Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Green Olives

just off the stove

I will consider this post a success if, by the end, one of two things happens:

1. You feel inspired to tackle Moroccan cooking, immediately buy a tagine, preserve and then purée a batch of lemons, find a source for ras-el-hanout, and, in the short term at least, join me on a tagine-making bender, throwing any and everything possible into your new favorite kitchen tool.

2. You move to Schenectady so you, as I, have a Moroccan pantry in your backyard, a supply of Aneesa’s ras-el-hanout, preseved lemons, tomato jam, parsley chermoula, all of which make throwing together a Moroccan feast as effortless as popping a frozen pizza in the oven.

Either outcome will be a win for me, especially number two — perhaps we could meet for lunch? — but let’s start from the top.

Scenario #1. If you are more inclined to stay where you are and take a stab at tagine-style cooking…

…first disregard everything you know about braising, which typically calls for searing meat then finishing it in a covered pot with a small amount of liquid. Tagine cooking in essence is braising but there is no initial browning, no deglazing of the pan, no multi-step process. Everything gets thrown into the tagine at step one and forgotten until step two, at which point your food is cooked and you, pita bread in hand, are ready to attack it.

Despite having observed the process at Tara Kitchen, it took a lot for me to refrain from browning the chicken in a separate pan first, sautéing the onions in the rendered fat, and tossing it all in the tagine to finish. But with a tagine, there is no need to do this extra work. Sure, browning the skin might impart a bit of flavor, but not enough to warrant the extra effort and cleanup — this tagine of chicken, I can assure you, is plenty flavorful and colorful, too: the various spices in the ras-el-hanout, most likely the turmeric and paprika, imbue the dish with an inviting and appetizing yellow hue throughout.

This is how simple the assembly process is: In no particular order, throw into the base of the tagine a sliced onion and minced garlic clove, a dash of ras-el-hanout, a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of water, a spoonful of preserved lemon purée, and a handful each of raisins, green olives, and chopped parsley. Place your bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces on top and set the tagine on your stovetop. After 30 to 40 minutes over medium heat, the meat will begin pulling from the bones, and the juices will be bubbling all around, the flavors of the onions, preserved lemons, and ras-el-hanout stewing together into a fragrant and delectable sauce.

Although it has only been in my possession for one week, I am completely taken by my tagine. From the little bit of research I did online, I have learned that the conical lid is designed to promote the return of condensation to the base of the tagine, which keeps everything super moist. But what I love most of all is how nicely the food — chickpeas, fish, chicken, whatever — retains its heat throughout the meal.

Scenario #2. If you are thinking this all sounds great but you’d rather move to Schenectady because it just makes sense to let someone else build your Moroccan pantry for you…

… I totally understand. As I noted last week, this whole tagine-making process is astonishingly simple so long as you have a few ingredients on hand, most importantly the ras-el-hanout, the staple in every tagine I have learned to make thus far, but also preserved lemons (for this chicken dish and others) and tomato jam (for the chickpea tagine I mentioned last week) and harissa (for various other tagines).

I am all for making sauces and spice mixtures from scratch, but every so often, I think it makes sense to let someone else, someone more knowledgeable, do the work for you. Making preserved lemons — two ingredients, a basic process — is one thing; mixing ras-el-hanout — 14 or many more ingredients — is another. Sure the process of mixing spices, many of which you might have on hand, is simple, and might not take too long to get right, but if you find a good source for ras-el-hanout, I say go for it.

What do you think? Are you ready to pack up and meet me for lunch? Or does mixing together dozens of spices sound like fun? If any of you have made your own ras-el-hanout or can vouch for a good online source, I would love to hear from you.

