I do a lot of cooking here and I don’t like to play favorites, but I’m going to step out of character and say this tagine is among the top five savory dishes. It’s holding court with the beetroot burgers. Maybe it’s because I took the time to let it slowly simmer away and cook in the old tradition, which yields a deeply flavorful, briny, yet sweet, melt-in-your-mouth kind of texture. Maybe it’s because I added the preserved lemons, whose flavor is unparalleled or because I borrowed heavily from Darya, a woman who truly knows how to cook and eat and who really cares about the history of her food.
Most people, if they think of tagines at all, think about that shapely traditional ceramic Morroccan pottery with a domed top that is used by the Berber people to cook meat, poultry, fish veggies and fruits. It’s unclear which came first, the name of the dish we eat or the name of the physical pottery used to cook it in. That being said, I don’t own a tagine.
I drew from tradition in this dish, using a regular dutch oven to prepare it. Even if we don’t own the same cookware, it is when we remember the source of the cooking rituals that a dish comes alive and truly nourishes us. When the spices fill your space as the broth bubbles on the stove and the fragrant herbs overflow on your counter, what you are doing in the kitchen starts to matter. Food becomes the the fire that fuels every action. Gathering at the table sustains the flame. While the precious light outside looks in at a more oblong angle these days (reluctant to admit it as I am), it’s important that our spirits do not. I like to use meals like this as a way to appreciate the softened edges, to bask in the dimmer glow and to replenish and sustain the force inside that was fed by the heat of the summer–the force that raises the masts every day from earlier morning to earlier night and gives us the will to keep sailing outside no matter what comes. Connecting with a desert culture will certainly help with that.
Make this. Enjoy it. Serve it over bulgar.
- 2 whole chicken legs, I like to separate the thigh from the drumstick
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 15 gr. unsalted butter (a large knob)
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 2 small cloves of garlic, peeled, germ removed, and finely chopped
- 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
- 1/2 tsp ras al hanout spice blend
- a little less than 1 1/4 cup) chicken broth or water
- 2/3 cup green olives, pitted
- 1 large preserved lemon (skin and flesh) See my recipe here.
- 1 red bell pepper (totally not traditional, but I needed to use it)
- A large handful of fresh cilantro, washed, dried, and finely chopped
- A large handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, washed, dried, and finely chopped
Serve this dish with plain freekeh, bulghur, couscous, rice, or any other grain you like. I went with bulghur. Keep it simple.
Rub the chicken legs on all sides with half the salt and pepper.
In a cast-iron pot, high-sided pan or dutch oven, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the chicken legs, skin side first, and fry until nice and golden on both sides (it should take about 7 minutes on each side). Remove the chicken legs from the pot, and lower the heat to medium-low.
Add the chopped onions, and sauté until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic, stir, then add the ginger, ras al hanout, and remaining salt and pepper. Stir again, then put the chicken back into the pot, and pour in the broth (or water). Bring the broth to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and cook at a simmer for at least an hour. Turn the chicken over every now and then.
Meanwhile, chop the herbs and rinse the olives. Rinse the lemon to remove any excess salt, cut it into thin strips.
If using red pepper, place the pepper directly on the flame burner over medium heat. Turn every few minutes until charred on the outside. When it’s cool enough to handle wipe off some of the burned skin. Cut into strips and remove excess seeds.
After about an hour of simmering the chicken (or even longer if you wish), add the olives, lemons, pepper and half the herbs to the pot. Cover again, and cook for an extra 15 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the pot, and place in a shallow serving dish. Raise the heat to high, and let the remaining sauce reduce for 5 to 10 minutes. Pour the sauce over the chicken, sprinkle with the remaining herbs, and serve, with a plain cooked grain on the side.