About a month ago, after years of saying “I’m going to do that”, I finally got around to preserving some lemons. If you haven’t read the previous post about the beginnings of the Preserved Lemon Project, you can find the post here. Basically, I set a goal for myself to recreate some wonderful Moroccan cuisine that I was lucky enough to sample a while back. Preserved Lemons are a staple in Moroccan cooking. Without the lemons, my previous attempts were just kind of “Meh”. I was eager to try again, using authentic ingredients.
My little jar of lemons hung out on the kitchen counter for a full month, and I finally got to try them out in a recipe on Monday night. For my first expedition into real Moroccan cuisine, I chose a traditional Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons recipe that I found over at Closet Cooking. I looked through a bunch of different tagine recipes, and they all looked fairly similar. I liked that this one included a touch of honey, as I was going for that salty-sweet-savory flavor. Plus, it seemed simple enough and on a weeknight, I’m always up for simple.
First things first, I mixed together my spice rub for the chicken.
Paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, salt and pepper went into my little bowl.
I decided to use chicken breasts and a few legs in my dish, so I sliced the breasts in half and put them in a large Ziploc bag along with the legs. Then, I sprinkled the spice rub over the chicken, closed the bag, and moved the chicken around until it was all evenly coated.
I figured I’d let the chicken hang out for a bit so the flavors could permeate the chicken while I prepared my other ingredients.
It was time to open the lemons!
I popped open the jar and took a sniff. It smelled perfectly lemony and the lemons were soft, fully macerated, and surrounded by a smooth, salty syrup. (THANK GOD!) In all honesty, if I’d opened the jar and gas popped or the lemons smelled off at all, I wouldn’t have used them. Before you use your lemons, check for the creepy stuff….mold, strong odd odors, an explosion of juice as you open the jar for the first time. These can all be signs of lemons gone bad.
Thankfully, my lemons were good to go. For this recipe, I needed one lemon, so I grabbed a fork and fished one out. Don’t stick your fingers in the jar!! You don’t want to introduce any funky bacteria to the lemons. That’s just asking for trouble. Now that the jar was opened, it needs to be stored in the refrigerator, where the lemons will keep for a year!
I rinsed the (kind of slimy) syrup off of the lemon, dried it, and then used a spoon to scoop out the pulp. When using preserved lemons, you actually only want the pith and peel, not the fruit!
I sliced up my lemon, along with an onion, and garlic. I also grated up some ginger and got some red and green olives ready to roll. I just bought a small package of “gourmet” olives in the deli case at my grocery store and called it a day.
Once all of my ingredients were ready, I heated up a little bit of oil in a heavy pan on the stove top. I browned up the chicken, on all sides, in the oil. The minute the chicken hit the pan, I could smell those wonderful spices I was looking for. So far, so good!
Once the chicken was browned, I removed it to a plate and then added my onions to the pan. I let them sizzle for a bit and then added in the garlic and ginger.
Good things were happening.
I deglazed the pan with a bit of chicken broth and added the chicken back to the pan. The cover went on, I lowered the heat, and it simmered away for about fifteen minutes.
After that time, I uncovered the pan, added in my preserved lemon, olives, a touch of honey and a bit of Asian chili-garlic sauce. The recipe actually calls for harissa, which is a Tunisian chili paste. (Here’s a recipe for homemade harissa, if you’re interested.) I couldn’t find harissa in my grocery store, but I figured that one of the three different chili pastes I already had in my fridge would work. I chose the chili-garlic sauce, and it was perfect.
The top went back on the pan, and the mixture (that by this time was smelling AMAZING) simmered for 25 minutes more.
This gave me time to whip together some couscous to serve with the tagine. I cooked some pearl couscous in a bit of chicken broth. When it was done, I stirred in some golden raisins and a bit of parsley. Simple enough. I figured the sweet raisins would play nicely with the saltiness of the sauce.
My timer buzzed, I crossed my fingers, and took the lid off my pan. What I had in front of me was EXACTLY what I’d been looking for. I put some of the couscous on our plates, and heaped the savory stew over the top. The sauce was thick, rich and inviting. The chicken was so moist, it fell right off the bone. The flavor of the lemons, olives, the spices in the chicken and sauce, and the couscous with raisins was absolutely perfect. There was so much flavor going on…sweet, salty, sour, savory! I was thrilled! Would I munch on a preserved lemon by itself? Absolutely not, but mixed together with everything else on my plate, they were something really special.
If you haven’t preserved some lemons yet, give it a try! Or, if you don’t want to wait too long, you can probably find some at a specialty grocery store, or even on Amazon.com. This meal was definitely worth the wait, and I can’t wait to try out another recipe using my little lemons. Stay tuned!
MOROCCAN CHICKEN TAGINE WITH OLIVES, PRESERVED LEMONS AND COUSCOUS
Tagine recipe adapted from Closet Cooking
- For the tagine:
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. turmeric
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- Approx. 3 lbs. of bone-in chicken pieces (I used two large breasts, cut in half, and 3 legs)
- 2 Tbsp. canola oil
- 1 medium-sized onion, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tsp. ginger, grated
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1 preserved lemon, cleaned and sliced
- 1 cup assorted Mediterranean olives
- 1 Tbsp. harissa or another type of chili-garlic sauce
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
- For the couscous:
- 2 cups Israeli (pearl) couscous
- 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- Mix together the paprika, cayenne, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Place all of the chicken pieces in a large plastic storage bag. Pour the spice mixture in over the chicken and massage the bag until the spices are evenly distributed. Let the chicken sit with the spices for a few minutes while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.
- When ready, heat the oil in a large, heavy pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces and brown on all sides. Once browned, remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
- Add the onion to the pan and saute until soft, about 3 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium. Add the garlic and ginger to the pan and cook until fragrant, about a minute.
- Add the broth to the pan. Scrape up all of the browned bits on the bottom of the pan and get them into the sauce. Place the chicken back in the pan, cover the pan, and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add the preserved lemon slices, olives, harissa and honey and simmer, over medium-low heat, for 25 minutes.
- Bring the 2 1/2 cups of chicken broth to a boil on the stove. Add the couscous, stir, cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 10-12 minutes, or until all of the broth is absorbed and the couscous is soft. Stir in the raisins and chopped parsley.
- Scoop some couscous onto your plate. Top with the chicken and sauce. Sprinkle the parsley and cilantro over the top.