For years my familiarity with Moroccan style chicken was limited to grilled
Moroccan – spiced chicken prepared by my relatives in Israel – and poached
chicken that accompanied couscous at casual restaurants in Paris.
realized that there was much more to the Moroccan chicken recipe repertoire
when, in the early 1980s, I dined at Timgad, a Michelin-starred restaurant that
was considered the best Moroccan restaurant in Paris at the time. There I
sampled tasty tajines, or Moroccan stews made in a shallow clay pot, called a
tajine, that has a cone-shaped lid. One chicken tajine came with a flavorful
sauce that gained pungency from olives and preserved lemons. Another was
a sweet chicken tajine with prunes and roasted almonds.
“There are so
many chicken and other poultry dishes in Moroccan cuisine,” writes my friend
Paula Wolfert in her new book The Food of Morocco, “I could write an entire book
about the subject and still not include them all.”
Many of the techniques
and flavorings used by Moroccan cooks are different from those I learned in
cooking school in France. Wolfert makes Tangier-style fried chicken by
marinating the pieces with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, ginger and cinnamon,
then frying them after dipping them in beaten eggs, bread crumbs and again in
beaten eggs. She steams whole chickens with saffron butter and serves them with
a mixture of cumin, salt and cayenne pepper.
To make Marrakech-style
double-cooked red chicken, she marinates the chicken in a
garlic-cilantro-saffron paste, and then cooks it with grated onion, cumin, black
pepper, ginger, cayenne, a generous amount of sweet paprika, which makes it red,
and a little water. Finally she broils the chicken with more cumin and paprika
until brown and serves it with its reduced sauce.
Unlike French chicken
stews, for Moroccan tajines there is no need to sauté the chicken to brown it as
a first step. For her sweet tajine of chicken with tomato jam, Wolfert marinates
chicken thighs with crushed garlic, pepper, ginger, olive oil and saffron, and
then cooks them with their marinade and grated onion, cilantro, cinnamon and a
little water in a covered pan, later adding chopped ripe tomatoes and tomato
paste. After removing the chicken, she simmers its tomato sauce slowly until
thick and finishes it with honey and cinnamon. She serves the chicken in
its sauce topped with toasted sesame seeds.
Her chicken tajine with
eggplant-tomato jam has a tomato sauce cooked with mashed fried eggplant with
cumin, paprika, cayenne and lemon juice instead of honey and
Because chicken with olives is such an important classic,
Wolfert gives eight variations of the dish. To make chicken smothered with
olives, she simmers chicken pieces slowly with grated onion, parsley, cilantro
and a paste of olive oil, garlic, ground ginger, black pepper, cumin, paprika,
saffron and water. Next, she bakes the chicken pieces on a baking sheet in a hot
oven to crisp and brown the skin, while simmering the sauce with soaked pitted
green-ripe olives until thick and flavoring it with lemon juice.
distinctive flavors of fresh fennel and green aniseed offset the pungency of the
preserved lemons and olives in another chicken-with-olives dish. In a third
chicken and olive stew, Wolfert adds preserved lemons, lightly toasted nigella
seeds, tomatoes and diced potatoes.
Moroccan chicken dishes have such
bold flavors that they can be tasty even when they are made low in fat, as in
the chicken in tomato pepper sauce below. Naturally, couscous is an ideal
accompaniment for any of these dishes, as the rich sauce produced by the chicken
goes so well with this tiny Moroccan pasta.LOW-FAT BAKED CHICKEN IN
TOMATO PEPPER SAUCE Makes 6 servings
Broiled sweet peppers, cumin and generous
amounts of garlic and cilantro make a flavorful base for this chicken’s sauce.
For this savory dish, based on a Moroccan Jewish recipe, I bake the chicken
pieces without their skin to make the entree low in fat. The chicken reheats
beautifully in its sauce in a covered baking dish in a low oven.
sweet green peppers
✔ 1 large red bell pepper
✔ 5 large garlic cloves, peeled
1⁄2 cup small cilantro (fresh coriander) sprigs
✔ An 800-gr. (28-ounce) and a
400-gr. (14-ounce) can of tomatoes, drained
✔ 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive
✔ 1 Tbsp. sweet paprika
✔ 21⁄4 tsp. ground cumin
✔ Salt and freshly ground
✔ Pinch of cayenne pepper or hot paprika (optional)
✔ 2 kg. (41⁄2 pounds)
chicken pieces, preferably legs or thighs, skin removed
✔ 1 large onion, halved,
✔ Cilantro sprigs for garnish
Broil green and red peppers, turning every 5 minutes, until their skins are blistered and charred, for a total of
about 20 minutes. Transfer peppers to bowl and cover; or put in a plastic bag
and close bag. Let stand 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, mince garlic in food
processor, add 1⁄2 cup cilantro sprigs, and mince together. Add tomatoes and
chop coarsely by pulsing.
