Different cuisines generally have different flavour profiles and popular ingredients and, in many instances, areas that are geographically close to each other share a lot of these ingredients and flavours. Levantine food, for example, uses lots of olive oil, lemon juice and tahini paste. North African food also uses a lot of olive oil and lemons, but that is pretty much where the similarities end. I absolutely adore North African food and this recipe is one of the first dishes I had that made me fall in love with Moroccan food.
This chicken tagine is very simple to make and the ingredients are mostly familiar, but what makes it stand out is the use of preserved lemons, which have a unique flavour, and that it is cooked in a tagine. A tagine is not only the name of the dish, but also the name of the cooking vessel traditionally used to cook it in. A tagine is a clay pot, with a round base and a cone-shaped lid that is used to cover the base while cooking. The condensation gathers in the lid, and it slowly trickles down back into the base, basically basting the food as it cooks and keeping it super moist.
If you don’t have a tagine you can still make this dish. I used a Dutch oven, but any cast-iron with a lid will work beautifully and will give you the same juicy chicken. Like most recipes, every family makes their own version and adds their own touch to their tagine; this is the version I make. This dish may seem like it takes a long time to make, but it actually comes together in about 10 minutes and is left to cook for about an hour, so it is actually a great weekday dinner. Most ingredients are available in your typical supermarket, even the preserved lemons are found in most supermarkets, if you can’t find them in your local supermarket, you’ll definitely find some in a Middle Eastern shop. The number of preserved lemons you add is up to personal taste and each brand differs in intensity, so I would say add a little at the beginning and see how you like it, and you could always add more later. Many families do not add potatoes in this tagine, and instead you may find it topped with French fries, but I find that it is a great addition as the potatoes soak up all the spices and become super flavourful. It is typically served with traditional Moroccan bread, but flatbread or couscous are also great options.
If you’re looking for a delicious new dish to try out, look no further than this fall-off-the-bone chicken, sweet soft onions and tart lemons and olives. It hits every note and the flavours work in perfect harmony.
4 chicken legs, halved and skinless
3-4 preserved lemons (or to taste)
1 cup green olives
3 potatoes, peeled and cut into spears
2 onions, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/3 cup coriander, finely chopped
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
5 tbsp olive oil
¾ cup water
1 tbsp ginger
1.5 tbsp turmeric
2 tbsp cumin
6 strands saffron steeped in ¼ cup water
- In a tagine, cast iron or oven proof pot, heat the oil and sauté the onions. Once they soften, add the garlic and cook. When the garlic becomes fragrant, add the ginger, turmeric, cumin, salt and pepper and cook for a minute.
- Add the chicken pieces and potatoes. Mix thoroughly with the onion and spices, until all the chicken pieces are coated.
- Toss in the olives and preserved lemons and give them a mix, followed by the parsley and coriander and mix.
- Pour the water and saffron infused water, along with the strands and stir.
- Bring the water to a boil, cover and cook in the oven at 180 C for 45 minutes to an hour, checking the water level periodically and top it up if it gets too dry.
- Pour into a serving platter, garnish with fresh coriander and serve alongside Moroccan bread (or bread of your choice) or couscous and enjoy!