chicken tagine with preserved lemons & green olives

There is a myriad of recipes for chicken with preserved lemons & olives, even the recipe leaflet for the Cherry red tagine dish that I got from my husband delivers one, naturally. Claudia Roden (well known to the British, Americans might be more familiar with Paula Wolfert as an authority on Moroccan cuisine) has several variations in her different books, which are wonderfully evocative just to read and imagine cooking yourself through the pages. My copies are festooned with post-its to mark future projects and this one was amongst the first things I had prepared when my friend Anke came for a visit. Alone ingredients like saffron, ginger, coriander and preserved lemons are enough to convince me to make this, especially when I get to make the salted lemons myself and have a jar of these pretty preserves stocked in my larder.I changed the recipe a little bit and cut the chicken beforehand into pieces since I find it easier to serve it this way (also: dividing a chicken that is doused in sauce at the table rarely leaves me without accidents and I hate to finish an evening by treating stains in clothes and tablecloths) and everyone can choose their own favourites. Just a little more onion thickens the sauce a tad, I find, and why not used a whole preserved lemon instead of just the peel: the preserved flesh acts as a seasoning that brings lemony saltiness to the dish (keep this in mind and watch how much salt you are adding before) and intensifies the lemon factor. Also, I hate to throw these things away.If you are planning to cook this, preserve the lemons first (see next recipe) since they need a month to mature or see if you can find them at a Middle Eastern grocer, although I think better supermarkets might even stock them nowadays. For impatient cooks, Gourmet magazine had devised an express version which boils the lemons as a short-cut to speed up the process and shrink the waiting time to just five days.For a Moroccan feast, start with a spread of mezze (or kemia as the small appetizer dishes are called in Morocco) to pick at: any freshly baked flatbread, a plate of hummus, the (Turkish) walnut & pomegranate paste muhammara, small salads and vegetable dishes (lots of recipes to come in the future), olives and and and. Serve the chicken in a tagine or pretty bowl with bread, couscous, larger bulgur wheat pearls (or rice if you prefer) and some green vegetables on the side.

Chicken tagine with preserved lemon & green olives
4-6 portions, adapted from Claudia Roden’s Tamarind & Saffron

1 free-range or organic chicken, cut into 8-10 pieces (legs, thighs & halved breasts with bones)
olive oil
1-2 onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
salt & pepper
bunch coriander (cilantro), chopped
bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
about 300ml (1/2 pint) water
1 whole preserved lemon (which is what I use) or the peel of 1-1½ preserved lemons cut into small pieces
75g (3oz) or more green olives (Roden soaks them 2 times in water, I don’t)

Arrange the chicken pieces along with the onion, garlic, saffron, ginger, cinnamon, salt & pepper, coriander and parsley in a tagine or a small cast-iron pan or dutch oven. Add the water to nearly cover the chicken but not entirely. Simmer with a closed lid for about 20-25 minutes, turning the chicken pieces over from time to time. Remove the cover, include the lemon and green olives in the sauce, cook for another 15-20 minutes without lid. The chicken should be tender and nearly fall of the bone and the sauce reduced to a fairly liquid herby-lemony concoction, adjust the seasoning and serve with bread, bulgur wheat, couscous or rice and a generous helping of green vegetables.

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