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Moroccan Chicken
By Charlie Burke

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Moroccan cuisine is becoming more popular here and in Europe and is
similar in technique to that of other Mediterranean countries. Tagines, which
are simply braises cooked in the covered vessel of the same name, are the
most recognizable examples of this fare. Usually made of earthenware,
tagines consist of a round flat bottom with four inch sides and a conical lid
which fits snugly and retains moisture during cooking.

Any tagine recipe can be done in a Dutch oven or other heavy pan with a
tight fitting lid; a good trick with any braise, unnecessary when using an
authentic tagine, is to cover the meat with moistened parchment paper,
ensuring that any exposed surfaces do not dry.

I did a recipe earlier this year using our tagine, but browned the chicken and
used non traditional ingredients such as lemon thyme and limoncello. Here,
more traditional North African spices are used, including cumin, allspice,
turmeric and cinnamon and the chicken is not seared.

I have a close friend from Alexandria, Egypt who told me he adds small
amounts of cinnamon to his many of his meat and poultry recipes, and his
American guests always compliment him on the results. Believing that
Americans associate cinnamon and allspice with sweets and deserts, he
conveniently “forgets” to mention them if asked about a dish. Because small
amounts are used, they add depth to the flavor but are not identifiable

Turmeric is used more to add the traditional yellow color than to flavor to
the dish. Tagines often contain fruit, such as apricots or even prunes, and a
little honey finds its way into other recipes, along with nuts and olives for a
complex mix of flavors. Moorish traces persist in Spain, southern Italy and in
Greece, where one frequently encounters raisins, pine nuts and other fruit in
main course recipes. Preserved lemons (thinly sliced, salted and tightly
packed into jars) are a signature Moroccan ingredient which has now found
its way to northern Mediterranean shores and are seen in ingredient lists in
American food magazines. Here, they are simulated by salting thin slices of
lemon and placing them into a strainer for an hour or more. Chickens are sold
whole in the market places of Morocco, so their recipes call for a sectioned
chicken, but I prefer to use thighs which all cook at the same time and stay
moister than white meat.

Four servings:

Eight chicken thighs, bone in and skinless, trimmed of fat
1 cup large green olives
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and cut across into thin slices
1 lemon, preferably organically grown
Kosher or sea salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon powdered
½ teaspoon saffron, optional
1 cup water or light chicken stock
½ cup pine nuts
¼ cup currents or raisins
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

At least 1 hour or up to a day before starting the recipe, wash the lemon
(using soap and rinsing well if it is not organically grown), slice very thin and
salt slices on both sides. Place salted slices into a strainer over a bowl.
Refrigerate the slices if doing a day ahead.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. and briefly rinse the lemon slices. Rinse
the chicken thighs under running water and place them, along with the water
or stock, into a tagine, Dutch oven or other heavy pan with vertical sides.  If
the thighs are in more than one layer, evenly divide onions, garlic, lemon
slices and spices among the thighs. Scatter the pine nuts, raisins and olives
over the chicken, grind fresh black pepper and drizzle with the olive oil.

If you are not using a tagine, cover the thighs with a layer of moistened
parchment paper or waxed paper. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover with the
lid and put the tagine into the oven. Cooking time will vary, depending upon
the size of the thighs, but should average 2 ½ hours. Check the chicken
thighs, starting at 2 hours. They are done when the temperature is at 175
degrees and the moist meat easily pulls from the bone. Taste the liquid,
correct the seasoning and serve immediately on warmed plates, spooning the
flavorful cooking liquid over the chicken. A dry Riesling works well with the
sweet and savory flavors of this dish.

If the chicken is done before you plan to serve it, simply remove it from the
heat and uncover. The entire recipe can be done a day ahead, but it is
important to remove the cover once it is done to prevent the retained heat
from overcooking the chicken. Refrigerate the chicken with juices after it has
cooled and reheat over low heat to serving temperature. Serve the chicken on
warmed plates with the cooking liquid.

We served the chicken with sautéed tiny eggplants and Israeli couscous
which were appropriate sides for a dish from this region. This is an easy
recipe which shows how a few different ingredients can transform ordinary
chicken thighs into a new cuisine and is great for either entertaining or
providing a change for your family.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH
Farm to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers'
Market.  Along with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and
berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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Moroccan Chicken
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