“They invited us to their home in Marseille, where we sat in the garden and watched the sun drop into a grove of umbrella pines. Simone and Jacques were Jewish, part of Marseille’s vibrant Sephardic community, and for dinner they had prepared a chicken tagine with preserved lemon. I can still taste its bitter, tart brininess, so clean and exotic—so contrary to what I thought of as French food and yet, Simone assured us, very typical.”
-Ann Mah, Mastering the Art of French Eating
They may have been Jewish, and they may have been in France, but there is everything about this tagine which is very authentically north African, moorish…smacking of Morocco and Tunisia; the grassy saffron…the preserved lemon…the earthy turmeric…. all wonderful.
If you can get preserved Menton lemons you are in luck – they have a lot of flavour, and are sweeter than most.
If you can’t get preserved lemon, slice a lemon VERY thinly and add to the onions when you are frying them, adding a teaspoon of dark, resiny honey.
This would go very well with Golden Couscous, and a fresh green salad.
Chicken tagine with preserved lemons and other north African ingredients
- 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with 1 tsp smoked salt
- 2 cm/½” ginger – that’s how much you will need, but don’t cut it off from the larger piece.
- 10 threads of saffron
- 1 tsp Spanish sweet, or bittersweet, smoked paprika
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 8 chicken pieces – boned thighs ideally
- 3 onions
- olive oil for marinating and frying
- 2 shortish sticks of cinnamon
- about 16 pitted olives – black Crespo ones, or fat green ones
- 8 chunks of preserved lemon (citron de Menton is rather good and sweeter than most)
- 240 ml/1 cup chicken stock – hot
- juice and zest of a lemon
- about 15 stems of flat leaf parsley
- pinch of Urfa pepper
- In a pestle and mortar, crush the cumin seeds, and the saffron threads. Add the garlic, turmeric and paprika. Grate in, using a microplane zester, the ginger. Add a pinch of Urfa pepper. Mix in a tablespoon of olive oil.
- Use this paste as a rub for the chicken. Cover with clingfilm, and, ideally, leave in the fridge for four or five hours, or ideally, overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Heat up a couple more tablespoons of oil in a frying pan while you peel and slice the onions, cook gently until transparent – about 15 minutes. Remove to an ovenproof casserole.
- Using the same frying pan, fry the chicken until golden on all sides. Lift out and place on top of a bed of onions.
- Break the cinnamon sticks into two, add to the casserole. Add the olives (cut large ones in two). Cut preserved lemon into bite sized pieces. Add them. Snip over the stems of the parsley, and most of the leaves (save some for garnish).
- Add the hot stock and the lemon juice.
- Put in the oven, not covered, for half an hour.
- Serve garnished with the remaining leaves, and the lemon zest, making sure each person has a piece of cinnamon, and fair apportionment of olives and preserved lemons.