Have you ever bought something new that simply lead to the necessity of buying lots of other new things? You know, like that Wii that was pretty much useless until you bought the extra controllers and charging station, balance board, and steering wheel? That’s kind of like what happened when I got my copy of Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking. Except that I was lucky enough to win the book through a giveaway on my friend Shulie’s blog, Food Wanderings. (Side note: when I gave Shulie my address to ship the book, she realized right away that her in-laws live practically around the corner from me – how ironic is that!) I didn’t own any clay pots, but I figured I could get by, adapting the recipes to cast iron and stainless pieces. But when I started reading about Wolfert’s collection of clay pots from all around the world, and how each one has a unique story and dish associated with it, I knew I had to put the book down until I could get some of my own. Fortunately, Hanukkah was right around the corner. My previously empty wish list (“but I really don’t need anything!!”) was suddenly full of clay pots in several shapes, sizes and colors. My family came through, and I even bought a few pieces myself.
I no longer had any excuses, except that I wanted to challenge myself with a recipe out of my comfort zone. Something new in terms of ingredients and flavors, and that would require more time and effort than I typically put into a meal for just the two of us. So I waited a few more weeks, to take advantage of some much-needed holiday time off near the end of the month, and chose a recipe I perceived as quite different from any other tagine I’d heard of: Moroccan Chicken with Egg and Lemon.I knew it was the one because even as I read the recipe over and over again, I couldn’t imagine at all how it was supposed to turn out. Usually I can conjure up some sort of picture and taste, but this had me totally stumped, and therefore, completely intrigued.
At first I pictured poached eggs on top of some kind of chicken stew, but then I realized that the eggs get whisked into the sauce. That would definitely be new and different to me, perhaps like a Greek avgolemono sauce. But as I kept going over the ingredients – saffron, ginger, cinnamon, olives – and Wolfert’s description of the velvety, custard-like sauce, I gave up. This was something else entirely, and I wouldn’t figure it out until I experienced it.
And I can honestly say, I’m so glad I did. The sauce was, as Paula promised, thick and velvety. I loved how it was smooth and creamy, but its richness came from the unique combination of warm saffron and ginger with tangy lemon and olive. Despite the desire to keep tasting more, a little went a long way. Ben proclaimed this to be one of the best things I’ve made in a long time – but had he not told me, I still would have known from the way he kept spooning more of the addictingly delicious sauce on his plate. The only thing I would change next time is to make the full recipe and invite some lucky people over to enjoy it with us, because this is a company-worthy dish that would totally impress.
To go along with it, I made a simple chopped vegetable fattoush salad and a Moroccan eggplant salad – another big winner, which I’ll be sharing soon in another post (trust me, I didn’t wait very long to make it again!) Some warm bread to soak up the extra sauce would be a welcome addition too.
Moroccan Chicken with Lemon and Eggs
Serves 4-8, adapted from Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking
Even though this recipe was new to me in so many ways, I still took some liberty to make a few changes which better suited my cooking style and ingredients I had on hand. Changes are noted in italics.
4 large whole chicken legs, separated into drumsticks and thighs, to make 8 pieces (or a mixture of breasts and thighs, boneless or bone-in, skinless or not)
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, soaked in hot water
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
1 tablespoon smen or 1 additional tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large onion, grated, rinsed, and squeezed dry (or finely chopped onion)
1/2 of a preserved lemon rind, trimmed and diced
16-18 pitted picholine olives, washed, dranined, and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
About 2 hours before serving, rinse the chicken and pat dry. Trim away excess fat.
In a mortar, pound garlic to a paste with 1 teaspoon of salt. Blend in the ginger, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, cinnamon, softened butter, and the smen. Or combine the ingredients in a mini food processor. Gradually stir (blend) in the hot saffron water, as if making a mayonnaise. Mix in half of the grated onion and pour into the tagine. Place the chicken pieces, skin side up, on top, and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
Cover the tagine and set over medium-low heat. Cook without disturbing for 45 minutes, or until chicken is tender. Transfer the chicken pieces to a broiling pan, skin side-up, and pat dry.
Preheat the broiler. In a medium bowl, combine preserved lemon, olives, cilantro and parsley.
Skim off most of the fat from the liquid in the tagine, reserving about 1/4 cup (if using skinless chicken, there will likely not be much fat to skim). Pour the degreased liquid from the tagine into the bowl with the lemon, olives and fresh herbs.
Return the tagine to the heat and add the rest of the onion, and half of the reserved fat or a splash of olive oil. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Scrape the onion into the bowl and mix to combine. Set aside. Do not wash the tagine.
Brush the remaining reserved fat over the chicken legs and thighs, and run them under the broiler, for about 5 minutes, to crisp the skin. This step may be omitted if using skinless chicken; or you may still choose to brown it quickly, without any additional fat. Keep the chicken warm while finishing the sauce.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in the tagine over medium-low heat. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until well blended; season with a pinch of salt and pepper. When the butter is foaming, add the eggs, stirring gently, and continually scraping the bottom. As the eggs begin to thicken, gradually add the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring slowly, until a creamy consistency is reached. Immediately remove from the heat and stir in the sauce mixture. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Nestle the broiled chicken, skin side-up, in the custardy sauce. Cover and let stand for a few minutes. Serve warm.