Over the holidays, I visited Morocco for the first time. Anytime I visit a country for the first time, I invariably take a cooking class so I can learn about the local dishes. In Marrakesh, I learned how to make an amazing chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives. The dish derives its name from the conical-lidded pot in which it is prepared. Tagines are meat, poultry or fish stewed with vegetables, olives, garlic, preserved lemons and Moroccan spices. The characteristic shape of the tagine’s lid helps to retain and circulate heat more efficiently. If you do not own a tagine pot, you may cook your tagine stew in a covered cast-iron or earthenware casserole to produce a similar effect. Preserved lemons give this tagine a distinctive flavor. Following the tagine recipe, I have included more information about preserved lemons and how to make your own.
1 preserved lemon
4 tablespoons clarified butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 whole chicken (2-2.5 lbs.) cut into pieces
½ cup water
3-4 saffron threads
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
Cut the preserved lemon in quarters and separate the flesh from the rind. Reserve the rind and chop the flesh very finely.
Place the bottom of the tagine on medium heat and add the clarified butter. Add the onions and sauté the onions until they are softened, about five minutes. Add the garlic, cilantro and chopped lemon flesh and sauté for another two minutes. Add turmeric, black pepper and ground ginger and mix well. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pot. Brown the chicken for about two minutes on each side.
Add water and saffron threads and allow to simmer. When the liquid begins to simmer, Cover with the lid and cook on low heat for about 45 minutes to one hour. Halfway through the cooking time, turn the chicken over. The chicken is completely done when you pierce the chicken with a knife and the juices run completely clear. Taste the sauce and season to taste with a bit of salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and garnish with olives and the preserved lemon peel.
With a distinctive tart, pickled flavor and silky texture, preserved lemons are an essential component in Moroccan cuisine. They've also gained popularity throughout the world. The lemons are preserved in their own juice and some spices. Preserved lemons can be found in jars at specialty food stores. But it is very easy and economical to make your own. You will, however, need to plan accordingly as it takes about four weeks for the lemons to mature.
6 ripe organic lemons
4 tablespoons sea salt, divided
1 cinnamon stick
6 coriander seeds
4 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (1-2 cups, as needed.
Using a vegetable brush, scrub and wash the lemons under warm running water. Soak in cold water for 4 days, changing the water once a day. This will soften the peel considerably.
Cut the one end of the lemons then proceed to cut lengthwise, as though to quarter them but not cutting all the way through (the pieces should be attached at one end.) Spread the segments and sprinkle about ½ teaspoon until each lemon, then close up the lemons.
Place 1 tablespoon of salt on the bottom of a sterilized, dry glass jar. Pack the lemons as tightly as possible into the jar, adding the remaining salt, cinnamon stick, coriander, peppercorns, bay leaf, and clove between the layers of lemons. Press the lemons down to release their juices. Close the jar and allow to pickle for 3 days in a cool place.
At the end of three days, if the lemons are not totally covered in their own juices, fill the jar to the top with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Close the jar and let pickle for one month in a cool, dark place, shaking the jar each day to distribute the salt and juice.
Before using, rinse the lemons under cool running water. Reserve the pickling juices to preserve additional lemons.