thighs)
salt and pepper
1 medium onion (8 to 10 oz.), cut in a small dice
4 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 t. ground cumin
1 1/2 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. paprika
1/2 t. turmeric
1/4 t. cayenne
14 oz. can whole tomatoes—passed through a food mill, pulsed in the food processor or crushed with your hands
1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken stock (or canned low-salt broth)
2/3 to 1 c. black or green olives (Kalamata, Gaeta, Picholine or a mix)
1 preserved lemon (see note), cut into sections (if not already), pulp removed and cut cross-wise into fine strips
2 to 4 T. chopped cilantro

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan or braiser set over medium-high heat. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and add to the pan, skin side down. Brown the chicken until the fat is well-rendered and the skin is golden brown; turn and brown the other side. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Do not crowd the pan while you are browning the chicken—fry in batches if necessary.

Remove the pan from the heat and pour off all but a couple tablespoons of the fat. Reduce the heat to medium, return the pan to the heat and add the onions along with a pinch of salt. Cook the onions until soft and golden—about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and spices and cook until fragrant—about a minute.

Add the tomatoes and use them to deglaze the pan, scraping up the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook until thick and reduced—5 minutes or so.

Return the chicken to the pan (along with any accumulated juices) and turn to coat in the onion/spice/tomato mixture.

Add enough chicken stock to come a third to half way up the sides of the chicken.

Bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and cook at a gentle simmer until the chicken is cooked through and almost tender—about 30 to 40 minutes. Add the preserved lemon and olives and continue to cook covered until the chicken is very tender—another 10 to 20 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate and keep warm. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened. Taste and correct the seasoning.

Serve the chicken on a bed of couscous (or rice) with the sauce spooned over. Scatter the cilantro over all. Serves 4.

Leftovers for lunch (excellent, even on a bright and sunny day)

Note: Preserved lemons are an indispensible ingredient for many Moroccan dishes. They can of course be purchased, but it is easy to make your own and recipes abound on the web. The most traditional versions take three weeks (as this one posted by David Lebovitz). There are also "quick" methods that are ready in just 7 days. There are also "cheater" recipes that only take a few hours and although I haven't tried one of these, I imagine they would probably be fine in a pinch.

The beginnings of the "7 day" version


Anonymous said...

The problem with preserved lemons is that once make them, you'll never be happy again unless you have them in your refrigerator. They are good for so many things--and a little bit of the liquid is perfect to add to vegetables or salad dressings. They are SO good.

Paige said...

Yes! We are such an instant society that I think sometimes people don't want to wait...but once you have them you'll want them around and when your supply begins to dwindle, you just make more...they are so easy to make.