I’ve been indulging in some new kitchen toys lately. One of which is a tagine. A huge tagine. A mahousive tagine. In fact it is so huge, I have nowhere to store it in my tiny little kitchen. So it proudly sits on display in the lounge. Quirky perhaps. But it is a beautiful piece of kit. I may need to stroke it on a daily basis.
OK, so practicality obviously deluded me, as I did measure the oven for the diameter to ensure it fits. I did not however measure the total height of the beast including its enormous lid. So when using it in the oven I shall have to place it on a metal grid on the bottom of my oven, with the oven shelves (and the new pizza stone that has a permanent home in the oven due to no room in my cupboards for that either) stashed away somewhere in my spare room until the cooking deed is done.
Just as well I can make this recipe on the stove top as well. And you don’t need a tagine per se either, despite its glorious aesthetics. A large heavy-based casserole (or Dutch oven) with a tight fitting lid will do.
I adore Moroccan flavours and couscous. A few years ago I was blessed to be cooked a traditional Couscous Royale by a Moroccan-French friend in his Parisian home. A simple meal with family and friends, with a huge platter of couscous plonked in the middle of the table and eaten with the hands, rolling little balls of couscous to be casually popped into the mouth. I admittedly resorted to a fork, as the ball-rolling and popping will take a little more practice before I allow myself to get that messy again in company.
This chicken tagine is one of my favourite Moroccan recipes. The spices interplay beautifully with the dried fruits and the honey. I like skin-on bone-in thighs, breast or legs for extra flavour, but skinned breast or thigh fillet work fine too.
Baking the couscous deepens the flavours, especially when incorporating roast veggies and a little butter. A deliciously bejeweled rainbow of a dish. Glorious cold for lunch the next day too.
I’d be inclined to scatter over some pomegranate seeds, but there’s enough fruit in the main event this time round.
Sweet and Spicy Chicken Tagine (serves 4 – GF DF LC RSF)
3 tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp fennel seeds
a pinch of saffron threads
1/2 tbsp Ras El Hanout (Morocan spice mix)
1 tbsp Harissa (Moroccan spice paste)
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole star anise
600-800 gr chicken pieces, skin on or off, bone in or out as you wish
1 large onion, sliced into half moons or chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
1 red or green chilli, seeds in or out to taste, finely chopped or sliced
a good thumb of fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
2 preserved lemons, seeds removed, finely chopped
1 x 400 gr tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
300 ml chicken stock
4-6 Mejdool dates, stones removed, roughly chopped
a small handful of raisins and/or diced unsulphured dried apricots
2 tbsp honey
1/2 tbsp orange blossom water
a small handful of fresh mint, parsley or coriander, finely chopped
For garnish: flaked toasted almonds, fresh parsley, coriander or mint, extra chilli
Blend 2 tbsp oil with the ground spices and Harissa. Transfer to a bowl or zip-lock bag with the cinnamon, star anise and saffron. Add the chicken, massage together and chill in the fridge for 3 hrs or overnight.
Heat the remaining oil over medium-high heat in a large casserole or tagine. Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes until translucent and starting to brown. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli. Turn the heat to medium and continue cooking for a minute or so.
Add the chicken and its marinade. Then add the stock, preserved lemon and chickpeas. Bring to a simmer.
Cover and turn the heat down to low or transfer to a 160 C oven. Cook for 40 mins or until tender.
Combine the dried fruits, honey and enough water to cover into a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and then turn down to medium heat. Cook for 15 mins or so. then add to the tagine together with the fresh herbs (keep a few herbs behind for garnish). Cook the tagine for a further 10-15 mins.
Garnish with toasted almond slivers and the reserved herbs. Serve with couscous or Mediterranean flatbreads. Hand extra Harissa round for the spice lovers.
Baked Rainbow Couscous (serves 4 – DF V RSF)
1 tbsp (chilli) rapeseed oil or olive oil
1 red onion
2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
250 gr couscous (I used barley couscous)
1 tbsp butter
1/2 red pepper, deseeded and diced
1/2 green pepper, deseeded and diced
1/2 yellow pepper, deseeded and diced
300 ml vegetable or chicken stock, or enough to cover
1/2 courgette, diced
zest and juice of a lemon
a small handful of fresh parsley, mint or coriander, finely chopped, plus extra for garnish
Preheat the oven to 185 C
Toss the vegetables and garlic in the oil, season and spread onto a baking tray. Roast in the oven for 20-30 mins.
Meanwhile soak the couscous in hot stock to just cover for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large oven dish and mix through the roast lemon zest and juice, roast vegetables and herbs. Season and dot with butter.
Cover with aluminium foil and bake for 20 mins. Fluff up before serving and scatter over any remaining herbs.