Remember when I said ‘when life gives you lemons, make preserved lemons’? If you’ve followed my advice you will now have a big jar of juicy, briny, pickled lemons sitting around on a shelf, or in the refrigerator somewhere – unless you’ve managed to eat them all already (which means you probably didn’t make enough).
I still have about half of my jar of preserved lemons and since it’s already been a good few months – let’s say half a year – since making them, they have turned deliciously soft, jammy and squishy on the inside and they taste even more delicious than they did in the beginning! I’ve tried them chopped up into a simple aglio olio pasta, blended into salad dressings, chopped up and sprinkled over a cheese-less seafood pizza and schmeared on cheese sandwiches, but the best dish I’ve tried them in so far is this Moroccan recipe for chicken with preserved lemons and olives.
Now, I am not saying that my version here is completely authentic, I mean, it’s probably not, but it’s definitely heavily influenced by the deep spicy flavors of North-African dishes and I’ve tried my best to keep the flavor profiles as close to traditional Moroccan recipes as possible (if you disagree with me, or have some tips or tricks please let me know!). As for my method of cooking this dish, that’s probably far from traditional.
I’ve seen many recipes for this dish in which the chicken is chopped into large chunks and slowly cooked as a tajine dish (also called maraq in other regions), named so after the earthenware cooking and serving pot that is commonly used in Moroccan, Algerian, Libyan and plenty of other cuisines to cook casserole, or stew-type dishes. Cooking with a tajine allows the heating to be more evenly distributed than with a regular skillet, and, most importantly, the liquids that get released from the food while it cooks circulate within the pot, effectively basting the food and keeping it moist. Sadly, I don’t have a tajine (shameful, really), but if you do, please use it for this recipe and cook it in the tajine on the stovetop over low heat (though you might want to chop up the chicken in that case to make it fit the pot).
If you also do not possess a beautiful earthenware tajine: luckily, it turns out you can make this chicken and preserved lemon dish by using a Dutch oven, iron cast skillet with a lid, or even an oven dish tightly closed off with a tin-foil hat (my shoddy method of choice here) and the meat still turns out deliciously juicy and tender albeit with a less beautiful presentation than as if you would’ve used a traditional tajine.
Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives
- 1.5 – 1.8kg whole chicken, or about the same amount in chicken thighs
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh or ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 6 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
- 80ml olive oil
- 1 small preserved lemon
- 30 black, or green olives, whole, or sliced in half with stones removed
- 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
- Pinch of saffron threads
- 400ml water or unsalted chicken broth
- 25g butter
- Bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- Serve with cous cous, chickpeas, or rice
- Marinate chicken: In a bowl combine half of the olive oil with the turmeric, ginger, cumin, pepper and half of the crushed garlic cloves. Rub chicken all over and inside the cavity with the mixture. Cover the chicken with foil and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours, or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
- Remove the pulp from the preserved lemon and finely chop or mush it (remove pips). Thinly slice the peel of the preserved lemon. Keep chopped pulp and peel separately.
- Add the rest of the olive oil, finely chopped onion, chopped preserved lemon pulp, and the rest of the garlic to a saucepan, frying pan, or large oven-proof pan over medium-high heat. Sauté until onion turns soft and translucent.
- Transfer cooked onions to an ovenproof dish (if you were not using this already to cook the onions) and add chopped preserved lemon peel, black olives, saffron threads, butter and water or broth. Stir to combine.
- Place marinated chicken in the ovenproof dish with the ‘sauce’ and cover with a lid, or aluminum foil. When using foil, make sure you close off the edges and other openings as tightly as possible to let no steam escape. Place in the preheated oven and cook, covered, for 30 minutes.
- After cooking the chicken for 30 minutes, carefully remove the foil or lid (watch out for steam) and roast chicken uncovered for another 25 - 30 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken and the chicken to brown nicely.
- Serve with the ‘sauce’ scooped over the chicken and sprinkled with some chopped parsley.