JUST WOW! Moroccan chicken with Green Olives and Preserved Lemons, a fantabulous dish from favorite chef/author Molly Stevens’ cookbook All About Braising. (Our hard cover copy is starting to fall apart, we’ve used it so often.) Yes, the dish does take some time to do the prep*, while the braise itself is only about 45 minutes. Definitely company-worthy, it’s probably best made on a weekend, or when you have some leisure time. A perfect dish for Baby Blue, our 4-quart, shallow Le Creuset braising Dutch oven.
As Molly states, it’s both familiar and exotic. The exotic is the combination of ginger, cumin, red pepper, saffron, and the salty piquancy of preserved lemons. The technique of including the chicken liver in the braise and then mashing it up to add to the finished sauce might make you take pause. If you are not a fan of chicken liver (I’m not), Molly urges you to try it here anyway—it won’t make the sauce taste at all livery, and she was right, it just helps thicken the sauce and the mashed liver contributes an earthiness and depth that you won’t be able to identify, but will savor. (Savor we did).
Couscous is traditional with this dish. We also included steamed asparagus.
As My Man Russ and I started to indulge in our first few mouthfuls, the sighs of contentment were audible. When he finally could speak, Russ commented “You can detect each spice—the smokiness of the pimentón, the heat of the red pepper flakes, and the warm, toasty flavor of the cumin. Together, the preserved lemon and fresh lemon juice lend the dish both high and low notes of citrus, underlined by the salty depth of the Cerignola olives.”
We highly recommend using pimentón (smoked paprika) as opposed to the unsmoked variety. And by all means, even though it is a very small amount, don’t neglect including the saffron. This spice is derived from the flower of the “saffron crocus” and has a subtle earthy and grassy flavor and aroma; yet sweet, similar to floral and honey (rawspicebar.com). Plus, it bestows a striking golden hue on every dish it graces!
*Word to the wise, if you haven’t made preserved lemons in advance and don’t have access to a good Middle Eastern market that sells them (check online), the dish will still be wonderful, although not as aromatic. Don’t substitute regular lemon peels for the preserved, they’re not the same thing at all. You can make your own, as we did. It’s quite easy to do, though takes at least three weeks before the lemons are ready to use. So plan ahead, it’s worth it.
Moroccan Chicken with Green Olives and Preserved Lemon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground (or ¼ teaspoon ground cumin)
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon sweet pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika)
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
- ½ cup green olives in brine, not pitted (we almost doubled the amount of olives)
- One cut-up chicken, about 4 pounds (keep the back, neck, liver and wingtips)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- ¾ cup dry white wine (or substitute water)
- 1 lemon, halved
- ¼ cup mixed chopped Italian parsley and cilantro, divided
- 1 whole (4 quarters) preserved lemon
- Fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Hot, cooked couscous
- To prepare spice mix: In a small bowl, stir together the ginger, cumin, black pepper, pimenton, or paprika, red pepper, and saffron. In another bowl, cover the olives with cool water, and set aside to soak.
- Browning the chicken: rinse the chicken pieces with cool water, and dry them thoroughly with paper towels (otherwise they won’t brown well – moist meats steam and tend to stick to the pan). Heat the oil and butter in a large deep-sided skillet or shallow braising pan (4-quart capacity) over medium-high heat. While the oil and butter heat, season half the chicken pieces lightly with salt (keep in mind that the olives and preserved lemons will add saltiness).
- When the butter is sizzling, add the salted chicken pieces skin side down and sear, without disturbing, until the skin is crisp and evenly browned, about 4 minutes. Peel by lifting one edge with tongs to see that the skin side is browned, then turn with tongs and brown the second side, another 4 minutes or so. Transfer the browned chicken to a platter or tray to collect any drips.
- Pat the remaining chicken pieces again with paper towels just to be sure they are as dry as possible, and lightly salt both sides. Add these pieces to the pan skin side down and sear them as you did the first batch, transferring them to the platter with the other chicken when they are browned.
- The aromatics: Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan and return the pan to medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, stir with a wooden spoon, and sauté until you can smell their fragrance and they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. (The bottom of the pan will develop a “fond” walnut-colored crust.) add the spice mix, stir, and sauté for a minute longer.
- The braising liquid: pour in the water to deglaze the pan, and stir and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to dislodge and dissolve the flavorful cooked-on crust.
Russ first put the water in the mortar to eke out any of the residual spice mix.
- The braise: When the water boils, return the chicken legs and thighs, and the wing tips, back, neck, heart and gizzard, if using, to the pan. Tuck the liver (circled below), if using, between the pieces. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and braise the chicken for 10 minutes.
- Uncover the pan, and if the liquid is simmering too forcefully, lower the heat to a quiet simmer, or set a heat diffuser under the pan. Turn the legs and wings over with tongs, and place the chicken breast pieces skin side up on top of the legs and wings. (Adding the chicken breasts after 10 minutes prevents them from overcooking and drying out If you’re using all legs and thighs, add them all at the start.)
- Squeeze the juice from one lemon half over the chicken, and sprinkle over half the chopped herbs. Continue to braise gently for 20 minutes more.
- While the chicken braises, prepare the olives and preserved lemons: Drain and rinse the olives. Remove the pits by crushing them one by one with the side of a large knife and pulling out the pit. Most olives will remain in one piece, like an open book, but it’s fine if some olives break in two.
- Rinse the preserved lemon quarters under cool water, and remove and discard the pulp. Chop the peel into ½ inch pieces.
- Adding the olives and preserved lemons: after the chicken has braised for a total of 30 minutes (20 minutes after you added the breasts), lift the lid, add the olives and preserved lemons, and turn the chicken pieces again.
- Optional step, if using the liver: remove the liver from the pan, place it in a small bowl, and mash it to a paste with a fork. Set aside.
- Continuing the braise: replace the lid and continue to braise until the juices from the legs run clear when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, another 10 to 15 minutes (for a total of 40 to 45 minutes). Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish or tray to catch the juices, and discard the wing tips, back, neck, heart and gizzard, if you used them. Cover the chicken loosely with foil to keep warm.
- The finish: Increase the heat under the braising liquid to medium-high and bring to a boil. Return the liver, if using, to the skillet and stir it into the sauce. Squeeze in the juice from the other half of the lemon. Simmer the sauce until it reduces just a bit, about 5 minutes.
- Add the remaining herbs. Taste for salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the chicken.
- Serve over hot couscous preferably made with homemade chicken stock instead of water.
I’m still salivating! According to Molly, if you have any leftovers, it’s even better when reheated…