As you can see, if you have ras-el-hanout (the orange spice mixture in the center) and preserved lemons (or preserved lemon purée) on hand, the ingredient list for this tagine is minimal.
ingredients

And the process is simple: From left to right, top to bottom, into the tagine throw: 1. Sliced onions and minced garlic. 2. Ras-el-hanout, olive oil and water. 3. Spoonful of preserved lemon purée 4. Green olives and raisins. 5. Chopped parsley. 6. Unseasoned, bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks.
making the tagines

I may have packed a few too many onion slices, chicken pieces, water, everything into my tagine — juices probably shouldn’t be bubbling up around the lid as shown here.
on the stovetop

serving the tagine

chicken tagine with preserved lemons and green olives

plate of chicken with preserved lemons

This is a 10-inch tagine, which I ended up purchasing from Tara Kitchen. Aneesa advised looking for a tagine with an air hole, and the two I ordered last week, despite the photo depicting an air hole, arrived without them. Aneesa further advised avoiding tagines that are painted, because the paints can leach into the food. Before using a tagine for the first time, soak it in water for 12 hours and let it dry completely — I waited 4 fours, but longer is probably better. Do not place the tagine on an electric coil stovetop. Diffusers apparently aren’t OK either. Tagines are prone to cracking especially when exposed to drastic temperature changes, so heat them up and cool them down slowly.
tagine

This Moroccan-cooking kick began in early December, when Ben and I joined a few friends at Tara Kitchen for a most delectable dinner. Shortly thereafter I made some preserved lemons and then attended a cooking class, where I stocked up on a few of Aneesa’s spice mixtures and sauces. A week ago I purchased a tagine from Tara Kitchen and thus far couldn’t be happier with how it is working.

Aneesa sells all of her spices and sauces as well as tagines at Tara Kitchen, and she offers cooking classes once a month. A few of her delectable creations can be found at the Nisakyuna Coop, too.

Tara Kitchen: 431 liberty street | schenectady | 518-708-3485

Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Green Olives

Serves 2

Notes: I have been using a 10-inch tagine, but I probably should be using a larger one. It works, but it's definitely crowded and stirring can be a little tricky. Two or three bone-in, skin on chicken pieces is probably ideal for this size tagine. Also, you can use boneless, skinless chicken thighs, and the cooking will take half the time, but I don't think it's quite as tasty as using the bone-in, skin-on pieces. You also could use breasts, but as you know, I am not a fan.

You also do not need a tagine to make this dish. Before I bought a tagine, I used my everyday pan, which worked well. I had to use a little more water, but otherwise, the process was the same.

OK, the two ingredients you will need to make or find to make this dish are preserved lemons and ras-el-hanout. I posted two recipes for preserved lemons a little while ago, but if you know where to buy them, go for it. At the Tara Kitchen cooking class I attended, I learned that Aneesa purées her preserved lemons and uses spoonfuls of the purée in her dishes, and so I did the same.

As for the ras-el-hanout, I have not yet tried mixing up my own, so I have two thoughts for you: 1. To keep things simple, find a pre-mixed ras-el-hanout from a spice market or online source. 2. Try mixing up your own (then email me your recipe). Aneesa’s contains 14 different spices: paprika, parsley, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, star anise, cumin, coriander, thyme, fenugreek, pepper, turmeric and ginger. This recipe looks promising, though I can't say for sure. As soon as I take a stab at this, I will report back.

Another thing I learned was that fresh cilantro is not common in Moroccan cooking. I love fresh cilantro and loved it in a tagine recipe that one of you sent me, but I wanted to keep the recipe provided here as similar to what I learned in class as possible. Feel free to use some here, however, if you like it. Ground coriander, on the other hand, is common in Moroccan cooking and is often included in ras-el-hanout.

Finally, raisins are not typical in this dish — they are Aneesa's addition — but I really like the sweetness they offer especially against the saltiness of the olives and preserved lemons.

