British Summer Time ended today, the clocks went back an hour so we all had an extra hour in bed (except of course if you have small children who don’t understand these things) and autumn arrived with a vengeance. Heavy rain and blustery winds raged through the night and into the morning; it was definitely a day for warm and comforting food.
I had some chicken breasts and fancied making a tagine. What could be more comforting than an earthy, spicy chicken stew with a tinge of chilli heat? I scoured my cookbook shelves, took a quick look on the Internet, couldn’t find anything that felt right – so I put some ideas together, partly followed a quick lamb tagine I once posted here, and came up with just what I’d been craving for. In some ways it was a perfect autumn dish with the freshness of the tomatoes and fennel signalling that we’re not yet into winter – but providing an antidote to the cold outside with the warming spices. I haven’t called it a ‘tagine’ but there was definitely a touch of Morocco with the Ras el Hanout. As always when cooking this kind of dish for myself, I make enough to freeze another portion or two. It always feels such a treat to take out a delicious meal I’ve made previously and just warm it through for an easy supper.
Chicken with Tomatoes, Fennel & Moroccan Spices
- 2 large chicken breasts (about 350g), cut into large bite-sized pieces
- a little flour
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- olive oil
- 1 medium onion, sliced quite thickly with the grain
- 2 cloves garlic, finely grated
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes
- 1 teaspoon Ras el Hanout
- 4 large tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
- 1 small or half bulb of fennel, cut thickly with the grain
- about 500ml chicken stock
- 1 dessertspoon tamari
- 1 dessertspoon runny honey
- handful of chopped fresh coriander
Cut the chicken breast into large bite-sized pieces. Put about 2 dessertspoons plain flour in a bowl, season with salt and pepper. Toss the chicken pieces in the flour and shake off any excess.
Heat about 2 tablespoons oil in a medium-sized saucepan. I use olive oil for everything, but a lighter oil will do fine. Add the sliced onion and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes or until it’s becoming transparent but not browning. Add the garlic and spices (Ras el Hanout is a wonderful Moroccan spice mix that’s easily found in supermarkets). Cook for just a couple of minutes, stirring all the time.
Now add the chicken pieces. Stir over a medium-high heat to brown the chicken for a couple of minutes.
Add the tomatoes and fennel. Stir well, but gently, to mix everything together. Then add enough stock to just cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then turn turn down to a simmer and leave with a lid on for 30 minutes.
Add the tamari, honey and chopped coriander. Stir. Put lid back on and cook for another 15 minutes. Check seasoning.
Done! I made this earlier in the day; it’s the kind of dish that benefits from leaving for a while; all the flavours seem to come together better. You could even make it the day before (be sure to store in the fridge, once it’s cooled, if you do this).
The plan had been to serve it with couscous (my usual accompaniment to tagines) and a green salad. It turned out that the packet I thought was couscous at the back of a cupboard was polenta, so I used a wild rice mix instead – which was great. As for the green salad, at the last minute I was overcome by a hankering for peas. Peas are pure nursery-comfort food. The dark had descended an hour earlier than last night and being a sun and summer person I was in real need of comfort. My mother served peas with pretty much every meal – or that’s how I remember it. I always have peas in my freezer (well, petit pois). I used to be slightly embarrassed by my love of them but have seen Nigel Slater waxing in his beautiful lyrical way about peas and declaring he loves them (too), so it feels all right after all.
It was really delicious; an absolute winner. The chicken was tender and sweet from being cooked slowly and all those lovely earthy flavours filled me with gastronomic joy. It was a perfect Sunday supper on the first evening of autumn (and there are a couple of portions for the freezer too).