Moroccan chicken tagine & how to make ras el hanout & preserved lemons
Now the autumn chills are setting in this is a lovely slow-cooked recipe to warm you up. It’s richly-flavoured but really mild. It’s ideal if you are cooking one meal to please meat eaters and people who want to eat less meat at the same time. People can avoid the meat part of the dish and bulk up on extra chickpeas and vegetables and have some delicious fluffy cooked millet grains on the side. Using meat on the bone makes this really flavourful. I usually serve this with some sort of steamed green vegetable (like green beans or dark green cabbage) or a green salad. To stretch things out a bit and save money adding cooked millet to soak up the juices is a winner. If you are new to millet, check out my post on how to cook millet (I can’t believe it’s not couscous).
2 mugs (around 450ml) of leftover veg or chickpea cooking water, or plain filtered water
300g small onions or large shallots (large onions will do if you cant get small ones)
1 mug home-cooked chickpeas (reserve the liquid) or a 400g can of chickpeas
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and roughly quartered or sliced
½ a medium size preserved lemon*, deseeded and roughly cut up into 8 pieces – at a pinch you could use ½ a fresh lemon (skin and pith only). Buy ready-made, or use the easy recipe below and leave to mature for at least 2 weeks before using.
2 chicken breasts on the bone or chicken legs (organic if possible)
1 heaped teaspoon ras el hanout*(see simple recipe below, or buy ready-made)
For unusual ingredients see “larder & shopping” section of this blog
1. Put a heavy bottomed saucepan or cast iron pot on a medium heat to warm with the 2 mugfuls of stock or water. Put the chicken legs or breasts at the bottom of the pot. Peel and add the onions, ras al hanout, chickpeas, preserved lemon and garlic. Put the lid on, give everything a gentle shake to mix everything up. You want the water to almost cover everything.
2. Simmer gently for 1½ to 2 hours (stirring occasionally to coat everything in the liquid and spices) until the onions are translucent and the chicken is falling off the bone.
Money-saving health-boosting tip:
Serve this with cooked millet. Cooked millet wholegrains are a healthy replacement for couscous, but very similar in appearance and texture. For instructions on how to cook, click the “grains” section in the tag cloud on the left of this blog, or search for “how to cook millet” in the search box.
How to make ras el hanout
Traditionally, ras el hanout contained a blend of 40 different spices. This streamlined version includes many of the main spices of the traditional mixture. Keep this mix in an airtight glass jar in a dark place to preserve the aromas for many months. If you like this spice mix, you will use it again and again as tagine stews are really simple to make. If you own a coffee or spice grinder, you can grind your own spices for extra flavour.
Ras al hanout
Makes ½ a medium size jar of ras el hanout:
2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 teaspoon turmeric
1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
How to make preserved Lemons
These have a distinctive flavour its hard to replicate. These are easily made if you cant find a local Halal shop near you or don’t live near Fallon & Byrne. They take at least 2 weeks before they are ready and will keep for a year. I usually keep mine in the fridge but its not absolutely necessary.
Home-made preserved lemons take about 2 weeks
A carton of Atlantic sea salt or Himalayan (pink) salt
10 unwaxed lemons, organic if possible, scrubbed well
A large glass jar with lid
1. Standing a lemon on one end make a cut down the centre with a sharp knife until you have cut 2/3 of the way down.
2. Now turn the lemon upside down and rotate it 90 degrees. Make another cut at right angles to the original cut, also 2/3 of the way down the fruit.
3. Pack the slits with salt and place in the jar. Continue until the lemons are all packed tightly in the jar.
4. Over the next week or two you will see liquid coming out of the lemons. This is normal. When using a lemon for cooking you will need to discard the seeds and rinse off the salty liquid. After 2 weeks the lemons are ready to use.
Why this is good for you:
Spices in the ras el hanout are a fantastic source of antioxidants to help your health. Spices help reduce inflammation in the digestive system. Research shows that spices also boost liver function and help keep your skin clear and young-looking. Traditionally, Moroccan dishes are cooked on a low flame for a long time. Modern, cheffy recipes telling you to brown the meat are neither as authentic nor as healthy as the traditional ways. Cooking foods at low temperature (stewing) rather than at high temperature (frying, roasting or grilling) is better because low temperatures produce far fewer damaging free radicals than high temperature cooking. Fewer free radicals and more antioxidants from the spices means slowing down the ageing process, reducing the risk of chronic or life-threatening disease, and helping your heart. Stewing meat on the bone releases substances into the food that help support collagen production. This helps your digestive system repair itself and also helps maintain good firm skin and bones in later life.