Weekend Recipe: Fruity and Fragrant One-Pot Chicken
Bringing you the sweet and sour vibes of Moroccan tagine
At the end of my review of An Everlasting Meal, I mentioned a “totally incredible baked chicken dish from a method hidden in a chapter focused on anchovies, olives, capers, and pickles.” When I tried it, I made a lot of modifications, so I wanted to share my version with you. With chicken, onions, potatoes, carrots, and lots of punchy and fragrant flavors, this is a great one-pan meal. It takes about 30 minutes of active cooking to put together plus another 30 in the oven, but at the end all you have to wash is your pan, one plate, cutting board, knife and a small bowl. Not bad for a weeknight!
The basic idea of the recipe as Tamar Adler presents it is to bake some chicken with seasonal vegetables and olives, which will punch up anything in the pot. I...am not really that interested in olives, but Adler notes that “dried fruit, which is also preserved and its flavor concentrated, works like olives, and is used in place or in tandem throughout northern Africa and the Middle East.” She suggests adding dried fruit with or instead of olives and sprinkling in some cinnamon and/or ginger as well--much more my speed.
This recipe, especially with the dried fruit and spices, bears a strong resemblance to a tagine. Tagine (or tajine) is a North African stew dish that’s named after the pot you make it in. The tagine pot is an earthenware dish with a cone-shaped cover that collects steam and returns it as condensation back into the dish, enabling you to make a relatively brothy stew without having to use a lot of water--useful in dry climates! Tagines can be made with many kinds of meats, fish, and vegetables (I’ve mostly come across chicken and lamb). They usually have spices like cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, and cumin, as well as herbs like cilantro, and often have a sweet-and-sour element from dried fruit, olives, and/or preserved lemon.
The first time I had a tagine was at Cafe Mogador, a Moroccan restaurant in the East Village. This one was with a generous lamb shank stewed with prunes and dried apricots, and it was just wonderful--super tender, rich, and lightly sweet. At some point after, my partner and I got very into tagines and learning more about Moroccan cooking. (We even got our friend who was visiting Morocco to bring us back a tagine!) Our favorite resource is Cooking with Alia, and you can check out the recipe of hers we used the most, chicken tagine with preserved lemon, here.
Getting back to this baked chicken recipe, the flavor profile is Moroccan but the preparation is European--as far as I’ve seen you don’t sear meat off to brown it before cooking in a tagine. Starting by searing the meat gives you flavor from caramelization, crisps up the chicken skin, and also enables you to cook the other ingredients--onions, potatoes, and carrots--in the chicken fat. Yum!
Since I wasn’t going to be getting the punchiness of the olives, I decided to soak my dried fruit in vinegar first to plump them up and give me that sweet-and-sour vibe that I associate with tagine. I also added preserved lemon, which is made by packing lemons in salt until they lightly ferment. I hate to be that person calling for a difficult to find ingredient, but preserved lemon really punches above its weight here--it’s delightful when you get a bite and that salty, tart, lemony flavor is layered over the richness of the other ingredients. If you like olives, those are probably the best substitute, or you could add some strips of normal lemon peel. If you want to seek out preserved lemon, you can find it at Middle Eastern grocery stores (Sahadi’s is a go-to for New Yorkers), order a paste online here, or try your hand at making them.
Moroccan-Inspired Baked Chicken with Sweet and Sour Fruit
Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
4 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs (about 1.5 - 2lb)
Salt and pepper
Handful (⅓ cup) dried fruit such as apricots, dates, cherries, or raisins (if using the larger fruit, quarter it)
Approximately ¼ cup sherry vinegar (any fruity vinegar is okay here, except balsamic)
1 tbsp olive oil (or neutral oil like canola)
1 medium onion
2 large carrots (½ lb)
1 medium (½ lb) waxy potato (yes to yellow or red, no to a baking potato)
½ preserved lemon (you can substitute some strips of normal lemon rind, but preserved lemon really takes this over the top. Another option is a small handful of your favorite olives.)
1 cinnamon stick (or a dash of ground cinnamon)
Sprinkle chicken thighs with salt (1 tsp per pound) and a few cracks of black pepper. Rub seasoning onto both sides of meat. Set aside.
Put handful of dried fruit in a small bowl. Pour over sherry vinegar to cover. Set aside.
In a large, heavy bottomed, oven safe* Dutch oven or pan with a lid, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat until oil slides around quickly when you tilt the pan. (If the oil starts smoking before you catch that it’s ready, turn the heat down to medium.) Add the chicken thighs, skin side down. Brown chicken until it easily releases from pan when you pick it up with tongs and the skin is browned, 5-8 minutes. Turn pieces over and brown on the other side for 5 minutes. Remove to a plate. (Chicken will not be cooked through.)
While chicken is browning, halve and then slice 1 medium onion and 1 medium large red or yellow potato thinly. Peel and thinly slice 2 large carrots into coins.
Now would be a good time to preheat your oven to 375°. (I don’t like to preheat the oven right away because then I have to stand in a hot kitchen before the food even goes in.)
After browning and removing the chicken, add onions to the pan and reduce heat to medium. Salt lightly and cook, stirring occasionally to scrape up any browned bits from the chicken (this is called fond, FYI), until softened, 3-5 minutes.
Add potatoes and carrots to the pan and stir to combine with onions. Salt lightly again and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned in spots, 5-8 minutes. They will be unevenly cooked and that’s fine.
While veg is cooking, halve your preserved lemon and put half away. Peel the rind off the half you’re using and slice into thin strips. Discard the pulp of the lemon. (Or, you can chop it and put it in the pot too if you really like sour.) If you’re using normal lemon, just peel the whole thing and use the peels.
Nestle chicken in with vegetables skin side up. Drain the fruit and scatter soaked fruit and preserved lemon peel around. Tuck in 1 cinnamon stick wherever pleases you, or sprinkle with a dash of ground cinnamon.
Cover and cook in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until chicken reaches 165° on an instant-read thermometer. This shouldn’t need anything else to serve, but you can garnish with cilantro if you’re into that ;)
*You can make a pan oven safe by covering any non-metal elements (i.e. handles) with aluminum foil. If you have a cast iron skillet, that’s good for this if you have a lid for it.
Next issue: I’ll be interviewing a friend about her successful solo dinners thanks to Cooking Solo by Klancy Miller.