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ras-el-hanout
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup water
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons preserved lemon purée
  • handful of green olives (I like them with the pits, but buy what you like)
  • handful of raisins, preferably golden
  • handful of chopped parsley, or more or less to taste
  • 4 pieces bone-in, skin-on dark meat chicken
  • pita, naan or some sort of flatbread or couscous or rice for serving

Instructions

  1. Place all of the ingredients (using the 1/4 cup of water to start) in the base of the tagine. Cover it and set it over medium to medium-high heat.
  2. After 10 to 15 minutes, remove the lid (using a towel or pot holder) and give everything a stir. The liquid should be gently bubbling. If the moisture level is looking low, add another 1/4 cup water. Return the lid and continue cooking for another 15 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary to keep the liquid bubbling. Check again and dip a spoon into the sauce to taste. If it needs salt, add a pinch or add another spoonful of preserved lemon purée. Continue cooking until the meat is pulling from the bone. The liquid should be bubbling vigorously at this point. Serve with warm bread or couscous or rice.
http://www.alexandracooks.com/2014/03/12/chicken-with-preserved-lemons-green-olives/

Upon returning from Tara Kitchen and learning that Aneesa purées her preserved lemons and uses spoonfuls of the purée in her dishes, I did the same:
preserved lemon purée

Tara Kitchen ras-el-hanout:
ras-el-hanout

I am a novice tagine user, but I am a fan…look at those juices:
juices

59 Comments

  1. This looks so freaking good! I cannot wait to make the recipe and I don’t have the spices or the preserved lemons! Better get online for the one and making the other! I love chicken with the lemons and olives anyway, anything that smacks of Greek flavors, this just looks like it goes to a flavor level I’ve never tried before…I can’t wait. I won’t be able to use a tagine to cook in but I’ll still make it (electric stove) and I know it will be a great success already! Celebrate Spring with a new recipe! Hope the baby bird is doing better!! XXOO!

    Reply
    • Thanks Laurie! Wrenipoo is doing much better. Just a slight fever this am, but otherwise in good spirits.

      And I was talking about this with my mom today — you probably could make it without the preserved lemons. Just use a little lemon zest and a splash of juice. As for the spice mixture, Rose pointed me to spiceace, whose ras-el-hanout looks similar in color and in ingredients to Tara Kitchen’s: http://www.spiceace.com/ras-el-hanout.html)

      Hope all is well! xoxo

      Reply
    • Janel, I am not sure if they do — I would definitely look into this before investing in one. Funny enough, we are moving in about a month to a house that has a stovetop with the surface you are describing. You can put the tagines in the oven, just fyi, which is probably what I will do until I know it is same on the stovetop.

      Reply
  2. That looks spectacular. I want it RIGHT NOW! But I will have to wait for my lemons…. A quick question about the preserved lemon puree: how do you store? and how long will keep? And for those interested spiceace seems to have ras-el-hanout. Can’t vouch for it and don’t work for them- just reporting!

    Thanks for this recipe!!

    Reply
    • Rose — thanks so much for the tip on spiceace. I might have to order some myself to compare. (For anyone else interested, here is the link: http://www.spiceace.com/ras-el-hanout.html)

      As for storage, Aneesa said that you can just store it at room temperature — because there is so much salt and because the ph is so low, there is no need to refrigerate. My Jerusalem cookbook says to store them in a cool place, however, so perhaps a cool, unrefrigerated spot is ideal. Hope that helps!

      Reply
      • Thanks for the tips Alexandra! You inspired me to get on the preserved lemon bandwagon and now they are preserving. I must be patient, I know, but I want them now so I can make this chicken. Also the chickpea tangine. And the….. You’ve created a monster, but a very happy one! Thank you!

        Reply
    • Nothing would make me happier, Talley! Wren and Alice could be pals. As for dessert, what would you like? You name it, and I will make it especially if you relocating to Schenectady is part of the plan :)

      Reply
  3. You’ve just made my day!! We live 25 minutes from Schenectady and I have Friday off! Lunch at Tara Kitchen it is, now’s the time to introduce my toddler tooroccan food!

