Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemon


Lately, I have become obsessed with preserved lemons. Maybe it's due to their beautiful, intensely yellow color, a respite to this gloomy, cold weather that at this point is making me rethink WHY THE HELL I moved back to New York in the first place. 

Commonly used in Moroccan cuisine, preserved lemons are basically whole lemons that have been packed in salt and sent to chill out for a month or two. Over time, the peel softens and the flavor intensifies resulting in a tangy, sour, salty condiment that can be added to foods.  These lemons are commonly added to the infamous Moroccan tagine, a slow cooked savory stew made with meat, poultry of fish paired with vegetables, fruit (fresh or dried), and spices such as cinnamon, cumin, saffron, coriander and paprika.

Unless you are making Moroccan food on a regular basis, it's not too often that you will come across a recipe that calls for this delicious condiment. I first tried preserved lemons on a dare.  Having no idea what they tasted like, I shoved a quarter of a lemon in my mouth and instantly my tongue started burning and my eyes were watering from the overwhelming salty, sour flavor.  I quickly learned that these are best enjoyed in small amounts, cut into thin strips and simmered with broth, aromatics, spices and dried fruit to make a lovely sauce for chicken or fish.  You can make them yourself or buy them in an ethnic market or specialty shop and they last forever! I have had the same jar in my fridge for months, using a bit here and there to top off a plate of slow roasted root vegetables or adding a bit to a vinaigrette for a tangy salad dressing. 

This Moroccan chicken dish that I came across on Food 52 had all my favorite flavors on one plate: ginger, garlic and onions, olives, currants, buttery couscous and lots of spice... and of course preserved lemon.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemon (serves 2)
Adapted from Food 52

2-3 T. safflower oil
2 lbs. chicken (I used 2 legs)
sea salt
black pepper

1 1/2 c. yellow onion, diced
1 t. ginger, minced
1 t. garlic, minced
1 T. ground cumin
1 T. ground coriander
1 1/2 t. paprika
1/2 t. turmeric
1/8 t. cayenne
2-3 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 c. green olives (I used castelvetrano)
3/4 whole preserved lemon, pulp removed, rind cut into thin strips
1/3 c. currants
2 T. chopped cilantro

3/4 c. couscous
3/4 c. vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 t. sea salt
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. butter

Heat 2 T. oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper.  Brown the chicken on all sides and transfer to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 T. oil.  Add the onion and sautee until slightly softened, 2-3 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric, and cayenne and cook an additional minute or two. If the mixture starts to stick, add a splash of chicken stock.  Add the chicken back to the skillet and coat both sides with the onion/spice mixture. Pour the stock into the skillet so that 2/3 of the chicken is submerged.  Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes. While the chicken is simmering place the couscous, sea salt and olive oil in a medium sized glass bowl. Bring 3/4 c. stock to a boil. pour over the couscous, mix with a spoon and cover with a lid or tightly seal with plastic wrap. Set aside for 15- 20 minutes.

After the chicken has simmered for 20 minutes, add the olives and preserved lemons and cook for an additional 10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.  Remove the chicken from the skillet.  Add the currants cook over medium high heat until the sauce until it reduces by half, about 6-8 minutes.

To serve: Fluff the couscous with a fork and stir in the butter. Mix again and divide between two shallow bowls or plates. Place the chicken on top and spoon the reduced sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

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