I first became enamored with Moroccan food about 12 years ago when I ate at Chef Karim’s in Santa Barbara with my husband Adrian and his parents. I had never eaten anything like it and loved being able to sit on a cozy couch at dinner where I could dive into a family platter with a piece of bread as my only utensil. While I enjoyed the entertainment of the belly dancing and the Moroccan decor, I really became fascinated with the food.
I’m so glad that Adrian’s mom gifted us a tagine and a cookbook by Chef Hassan M’Souli for Christmas several years ago so we could keep eating Moroccan food even after the locally famous Chef Karim closed down his restaurant in 2010. Chef Hassan’s recipes are fabulous, and from him we’ve learned how to make preserved lemons, several tagines, Rghaif del Ferran (a spicy bread), and an insanely awesome crepe dessert with dates and Kahlua. We’ve found that our favorite tagine is with chicken, but after exploring different recipes, we prefer one from the Boston Globe over Chef Hassan’s. It’s easier to make and just a little more delicious.
Below are the recipes we use to make our favorite tagine. I’ve adapted them where needed. We make our own preserved lemons to keep on hand, but you can easily purchase them at niche grocery stores like Whole Foods or online at Amazon.
Moroccan Chicken Tagine
Adapted from Sheryl Julian’s Boston Globe Recipe
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 preserved lemon
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon ghee or butter
1.5 lbs bone-in chicken thighs (skin on)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup water
1/2 cup pitted green olives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander
In a bowl, with your fingers, crush the saffron threads with the salt. Remove the lemon flesh from the rind. Chop the lemon flesh coarsely. Add the lemon flesh and a 2-inch piece of lemon rind (chopped) to the saffron with the garlic, turmeric, ginger, pepper, onion, tomato, and ghee or butter. Toss well. Reserve remaining pieces of the rind.
Sprinkle the saffron mixture on the chicken on both sides. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for up to half a day.
In a tagine pan or large flameproof casserole, heat the oil. Add the chicken skin-side up and 2 tablespoons of the water. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, turning halfway through cooking.
Add the remaining water to the pan. Turn the chicken skin-side down. Add remaining pieces of lemon rind. Set on the cover askew. Continue cooking the chicken for 35 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes.
Turn the chicken skin side up. Sprinkle the chicken with olives, parsley, and coriander.
Moroccan Preserved Lemons
Adapted from Hassan M’Souli’s Moroccan Modern
10 thin-skinned lemons
1.5 cups coarse sea salt
4.25 cups boiling water
juice of 1 lemon
8 cardamom pods
2 small red chilis, optional
2 bay leaves, optional
Olive oil, to cover
Scrub the lemons well and soak in water for about 3 days, changing the water daily (this disperses the gas and acids contained in the fruit). Remove from the water and cut four pockets end to end into each lemon, being careful not to slice right through.
Holding a lemon over a bowl (to catch any juice and salt), fill the pockets generously with salt, and arrange in a half gallon preserving jar. Repeat with remaining lemons.
Cover the lemons with boiling water. Add the leftover salt and juice, lemon juice and cardamom pods. Chilis and bay leaves may also be added for flavor and decoration, if you like.
Leave the jar for a few minutes to ensure that most of the air bubbles are released. Pour over a thin layer of olive oil to cover the surface. Seal tightly, and store for at least 1 month prior to use.
If preserved correctly, preserved lemons can be stored for years. The flavors become more intense and a little more briney (not unlike olives)!