There is a wonderful moment when a dish that appears exotic and complicated is suddenly revealed as just what another woman sees as a normal part of her everyday life. So it was, for me, with a Moroccan tagine.
I had made the classic Chicken with Preserved Lemons from Claudia Roden's "Arabesque" and my attempt was good but not great, perhaps because I had not reduced the juices enough at the end or possibly because this dish was not part of my life I had not taken the trouble to find real preserved lemons, but used instead "pickled lemons" from my local shop.
Then in Marrakech my daughter-in-law and I took a cooking class at La Maison Arab and my eyes were opened. As our teacher explained, a tagine is what she makes for dinner every night. whether with chicken or lamb or simply with vegetables alone. A variation on a simple stew, it is easy, taking less than an hour from start to finish.
All you need for two is a few pieces of chicken, (our class used drumsticks and thighs), plus an onion, garlic cloves, parsley, coriander, purple or green olives, ground ginger, ground turmeric and a pinch of saffron threads. Plus, of course, real preserved lemons which can be found in good food shops and some deli's and kept in stock.
This is the recipe from the Maison La Arab cookbook, "Moroccan Cooking - Our Dadas Recipes"
1 lb/500 grams chicken - either in pieces or cut into chunks.
1/2 red onion finely chopped
1/2 preserved lemon
10 purple or green olives
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
t tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped coriander
2 tabespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon clarified butter
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
a pinch saffron threads
Cut the preserved lemon in half and separate the flesh from the peel. Reserve the peel and finely chop the preserved lemon pulp
Place the chopped lemon pulp in a tagine, casserole or large, heavy pot. Add olive oil, clarified butter, garlic, parsley coriander, spices and 1/2 cup cold water. Mix well.
Add chicken pieces to the pot, piercing them with a sharp knife so they absorb the spices. Mix all the ingredients until the chicken pieces are well coated with the marinade.
Add the finely chopped onion to the pot. Mix well.
On medium-low heat, sear the chicken pieces for 15 minutes. Cover the pot with the lid to keep the moisture in. Turn each piece of chicken over and add a bit of water if necessary.
Add 1/2 cup cold water, increase the heat to medium, cover the pot and bring the cooking juices to a boil. Cook, covered, for 30 minutes or until the chicken is done. Check on the chicken from time to time and add water if necessary; there should always be around 1 cup of sauce in the pot for the meat not to burn.
Once the chicken is done, taste the sauce and correct the seasoning.
Add the lemon peel and olives to the pot. Continue cooking, uncovered, for a few minutes, until the sauce slightly thickens.