Somewhere along the line, North African cuisine has become one of my personal comfort foods. There’s something particularly wonderful about tagines with couscous, when it all blends together to create a bowlful of chewy, starchy, meaty deliciousness. The flavors are often pungent, but balanced, often with a good hit of fresh herbs, and I just find it so comforting on a cold evening. Last week I had a real craving for couscous with chicken and preserved lemon, and I must say it did the trick.
Of all the variations I’ve made of Moroccan chicken with preserved lemon and olives, this turned out to be a favorite. I found a recipe by Paula Wolfert that happened to use the sort of olives I had on hand and the right amount of lemon, and it was very successful. I particularly liked how it calls for braising bone-in chicken parts in aromatic broth, then taking out the pieces and roasting them until the skin crisps up and serving them with the reduced sauce. It prevents that soggy chicken skin problem that usually keeps me from braising skin-on pieces.
I didn’t marinate the chicken ahead of time (not my preference, just disorganized) and I left out the mashed chicken livers that the original recipe called for (partly because I didn’t have any, mostly because I don’t care for liver flavor). We served it with Israeli couscous. It was very rich with schmaltz, but sharp with lemon, olive and parsley. The last bottle of viognier from the basement was a perfect match.
Chicken with Lemon and Olives
adapted from Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco by Paula Wolfert
- 4 large chicken thighs (with skin and bone)
- 6 garlic cloves, pressed
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- coarse salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 preserved lemon
- several spoonfuls of olive oil
- 1/4 tsp saffron, crushed
- half an onion, grated and squeezed dry
- handful of parsley or cilantro stems
- 1/2 cup kalamata olives
Scrape the pulp out of the lemon (reserving the rind) and combine it with the garlic, ginger, salt, pepper and some oil (puree it first, if you feel like washing the processor afterwards – I didn’t). Rub this all over the chicken and let it sit (She says overnight, I only had a few minutes). Cut the lemon rind into one-inch chunks.
Preheat the oven to 400°.
Put the chicken and its marinade into a casserole or dutch oven, along with the saffron, onion, parsley stems and 2 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then partially cover and simmer for half an hour. Turn the chicken pieces frequently. Halfway through cooking, add the olives and the lemon rind.
Fish out the chicken pieces and put them in a roasting pan. Bake until beginning to brown and crisp up. Meanwhile, put the cooking liquid back on high heat and reduce it down to a sauce. Remove the parsley stems, then serve the chicken pieces with the sauce, making sure to include plenty of olives and lemon pieces. Serve with couscous or mashed potatoes, and a good sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley.