Recipe Thursday: Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives

This week’s recipe is by request. I like to have a variety of types of dishes in this blog so I had been putting this one off until we got a little more going on but not only did we make this just the other day but then, like I said, it was requested. I promise next week for something sweet. We don’t eat a lot of sweet bits around here but when we do, we have some favorites – should it be peanut butter based? Pie oriented? GF? What are your sweet needs?

Back to this dish – there are many variations, mine is long adapted from the marvelous Paula Wolfert – I’ve been making this for years and trying it out on unsuspecting dinner guests (it’s how we know if you’re our kind of people- ha!). Preserved lemons are key – don’t let anyone tell you that you can substitute – there is no substitute, and they take a month to set/preserve so either plan in advance, or buy them from me (Whole Foods has been known to carry them, too, but honestly – they are not as good as mine. I think they use Meyers lemons or something firmer/a little bitter, but they are good in a pinch), you can ‘almost’ quick preserve lemons (boil lemon rinds in salted water until essentially all water boils away, rinse, then use – or boil in salted water and let sit 3 hours in the hot water) but again, not as good as the real thing. They really impart a rich and addictive flavor.

And some people use rosy brown Nicoise olives, some Kalamata, but we prefer the flavor (with the preserved lemons) of green – something like Cerignola or Picholine – what you want are green cracked olives, which sometimes you can get true Manzanilla or some other fun underripe firm olive (Cracked means with the pit, and whacked with a heavy blade knife – we like the communal aspect of this dish and picking through olive pits and chicken bones is par for the course, however, in a pinch – pitted are fine, right now I can only get mine through Thrive so pitted are our option).

Other than that, there aren’t many ingredients – onions/cilantro/parsley/garlic/chicken/olives/preserved lemons and spices…it’s just all about the breaking down of the onions and the braising of the chickens (all at once, in a big magickal pot of deliciousness). The whole dish takes about an hour and a half (or so), and is best served over Rice or Sardinian (Fregola, Israeli, Pearl, etc) Couscous or Orzo, or even just a crusty (but not fussy) Bread (like a French Soft Loaf). This is a very streamlined version (the original marinating the chicken overnight, thickening the sauce with mashed livers, boiling the olives, and adding in the onions at stages) – which is pretty fantastic in a cast iron Dutch oven in a campfire, on the stovetop, or in the oven. I admit I am more heavy handed with the spices in this dish – if you like it rich, heavy hand them yourself (I double the amounts).

As I mentioned above (and as with most Moroccan dishes) this meal is meant to be served communally. I have a lovely Safi platter that works great – layer the couscous (or what have you, if using) on the bottom, ladle a little gravy/olives/lemons, then the chicken – whole or torn apart a bit, then ladled with more gravy/olives/lemons – served with lemon wedges around the edge. Everyone chooses their ‘corner’ and stays in their ‘area’ (you get adept at undermining areas so that choice chicken or olives fall into your ‘area’ – ha!). If using olives with pits and chickens with bones, provide a ‘bone bowl’ for discards.

Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives

Serves 4

  • 1 whole Chicken (3-5lbs, depending on how many people, this recipe is easily doubled/tripled, etc, can also easily be made with boneless chicken though I would definitely then use the livers and a bit more olive oil, and reduce all cooking times by 10 minutes at least) [additional chicken livers if desired, 2 for every chicken]
  • 4 whole cloves of Garlic (halved into fat chunks if necessary)
  • 1 tsp ground Ginger
  • 1 tsp ground Paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground Cumin
  • 1/4 tsp ground Black Pepper
  • Sea Salt to taste
  • 1/4 tsp crushed Saffron
  • 3 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 1/2 cups Yellow or Vidalia Onion (2 cups chopped small, 1/2 cup grated)
  • 1/2 cup mixed chopped Parsley & Cilantro (I have made this with just 1/2cup Parsley when Cilantro has not been available and it was delicious)
  • 1 1/2 cups Green Cracked Olives (see description on olives above), rinsed in hot water a few times, set aside
  • 2 Preserved Lemons (you will want the equivalent of the skins of 2 lemons – rinse and scrape out the pulp and the veiny strands leaving the rind/meat of the rind), cut into long strips and set aside
  • 2 Fresh Lemons (or 2 Tbsp Lemon Juice)
  • Pearl Couscous, Rice (White or Brown), Orzo, or French Bread to Serve

In a Large heavy bottom pot (Dutch oven or Roaster), stir chopped Onions, Garlic, Herbs, Spices and 2 Tbsp Olive Oil together [and chicken livers, if desired]. Place whole chicken on top of veg/spices and rub down with remaining Olive Oil and a bit of Sea Salt. Add 2 cups of water around chicken and either bring to a boil on the stovetop/cover/and simmer 30 minutes OR cover and Roast at 425 degrees or cook near hot coals in an outdoor fire (if using fire, make sure to rotate Dutch oven frequently). Be sure to turn chickens once or twice during this cooking time.

After 30 minutes, remove livers if using – mash – and return to pot with grated onion, add water if necessary (do not let onions burn – you are essentially making a thick sauce with them) – if stovetop, continue cooking 20 minutes, partially covered, if oven or fire – return lid and cook another 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cook rice or couscous/orzo according to directions.

After the 15-20 minutes, add Preserved Lemons and Olives to pot and cook another 10 minutes (if stovetop, do this uncovered, if oven or fire, return cover). Chicken should be falling off the bone at this point. If gravy is ‘loose’, remove chicken and reduce sauce to half over a moderate boil (add fresh lemon juice when to desired thickness or save until the end, see below). Salt to taste (though I doubt you will need to with the olives and the lemons).

In a Large platter, pile the rice/couscous/orzo, ladle some of the onion/olives/lemon gravy over, place chicken on top, ladle more gravy – and either squeeze a little lemon overtop, place lemon wedges around edge for guests to treat their own, or sprinkle lemon juice over dish before serving. (Can also add a few sprigs of cilantro or parsley for garnish). See above for communal etiquette – enjoy!

Published by Rachael M Rollson

creative life-learner

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