I recently watched Casablanca. You can’t get more classic than that ! And my mind is full of Ingrid Bergman and Morocco! Then, of course, there is my friend Mounia , the wife of the Ambassador of Morocco, in her own way reminding me of Morocco every time I see her-even though I have never visited the country. Yet.
Soon after our arrival in Dublin, as is the norm, or, should I say, the rapidly disappearing norm, in the diplomatic world, my husband asked to make a courtesy call also on the Ambassador of Morocco. In this case, instead of letting him come to the embassy, he invited both my husband and I for lunch to his home- a wonderful, welcoming gesture ! I have not really forgotten that intimate lunch, full of warmth and generosity–a characteristic, according to my personal experience, of the Arab people. And ,of course, there was good Moroccan food ! One particular dish stuck to my mind–the chicken Tagine.
Oh ! I have learnt now and am so proud of this knowledge–and you can be,too- the clay dish with the conical lid that you see in the picture above and below is called Tagine. In traditional Moroccan style of cooking-they would use this dish to cook their vegetables or meats either on a slow coal fire or a modern stove. Though most people know ‘Tagine’ as the food itself.
Recently I asked Mounia if she would let me watch when they cooked tagine in her home. She kindly agreed–well, I suppose I didn’t give her much choice ! Actually, she could have made excuses–but she didn’t- and there I was watching and learning !
Her cook is a beautiful lady with a gorgeous smile- Mina. She comes from a small town in southern Morocco called Tarnout.
At a young age she moved to Rabat and started to work -first in homes-cooking, and then in a hotel for 14 years -also cooking. Mina recounts an incident that has stuck in her mind-on a particular day, after working about 14 hours, making an elaborate dish, pastilla, Mina, dished it up to be served on the buffet. The chef arrived and almost hurled back the dish at Mina just because it was not hot enough. And Mina, in a spontaneous move, hurled it right back at the chef ! It was, absolutely, the last straw, she said. It was just as well because one thing led to the other and she found herself employed as a cook at Mounia’s residence in Dublin ! And cooking chicken tagine for me to watch !
Here is the recipe-
1 whole, medium sized chicken, 1 cup finely chopped onion, 4 tsp grated garlic, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp dry ginger powder, 1 tsp ground black pepper, a pinch of saffron strands, a 1/4 of a preserved lemon(this is like the Indian lemon achaar-the plain one with only salt), salt to taste, 8 or 10 stalks of fresh coriander , a few olives, 1/2 cup olive oil,1/2 cup sunflower oil.
Mix together the garlic, ginger, pepper, turmeric powder and salt. Rub the chicken(skin on) inside and out with this mixture and leave to marinate overnight or at least two hours .
Pour the two oils into a deep casserole(you can, of course,use a clay tagine if you have one) and line the casserole with half the onions. Place the chicken on top and scatter the remaining onions, coriander, lemon on top.
Add about 3 cups of water. Cover and cook an a medium fire for about 1/2 an hour till chicken is tender. There will be a lot of heavenly smelling liquid in there- I could have gladly eaten it all as a soup right then !
Remove chicken and put in a grill to brown. If you don’t have a grill, fry in a tbsp of oil till browned on all sides.
Put the wonderful liquid back on the fire to reduce till quite thick and sauce-like. Add the strands of saffron and olives.
Cut up the chicken as best as you can(!)and serve with the sauce poured on top.
Another alternative: Olives and preserved lemon replaced with fruit:
2 fresh pears (peeled and cut into quarters)or tinned or fresh pineapple (cut into 2 inch pieces)or 2/3 cup dried apricot, 2 tbsp sugar, 1/2 cup stock removed from the chicken before it is reduced.
Put stock, sugar and fruit in a pan. Allow to boil on medium heat(high heat if using fresh fruit)till all the water evaporates and the fruit starts to caramelise.
Plate up the chicken with its reduced sauce and top with the caramelised fruit.
I like this even better !(although this is not what Mina made that day so I don’t have pictures ).
Absolutely delicious ! Have a flat bread , naan or just plain bread to eat it with. It soaks up the juices and tastes fabulous.
Go ahead–try it–it is simple and so delicious ! And it is authentic, good Moroccan cooking ! And please let me know when you do try it out and how you like it !
Thank you so much, Mounia and Mina for sharing this with us !
For more authentic recipes on my blog -click here.
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