Peel peppers using a paring knife. Halve
peppers, discarding seeds and ribs, and cut in 1-cm. (1⁄2-inch) dice.
a medium saute pan, warm oil over low heat. Add 11⁄2 tsp. paprika and 3⁄4 tsp
cumin and mix well. Stir in tomato-garlic mixture, roasted bell peppers, salt
and pepper. Bring sauce to a simmer. Cook uncovered over medium heat,
stirring often, 10 minutes or until sauce thickens. Taste and adjust seasoning;
add cayenne pepper if needed.
Preheat oven to 200ºC (400ºF). Put chicken
pieces in a shallow roasting pan large enough to hold them in one
layer. Season them on both sides with a little salt if desired, pepper,
remaining 11⁄2 tsp. cumin and remaining 11⁄2 tsp. paprika. Rub
spices into chicken pieces. Top chicken with sliced onion.
with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, turn pieces over and bake 20
minutes. Add 1⁄3 cup hot water to pan juices. Spoon pepper sauce over chicken.
Bake uncovered, basting once or twice, about 25 minutes or until chicken is
tender and juices run clear when thickest part of a thigh piece is pierced with
a sharp knife. Serve chicken with sauce. Garnish with cilantro
CHICKEN WITH PRESERVED LEMON AND OLIVES (M’CHERMEL)
This recipe is from The Food of Morocco.
Author Paula Wolfert
first ate this dish in Meknes, sometimes called The City of Olives. “Djej
m’chermel is a classic Moroccan chicken preparation,” writes Wolfert, “served in
a sublime, intricately spiced, creamy, lemony sauce with a scattering of
olives.” She recommends cooking it in a large wide casserole
Wolfert notes that the ideal olive for most tajines “is often
referred to as ‘red,’ though they’re actually closer in color to violet or
red-brown.” She calls them “midway olives,” as they are halfway between green
You can find preserved lemons at wellstocked
✔ 2 chickens, quartered, with their livers
✔ 2 garlic
cloves, thinly sliced
✔ Salt (optional, see Note 1 below)
✔ 1 tsp. ground ginger
✔ 1 tsp. sweet paprika
✔ 1⁄4 tsp. ground cumin
✔ 1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground black
✔ 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
✔ 3 large red onions, grated, rinsed and
squeezed dry (about 21⁄2 cups)
✔ 1⁄4 tsp. ground turmeric
✔ 2 Tbsp. saffron
water (see Note 2 below)
✔ 1⁄4 cup chopped cilantro (fresh coriander)
✔ 1⁄4 cup
✔ 11⁄2 cups green-ripe, midway or red olives
✔ 2 preserved
lemons, rinsed, pulp removed if desired, and quartered 2 to 3 lemons, halved The
Rinse chickens and pat dry; trim away excess fat. Slide your fingers
under the skin to loosen it from the flesh. Mix garlic with 1⁄4 to 1 tsp. salt,
ginger, paprika, cumin, black pepper and oil and rub the mixture under and over
the chicken skin. Mix the excess with the livers. Cover and refrigerate
overnight.The next day:
Place the chickens, livers and marinade in a
large wide casserole dish. Add 1⁄2 cup of the grated onion, the turmeric,
saffron water, herbs and 1⁄2 cup water and slowly heat almost to a boil. Cover
and cook at a simmer for 30 minutes, turning chickens often in the
Remove chicken livers from casserole and finely mash them. Return
to casserole along with the remaining onions. (This will give a good deal of
heftiness to the sauce.) Add water if necessary and continue cooking, partially
covered, for 20 minutes, or until chicken is very tender and flesh is just
beginning to fall easily from the bone.
Meanwhile, rinse and pit olives.
If they seem a little bitter, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and drain.
Add olives and preserved lemon quarters to the
Transfer chicken to a serving dish and spoon olives and lemons
around them. Cover and keep warm. Reduce the sauce to 11⁄2 cups by
boiling rapidly, uncovered. Add juice of 2 lemons to sauce. Then add salt to
taste and more lemon juice, if desired.
Pour sauce over chicken and serve
at once.Note 1:
Wolfert’s recipe calls for 1 tsp. salt in the
spice mixture for rubbing the chicken in paragraph 2. Because kosher chickens
have already been salted, use less or omit it, according to your
Saffron water: Dry 1⁄2 tsp. crumbled strands of
saffron in a warm (not hot) skillet. Crush saffron again, then soak in 1 cup hot
water. Store in a small jar in the refrigerator. This will keep for up to a
week. For longer storage, quadruple the recipe quantities, pour the saffron
water into a plastic ice-cube tray and freeze into cubes. Once they are frozen,
shake out the cubes and store in a freezer bag. Each cube will be equivalent to
2 Tbsp. saffron water. Faye Levy is the author of 'Faye Levy’s International
Chicken Cookbook' and of 'Feast from the Mideast.'