Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Moroccan-inspired Chicken Tagine

La Chamba clay pot, Le Souk Ceramique pasta bowl, Akiko's Pottery serving bowl, Sabre Natura flatware

I'll confess that I've never been to Morocco, but I have been trying to perfect the art of a good chicken tagine for about 7 years. I don't own a tagine because I don't make enough Moroccan stews in a year to warrant one. I already have an insane assortment of cookware that is never used because I store it in the basement and I'm always too lazy to fight through an array of boxes to get to them.

Since a chicken tagine is basically just chicken stew cooked in a conical-shaped clay pot (the tagine), it's easy to reproduce the benefits of cooking in a tagine if you understand the science. The conical shape of the tagine helps to keep the meat moist by allowing the escaping air to condense and fall back into the stew, hence conserving water. You can pretty much achieve the same thing by using a pot with a tightly fitting lid over very low heat. The second thing that is specific to a tagine is that it's made of clay. Food cooked in a clay pot tends to be much more moist and much less oil is needed because the juices from the food actually clog the pores of the clay pot and you end up with the food stewing, basically in its own juices.

Clay pots also have "memory" of the place they were mined from, based on mineral content of the soil - sort of like the description of "terroir" when it comes to wine. Food cooked in a pot from Japan will taste slightly different from that cooked in a pot from Espirito Santo in Brazil. I make my chicken tagine in a La Chamba casserole and I think it approximates the tagines I've tasted in Moroccan restaurants, but if you want something really authentic, you will have to invest in a genuine tagine made in Fez. In a pinch, you can use a dutch oven or even a regular porcelain casserole - any sort of pot with a tight lid will work.

This recipe was adapted from writings by Paula Wolfert, Ghillie Basan and lots of internet research. I call this Moroccan-inspired because I can't truly say that this is exactly like the tagines they eat in Morocco... one day perhaps.

Moroccan-inspired Chicken Tagine
Cooking time: 2 hours plus marinading overnight
Yields about 4 servings

1 whole chicken (about 4lbs), cut into 8 pieces (or 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks), skin removed

2 tablespoons ghee (use melted butter if ghee is unavailable)
2 teaspoon Ras-el-Hanout
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika for color

2 large sweet yellow onions, sliced into 1/4 inch rings
3 medium carrots, rough chop
1/2 cup pitted green olives
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled and soaked in 1/4 cup water
One handful of cilantro
One handful of parsley
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup dried Turkish apricots, rough chop

  1. Wash and pat chicken dry. In a large baking pan or roaster, massage the chicken pieces with the ingredients from the rub. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
  2. The next day, heat olive oil in pan and brown the chicken pieces on both sides, becareful not to overcrowd the pan while browning. 
  3. On the stovetop, heat your clay pot over medium-low heat with a drizzle of olive oil. Lay the sliced onions at the bottom of the pot and add the carrots on top of it. 
  4. Place the browned chicken on top of the carrots, skin side down in a single layer if possible. 
  5. Scatter the olives and saffron-infused water  (along with the saffron threads) around the edges of the pot. 
  6. Lay the cilantro and parsley on top of the chicken and cover. If there is a gap between the lid and the pot, you can use a damp and rolled kitchen towel to form a buffer.   
  7. In the meantime, heat the oven to 300F. When the oven is heated, pop your casserole in and cook for about an hour. 
  8. After an hour, flip the chicken over, add salt, pepper and apricots and cook for another hour. 
  9. Remove from oven, let cool and serve with either flatbread or potatoes and lots of harissa.


  1. Yay, I'm so excited about your new blog! And I love the format, how you provide so much background info on each dish. Will be trying this out soon (with no tangine)

  2. Hopefully I will keep this up periodically. I tend to start blogs I don't update...