    Reply
    • Yay! I wish I could meet you there! May I make a few suggestions? The chickpea tagine is one of my favorites, but I also really like the spinach with lentils and artichoke hearts. The fish with honey and almonds is delicious, too, and of course, I love the chicken with preserved lemons but they stopped making it with dark meat, which is my fave, but if you are a fan of chicken breasts, that is a good one, too. And, the parsley chermoula with pita bread is a delicious appetizer. Have so much fun!

      Reply
  4. This looks amazing, I have 4 jars of preserved lemons in my fridge. Made them last month for the first time and have not used them for anything. Could I put this together in a dutch oven with similar results?

    Reply
    • Yes, absolutely! The first time I made it, I used my everyday pan — it’s like a shallow braising pan. Just keep an eye on the water level, you might (you might not) have to add more water every so often if it is evaporating too quickly.

      Reply
  5. I can’t take it anymore! Just ordered my next-day delivery ras-al-hanout and will pick up lemons on my way home from the office for preserving. This is making my mouth water, yum! I’m so pleased you landed the right kind of tagine and that you shared your experiences with us. I only have an electric stove so I will stick to your tips for using a regular pot — thanks for that! I’m loving all that you’re learning and so excited to introduce some new flavors to our home :)

    Reply
    • you are too funny sophie! I love it. Can’t wait for you to try the ras-el-hanout. I think it will be good on everything. In this month’s Bon Appetit, I saw Bobby Flaw rubbing spices all over his vegetables both for spice and crunch.

      Reply
  6. it was such a nice surprise to stumble across your blog via foodinjars when you first posted about the preserved lemon-off, because although i live in brooklyn i got married in the schenectady area and our rehearsal dinner was at tara kitchen. aneesa was a delight and my husband and i have been dreaming of tagines ever since. thank you thank you for posting this recipe and all the other helpful ideas for using of the preserved lemons, of which i now have a surfeit!

    Reply
    • That is so awesome that you had your rehearsal dinner at Tara Kitchen. Aneesa really is a delight as is her husband — I am dying to explore more of Schenectady but the only place I want to eat right now is TK. In addition to the food, there is just something about that place. I want to buy everyone I know tagine. Thanks so much for writing in! So happy to hear you enjoyed the preserved lemon-off :)

      Reply
  7. I have an enormous jar of preserved lemons that I made and have been putting them in everything from burgers to yogurt to homemade liver pate (I know, I know). I never thought to zap them and add to a stew type dish. Post is just in time . . . I thought I had every kitchen toy I wanted but now I know what to ask for for my Bday in April. Thanks !

    Reply
  8. This looks so, so amazing. I have never had anything cooked in a tagine but now I want one too! Can you share the chickpea version?? I would love to make it! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Katie, yes I will! I just need to figure out how to make the tomato jam, which is high on my list of things to do. Are you in SoCal yet? I think you are. I need to send you my google doc. Doing so right now. I hope you are well!

      Reply
      • Yes, I am in SD now! It’s so beautiful and warm and sunny, and I love it so far! Haven’t had much time to venture to the markets yet (thanks to a crazy boss at a cafe), but definitely hope to soon.

        Reply
        • It is SO beautiful and warm and sunny. I am jealous. Enjoy it. It truly is one of the most amazing beautiful places in the world. Now for the google doc…I am easily distracted.

          Reply
  9. Oh, Ali, my husband is not going to be happy with you because you’re giving me just the excuse I’ve been looking for to finally get that Le Creuset tagine I’ve had my eye on….Other than that, this is a beautiful meal and I’m still kicking myself for not having made the preserved lemons already! A couple of years ago, I went to a Moroccan cooking class and we made a very similar dish and I’ve made it a few times without a tagine, The flavors are just so incredible and warming. Love the photos that you took in the class!

    Reply
    • Yesssss…you must. And he won’t kill you once he takes a bite of the food emerging from that tagine…you’ve got just the excuse :) Isn’t Moroccan cooking fun? Wish I had discovered it sooner.

