As promised, this was the weekend we christened the tagine and tested out our first recipes from Paula Wolfert's Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco. Things got started on Saturday when, after hours of deliberation (okay, maybe just an hour), we decided upon Chicken with Lemons and Olives Emshmel as our main course for Sunday night's dinner. We had agreed that we wanted to start with a chicken recipe, and Wolfert's section on chicken dishes starts off with "Four Different Ways to Make Chicken with Lemon and Olives." This sounded like a good place to start, so then we just had to narrow down field, and Wolfert's description of this "classic Moroccan dish... served in an intricately spiced, creamy, lemony, and sublime sauce" was enough to seal the deal.
We made a trip to Vito's--our preferred neighborhood butcher--to pick up a couple of healthy-sized chickens and get them cut into pieces, and then it was time to go home and prepare our birds. Wolfert recommends the following method:
Wash the chicken in salted water, then drain. Pound 4 cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons of salt into a paste in a large bowl. Toss the chicken parts in the bowl, making sure to coat the pieces as well as possible. Afterwards, rinse the poultry well under running water until it no longer smells of garlic. [The garlic is used to removed bitterness, as well as to help release the chicken's flavors, like a natural MSG.] Drain the chicken pieces well. Now you're chicken is ready to go.
Chicken with Lemons and Olives Emshmel
2-3 chickens, whole or cut into pieces, with their livers
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 tsp (roasted then freshly) ground cumin
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup salad oil
1 tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 cups grated onion, drained
1/4 tsp pulverized saffron
1/2 cup mixed, chopped fresh herbs (green coriander and parsley)
1 1/2 cups ripe "green-brown" olives, such as Royal-Victorias (or, in our case, Kalamatas)
2 preserved lemons
2 to 3 fresh lemons
The day before, prepare chicken according to the instructions above, then marinate the chicken and the livers in 1 teaspoon of salt, the remaining 2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin, the spices, and the salad oil. Refrigerate, covered.
The next day saute 1/2 cup of the grated onion in the olive oil for about 1-2 minutes in a large pot or casserole, then add the chicken, the livers, and the marinade. Add the saffron, the herbs, and 2 cups of water, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, turning the chicken often in the sauce.
While the chickens are cooking, rinse and pit the olives. Set aside.
Remove the chicken livers from the casserole or pot and mash them finely. Return to the casserole or pot with the remaining grated, drained onions. Add water, if necessary. Continue cooking 20 minutes, partially covered.
Rinse the preserved lemons (discarding the pulp, if desired) and quarter them. Add the olives and the preserved lemons to the sauce when the chickens are very tender and the flesh falls easily from the bone. Continue cooking 5-10 minutes, uncovered.
Transfer the chickens to a tagine or other serving dish and spoon the olives and lemons around them. Cover and keep warm in the oven. By boiling rapidly, uncovered, reduce the sauce to 1 1/2 cups. Add the juice of 2 fresh lemons to the sauce in the pan. Add more salt (and more lemon juice, if desired) to taste. Pour the sauce over chickens and serve at once.
[note: we omitted the step involving the livers and the dish still turned out wonderfully. Wolfert claims this step adds "heft" to the sauce. We'll try it next time.]
We served the chicken with Couscous Casablancaise and...
I cup lamb broth from the couscous pot (I added 1 cup vegetable broth from the Couscous Casablancaise instead)
1 tsp Harissa paste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 pinch of cumin, to taste
Sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley and/or fresh coriander
Combine all ingredients in small saucepan over high heat. Beat well and pour into a small serving bowl. Serve at once.
[recipe courtesy of Paula Wolfert]
as well as...
Salade de Pomme de Terre au Cumin aux Pieds Noirs
1 lb. small red potatoes, quartered
2 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 sweet onion (such as a vidalia), finely diced
2 tsp (roasted and freshly) ground cumin
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbs red wine vinegar (you may need a little more than this, actually)
10 green olives, pitted
Salt and pepper to taste
12 fresh cilantro sprigs
Cook the potatoes in boiling water until tender. Drain well. While the potatoes are still warm, place them in a salad bowl and mix them with the tomatoes, onion, cumin, olive oil, vinegar olives, salt and pepper. Refrigerate, covered, for 1-2 hours, then toss with cilantro right before serving.
[recipe courtesy of North Africa: the Vegetarian Table by Kitty Morse]
I think it's safe to say the meal was a success. The chicken dish is really quite extraordinary. The sauce really begins to develop some depth around the time you add the olives and the preserved lemons. The preserved lemons are absolutely essential to this dish--don't omit them. Most good Middle Eastern specialty stores should stock them. They add a beautiful flavor to the sauce, and they also give the sauce a certain silkiness. If you're not sure about the flavor, be sure to pulp them before throwing them in. Then you remove the chicken pieces, the olives, and the lemon bits, and you reduce the sauce, and the sauce turns into something truly otherworldly (I can't even imagine what the chicken livers would do to it). We poured the sauce over the chicken pieces in the tagine before bringing the tagine to the table, but we also served a gravy boat full of the sauce on the side so that we and our guests could sauce the chicken according to our tastes.
It's official: this dish comes highly recommended.
PS--you'll notice there isn't any Ras el Hanout listed for this recipe (after all my talk). I meant to add a sprinkle to the sauce last minute as a secret ingredient, but, quite frankly, I forgot. In any case, I don't think it needed it.
Stay tuned for an actual recipe including Ras el Hanout...