The sun has been shining and suddenly it’s summer in UK – even though we’re only halfway through March! I bought a chicken at the Twickenham Farmers’ Market yesterday morning and decided to cook a summery tagine flavoured with preserved lemon, fennel and green olives. I’d seen a a recipe I liked the look of in Ghillie Basan’s Tagines & Couscous but then saw a similar one in Jamie Oliver’s Jamie Does … and ended up doing something that combined the two. I liked Jamie’s idea of adding the fennel and he also added more spices to his marinade.
When I think of Moroccan tagines I tend to think first of those warming, wintry tagines made with deep earthy spices like ras el hanout – a wonderful Moroccan spice mix – with lamb or beef and fruit like prunes or apricots; maybe some almonds thrown in. But as I cook more tagines, I’ve found some lighter, fresher ones which are great in the summer. And adding preserved lemons (available in jars in supermarkets) adds a wonderfully distinct tangy Moroccan flavour. ‘Tagine’ is just the word for the earthenware pot the dish is cooked in. I’ve got a lovely one I brought back from Marrakesh six years ago but today decided it wasn’t really big enough for a whole chicken (even jointed) and used a large, shallow Le Creuset dish with a lid. And really, it may not look quite so exotic but it does the job very well!
First of all I jointed my chicken into roughly 8 pieces and prepared the marinade. For the marinade rub, grind 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 2 cloves garlic, 1-inch peeled fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper in a mortar and pestle. Once ground into a paste, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and mix well. Now add to the chicken and mix thoroughly so each piece is covered in some marinade. It’s really a cross between a marinade and rub so it’s a question of making sure each piece has some of the paste on it. Now cover with cling film and put the bowl in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.
When ready to finish cooking the tagine, cut a bulb of fennel into 8 and slice a medium-sized onion with the grain into fairly wide slices. Chop 2 small preserved lemons, discarding any pips.
Now heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a tagine or large shallow pan with a lid and brown the chicken pieces nicely, all over. When golden brown, add the fennel, onion and stalks of a small bunch of fresh coriander (retaining the leaves for later). Stir and cook for another 5 minutes. Now add the preserved lemons, 100g green olives and a good pinch of saffron. Mix well and then pour in 500ml chicken stock (I’d made the stock from the chicken carcass left over after jointing the chicken).
Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer, cover with a tight-fitting lid and leave to cook gently for about an hour. Give it a stir about halfway through. The meat should be starting to fall apart and be very tender. If there’s still a lot of liquid, remove the chicken pieces and bubble up the sauce to reduce a bit then return the chicken to the pan. Chop the fresh coriander leaves and add. Check seasoning.
I prepared my tagine early in the day, ready to be gently heated through at suppertime. This was partly because Jonathan and Lyndsey were driving back from a weekend in the Peak District and their timing was a bit unpredictable so I wanted something that wouldn’t spoil. It was also such a gorgeous day that it was nice to finish this off in the morning (after marinating the chicken overnight) and then not have to worry about cooking later in the day but be free to enjoy the sun! It’s thus a perfect dish for entertaining. I usually serve some buttery couscous with a tagine like this but I had some gorgeous little new potatoes that I’d bought in M&S that were sweet and buttery tasting and I decided serving those (if not authentically Moroccan!) added to the springtime feel of the meal. I tossed them in butter and chopped fresh mint.
It was a really lovely meal and brought all the combination of spicy Moroccan with a fresh spring taste that I’d wanted. It also went down very well with my guests who thought it was delicious.