Marrakech and a Chicken Tagine

4 Apr

The Love Affair

We celebrated our 6 year wedding anniversary in January with a weekend trip to Marrakech in Morocco. We stayed in the Medina (old town) in a quaint little Riad and experienced our first tagine of the weekend on our very first night at the Riad; a traditional Lamb and Apricot Tagine. The Lamb was so juicy and so very tender, it really was a ‘melt in your mouth’ experience, and the apricots gave the dish a lovely sweetness. I knew, even before we left Geneva, that I wanted to come home with a tagine of my own but it was made even more certain in my mind after eating that Lamb Tagine. We had booked in for a full day cooking class and here we made, amongst other things, a Chicken and Preserved Lemon Tagine and a Rabbit and Quince Tagine in an outdoor kitchen over a manually fanned flame. Both of these Tagines are traditional flavour combinations and can be found on the menu of any restaurant in Marrakech. The Rabbit Tagine had a lot more flavour than the Chicken Tagine but they were both delicious and we had learned so great cooking techniques. Over lunch I bombarded our cook with one million and one questions about ceramic tagines, what to look for, what size to buy, how much I should spend, which stall to buy from etc, and finished the day back in the markets ready to haggle.

The Barter

The best part of our trip to Marrakech was the purchase of my tagine. The cook from our cooking class had informed me that I should spend no more than 50 dirham for a medium sized tagine (approximately 4 person) and to stick to the plain varnished ceramic tagines as these are the only appropriate ones for cooking with (the paint from the decorated tagines can be toxic when heated). We were in the Jamaa el Fna, the hotspot for shopping and bartering, and every second stall seemed to be selling tagines. I headed to the first one I saw, found a tagine that I liked and asked the gentleman manning the stand how much it cost. His reply was astounding; 400 dirham! I almost laughed out loud, but promptly told him I would pay no more than 50 dirham. In our previous two days of bartering we had aimed at 50% of the original price stated and so to counter the offer of 400 dirham with only 50 dirham seemed like lunacy. And to this gentleman it was. He waved us off and so we headed to the next shop where I again found a tagine that I liked and again asked the gentleman manning the shop how much it would cost. This time it was 200 dirham. So once again I countered with 50 dirham and told the man I would pay no more. I was unwilling to budge. I should be able to pay what the locals pay, I thought. We started to walk away to the next shop when the shop keeper ran out and offered us 100 dirham. Another 10 steps down the alley and he yelled out 50 dirham. Success!!

The Home Test

Now that we’re back home, it was time to try out my 5fr tagine. We both decided that we enjoyed the Lamb and Apricot Tagine the most but considering the price of lamb in Geneva, we decided to substitute for chicken and make a Chicken and Apricot Tagine.  As a side note, if you are using a ceramic tagine be sure to oil it and heat it in the oven for a few hours before using for the first time as this will help to prevent your tagine from cracking.  If you don’t own a tagine then any croc pot or casserole dish will be fine.

Here we go…

Chicken & Apricot Tagine

1 whole chicken, sectioned
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 stick of cinnamon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots
1 1/2 cups water or stock
1/3 cup whole blanched almonds

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Step 1 : Section the chicken into approximately 6 pieces. I used two small chickens and used only the legs (thighs attached) and breast pieces. This was my first time sectioning a chicken and I am so proud of how well I did – watching all those episodes of MasterChef is certainly paying off! Make small cuts along the top of the chicken pieces – to be used for stuffing the ingredients into. Arrange the chicken pieces in the tagine.

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Step 2 : Drizzle olive oil over chicken pieces. Add spices and rub into chicken pieces. Add onion, garlic and apricots to the tagine and squish into chicken, under chicken and between chicken. SUGGESTION: Rub spices into chicken pieces and allow to marinade for a few hours before cooking.

Step 3 : Add enough water or stock to fill tagine to just below level of the lid. Ensure rim of tagine is clean before covering with the lid.

Step 4 : Place tagine in a cold oven and heat to 150C (moderate oven, no fan). Cooking time will vary depending on your oven and the size of the chicken pieces but approximately 45 minutes is a good guide from when the water/stock begins to boil. Check intermittently to ensure water level is maintained; top up if necessary.

Traditionally, tagines are cooked over an open flame so go ahead and cook it on the stove or bbq or camp fire.

Step 5 : Remove from oven. The aroma from the spices that waft through the kitchen when you take the lid off is divine! The apricots are plumped and juicy from the stock and the one’s on the top are slightly caramelised and oh so sweet.

Garnish with blanched almonds, fresh coriander leaves or fresh parsley. Serve with cous cous.

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Is your mouth watering yet? If it is, what are you waiting for? Get to the kitchen and make your own Moroccan feast.

Bon Appetit!

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