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Chicken Tagine

WELL SPICED DOESN’T HAVE TO BE SPICY

When most people think of Morocco, they envision colorful souks, spindly minarets, and flowing djellabas. When most cooks think of Morocco, they think of tagines. These exotically spiced, assertively flavored stews are slow-cooked in earthenware vessels of the same name. Tagines can include all kinds of meat, vegetables, and fruit, although our favorite combines chicken with briny olives and tart lemon.

To make any tagine friendly for the American home kitchen, the first task is to figure out the cooking vessel. A lidded Dutch oven is the best choice. Not only does this heavy pot ensure even cooking but it also permits stovetop browning before the stewing begins. These cooking steps are key for developing flavor.

To start, browning the chicken pieces creates fond in the pot that will add flavor to the braising liquid. It also renders fat that can be used to cook the sliced onions and eventually the garlic. This dish is not spicy—there’s just ¼ teaspoon of cayenne to provide a wisp of heat. But this dish is well spiced, with a mix of warm cinnamon, citrusy coriander, earthy paprika, and floral ginger.

To release the full flavor of convenient ground spices it is imperative to bloom them in the pot with the rendered chicken fat. That’s because many of the essential flavor compounds in spices are fat-soluble. If the spices are added directly to the liquid, the final dish won’t be nearly as flavorful. When blooming the spices, wait until their color darkens and they are very fragrant. At this point, it’s safe to add the broth and simmer the chicken in this supercharged base.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS

Use the Skin and Then Lose the Skin

Brown the pieces of chicken skin-on to give the braising liquid deep flavor, but pull the skin off before simmering the stew. The skin will just turn rubbery once the lid goes on the pot.

Arrange the Meat Right

Thoughtful placement of the chicken and vegetables is important to the success of this dish. Place the thighs and drumsticks on the bottom of the pot and give them a head start with a 5-minute simmer. Then cover with the carrots and the breast pieces. Raising the white meat above the simmering liquid allows the delicate meat to cook gently. Simmering the dark meat directly in the liquid means all the chicken will be ready at the same time.

Be Selective About Spices

The spice blend for tagines can contain upward of 30 spices. You can build your own blend with spices you most likely already have in your pantry: cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne (just a little), coriander, and finally paprika, which adds both sweetness and bright color.

Find the Right Olives

Big, meaty green Moroccan olives can be difficult to find so we swap in Greek “cracked” olives found in most supermarkets. Don’t add the olives to the simmering stew because their flavor will leach out into the liquid and they’ll emerge flavorless and mushy. Instead, add them just before serving so they retain their piquant flavor and firm texture.

Rethink the Preserved Lemon

The lemon flavor in authentic tagines comes from preserved lemon, a long-cured Moroccan condiment. Rather than try to source them, add a few broad ribbons of lemon zest and some juice—it will give the tagine a rich citrus back note. In addition, stir chopped zest mixed with raw garlic into the tagine just before serving for a welcome sharp finish.

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Pantry spices create deep flavor, as do sautéed onions and strips of lemon zest.

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Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Lemon

SERVES 4

RECIPE DETAILS

Timeline

  • 10 minutes to combine spices and make garlic-lemon paste
  • 15 minutes to cut up chicken and prepare onion, carrots, and olives
  • 10 minutes to brown chicken pieces (remove skin once chicken cools)
  • 10 minutes to brown onion, garlic, and spices and add broth and honey
  • 5 minutes to cook thighs and drumsticks
  • 10 to 15 minutes to cook carrots and breast pieces
  • 5 minutes to heat olives and thicken sauce (remove chicken from pot while doing this)
  • 2 minutes to reheat chicken and finish dish

Essential Tools

  • Vegetable peeler to remove wide strips of zest from lemon (Do this before juicing the lemon and make sure to trim any white pith from the zest, as it can impart a bitter flavor.)
  • Chef’s knife for cutting up whole chicken and preparing vegetables and aromatics
  • Dutch oven with lid for cooking tagine

Substitutions & Variations

  • Bone-in chicken parts can be substituted for the whole chicken. For best results, use four chicken thighs and two chicken breasts, each breast split in half; the dark meat contributes valuable flavor to the broth and should not be omitted.

If the olives are particularly salty, give them a rinse. Serve with couscous.

  • 1¼ teaspoons paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 (2-inch) strips lemon zest plus 3 tablespoons juice
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (3½- to 4-pound) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces (4 breast pieces, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks), trimmed, wings and giblets discarded
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, halved and sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 1¾ cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into ½-inch-thick rounds, very large pieces cut into half-moons
  • 1 cup cracked green olives, pitted and halved
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  1. Combine paprika, cumin, ginger, cayenne, coriander, and cinnamon in small bowl and set aside. Mince 1 strip lemon zest, add 1 teaspoon minced garlic, and mince together until reduced to fine paste; set aside.
  2. Season both sides of chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add chicken pieces, skin side down, and cook without moving until skin is deep golden, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken pieces and brown on second side, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to large plate; when cool enough to handle, remove and discard skin. Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon fat from pot.
  3. Add onion and remaining 2 lemon zest strips to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion slices have browned at edges but still retain their shape, 5 to 7 minutes (add 1 tablespoon water if pan gets too dark). Add remaining garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add spice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until darkened and very fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Stir in broth and honey, scraping up any browned bits. Add thighs and drumsticks, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Add carrots and breast pieces with any accumulated juices to pot, arranging breast pieces in single layer on top of carrots. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until breast pieces register 160 degrees, 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. Transfer chicken to plate and tent with aluminum foil. Add olives to pot; increase heat to medium-high and simmer until liquid has thickened slightly and carrots are tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Return chicken to pot and stir in garlic mixture, lemon juice, and cilantro; season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

MOROCCAN CHICKEN WITH CHICKPEAS AND APRICOTS

Replace 1 carrot with 1 cup dried apricots, halved, and replace olives with one 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed.

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