James commented to me other day that I think about food like he thinks about music, and it’s true. My idle thoughts are often reliving a scrumptious meal from the past, or leaping ahead to plan what morsels will next pass my lips. Consequently, I spend a lot of time browsing food blogs and recipe books. Imagine my delight when I came across this mouthwatering, sensual description written by Warda on her blog, 64 Sq Ft Kitchen:
“This might be The best Chicken with olives tagine I have ever made. It has all what I look for in a tagine: succulent chicken, creamy and highly spiced sauce, sweet stringy onions and melt-in-your mouth pale-hued olives with just the right amount of acidity to them. My fingers were shaking every time I would dip my bread and mop all the goodness up from my plate. My tongue would wiggle every time an olive would yield to my jaw releasing the sublime sauce hidden in its flesh. My eyes went drowsy every time a person would lift the serving spoon to fill their plate a second time.”
How could I read that and not instantly crave this dish? I must have it! Naturally, I also must have the correct vessel to prepare Chicken Tagine….a tagine. We can thank the indigenous Berber tribes of Morocco for the tagine (tajine in Arabic), which is the name of the cooked dish as well as the name of the cooking vessel. The traditional tagine is an earthenware casserole-like dish with a distinctive conical lid. I ended up deciding on an Emile Henry, flame-resistant tagine, which is less likely to crack if used on the stovetop vs. the customary method of cooking over a charcoal stove.
The classic dish of Chicken with Olives Tagine is prepared using preserved lemon. Since I didn’t have preserved lemon, this time I used an ordinary lemon and included lemon zest in the marinade to help intensify the flavor. When I make this again, I will make an effort to find preserved lemons at International Farmer’s Market in Decatur.
Did this dish live up to the hype? Absolutely! The chicken was moist and literally falling-off-the-bone tender. I did spoon off quite a bit of fat (and used some of it to oven-roast zucchini slices), but the tangy lemon flavors and acidity cut through the fattiness and it was a good balance. Tons of flavors in this dish too – the goodness never stops!
- 6 chicken thighs, bone-in with skin attached
- 1 cup ripe olives, rinsed to remove excess brine (I used Greek Kalamatas)
- 1 medium sweet onion, quartered and sliced thin
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 5 or 6 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied in a bundle
- 1 lemon, zested and sliced thin (use zest in marinade, below)
- 1/2 cup of water
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
For the Marinade:
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
- a pinch of saffron
- a pinch of ground cinnamon
- 1/2 sweet onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- zest from one lemon
- ~1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Place all marinade ingredients into a food processor and blend to a paste. Pour it over the chicken thighs in a resealable bag; marinate overnight or for at least 2 hours (the longer the better).
When marinating is completed, heat the butter in the base of the tagine (or a heavy-based Dutch oven). Add the onions and cook until they begin to soften. Add the chicken thighs, along with the marinade, and continue to cook for a few more minutes, turning the chicken often to spread out the marinade. Add water, lemon slices, and the bundle of thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and cover with the lid. Simmer for about 50 minutes, turning the chicken from time to time. Add the olives to the chicken and continue to cook for about 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Remove the thyme bundle and turn the chicken pieces so that the skin side is up. Place in the oven and bake, uncovered, until the chicken is nicely browned and crispy on top. Remove from oven. Drizzle with lemon juice and sprinkle with chopped parsley, if desired. We served this with oven-roasted, baby zucchinis topped with feta cheese.
I do seem to think about music the way Nancy does food. In fact, this blog has only heightened that. So as we were looking at recipes for this new tajine, mentally I was going through my music collection in my head, trying to match music to the meal. Since this dish and method of preparation comes from the Middle East, and I love music from that area, I had several choices. I went with New Ancient Strings, which features Toumani Diabate and Ballake Sissoko from Mali, performing on a kora, a “harp-lute” popular in Northern Africa and the Middle East. The music is haunting, soothing, and amazingly intricate. You simply haven’t heard anything like it.
And much like this dish, you won’t soon forget it once you’ve tried it!