      Reply
  10. With nursing school and a pre-schooler, I usually threw stuff in a pot and let it cook, insert (lame excuse, laaaaaaame). But your cooking gives me reason to come here and just drool…someday…I’ll get to it…someday. *back to drooling*

    Reply
    • Not lame at all! I can only imagine how busy you are! I don’t know how you working/student mamas do it. It’s so hard. One day you will get back to it. I hope it’s soon :) Thanks for writing in.

      Reply
  11. Hi Ali,

    Making this tonight. Just pureed my lemons, they are incredibly salty. Is that how they’re supposed to taste?

    Reply
    • Yes! Way too salty to enjoy on their own. A spoonful will go a long way, and so definitely start with a little. You can always add another spoonful at the end if the preserved lemon flavor isn’t as pronounced as you would like, or if the dish needs more salt. Hope you like it!

      Reply
    • Hope you don’t mind me adding, you don’t puree the lemons, usually I rinse them before adding to whatever it is that we’re cooking and less is more. In Morocco what they generally do is use 1/2 a preserved lemon and put it in the middle of the tajine. Then as everyone eats straight from the tajine, you just take a little piece of the lemon if you like it. The flavour still goes all through the dish, but not like it would if you pureed them.

      Reply
  12. I have never been to NY except to change planes in NY York once when the world was flat. So I might not want to move out there, but a visit would be
    pretty cool Are you any where near the Finger Lake Wine district? I went to a Moroccan restaurant twice last year. I loved it. I would love this recipe, but I know I won’t do it, which makes me sad because I know this is a killer meal.

    Reply
  13. I’ve been looking for an excuse to buy a tagine! We sell preserved lemons, olives and ras el hanout at the shop where I work (Temecula Olive Oil) so I guess I do need to get the tagine and start cooking.

    Reply
  14. YES!…one more week until those Preserved lemons are ready. Gotta find me some ras-el-hanout in the mean time!!

    AND your tagine is so cute! It looks shorter than mine (I’ll post a picture soonish), and mines is painted…I wanted a plain one but apparently a lot of the reddish ones in Morocco contain traces of lead and can’t be imported into Australia. So mines is made from white clay from Fes and is lead free..hopefully paint-leeching free too!

    I have found throwing pretty much anything in the tagine with some vege and herbs and spices turns out excellent. Only bad experience is once a lot of water came out of the chicken and I ended up with something far more soupy than expected (still super tender and tasty though).

    Reply
  15. I have my preserved lemons ready to use now all I need is the tangine! What a scrumptious reason to shop for something new for the kitchen! I adore the simplicity of the recipe that yields such flavorful results!

    Reply
  16. hi, i really don’t want to sound like a know it all. i’m not an expert in moroccan cooking. but i’ve lived in morocco for the past 7 years and wanted to share a few thoughts –
    as you say the raisins are not typical in this dish. i think they’re basically unheard of in this dish. most moroccans i know are purists when it comes to traditional food so i was really surprised that aneesa suggested this. i can imagine it might be good but i think it changes the dish a lot.
    also i really think the perserved lemons are necessary. juice and zest just can’t replace their chew and distinct flavor.
    fresh coriander is actually very common in moroccan cooking especially the combination coriander, parsley, garlic and olive oil which serves as a dressing/marinade.
    finally, in morocco pita bread is known as lebanese bread and isn’t eaten with tajines. unfortunately i’ve never found bread in the states that closely resembles basic moroccan bread. they are usually small fairly flat, slightly sweet loaves and often look more like rolls than loaves. a lot of people still make their bread each day and send it to be cooked in the neighborhood oven. does aneesa make bread?
    i’m sure aneesa is wonderful. i just think it’s important to remember that no one person can represent a nation of cooks and traditions.

    Reply
    • Hi Alexine,

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! Very interesting re cilantro. I’m actually relieved to hear that because I love cilantro and love it in this dish. I would agree with you about the preserved lemons — I just made the tagine with my aunt this weekend, and we used zest and lemon juice, and while it was good, it was different. Aneesa does not make bread — she serves the tagines with grilled pita bread.

      Reply
    • Alex, where in Morocco do you live? You’re right about the bread, for something similar you can try either a foccacia or ciabatta, which is what we use here in Melbourne, mainly because there isn’t enough time to make your own bread on a daily basis as they do in Morocco. My husband is from Marrakech and he’d have a heart attack if I put sultanas in the chicken tajine. Sultanas or raisins go with the lamb & prune tajine or a rabbit tajine which is amazing, tricky, but worth it if you can cook rabbit to perfection :D

      Reply
      • hi kate, i live in casablanca. the food is probably the best thing about living in morocco. i’m not (or no longer) much of a fan otherwise. i especially want to learn how to make good msemen (miloui) and harcha before i leave. i’ve made them a few times but have never been completely satisfied. have any tips? i will definitely check out your blog…

        Reply
      • As I noted, the raisins are optional, and while they might not be traditional, they do offer a nice counterpoint to the saltiness of the lemons and green olives. Aneesa is a restaurant chef, and like so many restaurant chefs, takes liberty with ingredients and traditions.

        Reply
  17. Hello,
    We made this dish for dinner this evening and it was wonderful. We love tagine cooking and this chicken version is delicious. I used to brown my chicken in other recipes but followed your version and it was wonderful. Thank you for posting.

    Reply
  18. I will preempt this by saying I am married to a Moroccan (born and raised) and can seriously cook (without meaning to be at all rude) -This is a pretty authentic recipe, however you don’t use Ras el Hanout in all tajines. If you want to include Moroccan staples in your pantry you need the following – Cumin, preferably seeds that you can roast yourself and grind in a morter and pestle as required. Paprika – I prefer smokey, but anything is fine. Garlic, Flat leaf Parsley, Coriander aka Cliantro. Preserved Lemons, which are NOT pureed! Harissa, Cinnamon, Ginger..
    It is normal for your tajine to bubble up like that and I would Highly recommend you get a simmer mat for it otherwise you’re going to crack it sooner rather than later. Generally speaking most homes in Morocco work with a gas bottle so the flame isn’t as strong or hot as plumbed in gas. Hence the need for a simmer mat. You need to allow at least a couple of hours for your tajine to cook and my Moroccan would tell you there’s too much liquid in there, but we westerners like a bit of sauce. You don’t need to have a tajine in order to make one and don’t be afraid of giving it a go. They’re delicious and you can use pretty much anything. If you were to use Lamb chops or something along those lines you need to add Carrots as well as they bring out the flavour and go all lovely and sticky. I hope you don’t mind me sharing this info.

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts — I always appreciate input. Aneesa purées the preserved lemons for convenience — as a restaurant chef, it’s easier for her to add a spoonful of the purée to dishes than to chop the lemons she prepares for every dish. I will make a note that chopped preserved lemons are fine, too, and I will order a simmer mat immediately …I would be furious if mine cracked. Thanks for writing in.

      Reply
  19. I finally made this dish with your easy and fun recipe for preserved lemon. As well, I took your suggestion of whirling the entire jar of preserved lemons (after they had been sitting for six weekes) in the food processor. I don’t have a tagine, and so I used my old Romertopf clay pot with excellent results. In fact, it might be even easier. I just tossed everything into the soaked pot, using 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup olive oil for one whole chicken. The nice thing about the Romertopf is that mircalulously the skin browns. BUT, back to your recipe, the preserved lemons add a very subtle flavor and the spices are appealing to a range of palates. There is something primal about clay pot cooking, but yielding complex flavors. Ras el hanout is new to me–wonderful. I think I will try this with lamb shoulder. Great recipe as always!

    Reply

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