Moroccan Chicken with Lemons and Olives

My mom grew up in Morocco, which means during the holidays I ate kofta (or as my mom says, kfita) instead of brisket, chickpea-squash soup instead of matzo balls, and a bright yellow chicken instead of one doused in paprika. My mom’s go-to for holidays and Shabbat dinners, and now mine, is what we call “lemon chicken.” It turns out that lemon chicken is actually a popular Chinese food, and upon my visit to Morocco last year I learned that my “lemon chicken” is actually Chicken Tagine with Lemons and Olives. All my life I have wanted to try tagine, and it turns out I’ve been eating it all my life! I don’t call it tagine, simply because I don’t know how to cook in a tagine, but the flavors are there.

MOROCCAN CHICKEN WITH LEMONS AND OLIVES

This photo is from the NYTimes, but this is a family recipe, which means I was never given measurements. This is my best approximation, but play around with the recipe! I can’t eat garlic or onions, so I use about two cups of the dark green part of leeks. My mom, who taught me how to make this, doesn’t season her chicken before browning and adds the spices directly to the liquid, making the sauce a beautiful bright yellow. I like to use less turmeric so the preserved lemon flavor is dominant. My favorite olives to use are salt-cured black olives, because they season the dish and develop a very pleasant flavor and texture over cooking. Traditionally, bitter cracked green olives are used. My mom never made this dish with potatoes, but it helps to thicken the sauce and to create a one-pot meal.

Ingredients:

  • Whole chicken cut into 12 pieces
  • 8-10 oz of brined olives
  • 2 preserved lemons, quartered and sliced (Don’t buy them if you can help it. Seriously, it’s so expensive. Whenever I don’t have preserved lemons, I will use fresh. The end result is a brighter citrus flavor. This recipe is pretty similar to how my family makes it, but we don’t measure the salt, we sometimes add whole spices to the jar, and most importantly we let the lemons pickle for 6 months in a dark, cool spot in the house. Use eureka lemons (they have a thick rind) so your lemons don’t turn into mush!)
  • Head of garlic
  • 2 tbsp turmeric
  • 2 cups chicken broth or stock (preferably sodium-free)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • OPTIONAL 1-2 lbs potatoes, cubed
  • OPTIONAL onion, shallots, or leeks, sliced or diced
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. In a large mixing bowl, put all the chicken pieces, 2 tbsp olive oil, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Mix until chicken is coated in spices. You may need to add more spices or olive oil depending on the size of your chicken. Use less salt if you are using preserved lemons or especially salty olives.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed pot, such as a dutch oven, add the remaining olive oil as needed and brown the chicken and the head of garlic on medium-high heat. (Keep the garlic whole.) Set chicken aside.
  4. Reduce heat to medium
  5. If you are adding potatoes, onions, shallots, or leeks to the recipe, add a bit more oil to the pan and start sautéing.
  6. Once the vegetables are a little soft, rinse the lemons and add them and the olives on top of the vegetables. Then add the garlic and the chicken
  7. Add chicken broth until the liquid goes halfway up the chicken. Cover and place in the oven for one hour.

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Maya Jacobson

Maya is an East Bay native who made the big move to the South Bay in the summer of 2017. Over the past few years, she's been finding fun ways to do Jewish, including hosting a monthly Shabbat dinners through OneTable. (Her friends say she's an excellent cook that often honors her mom's heritage via Moroccan cooking.) She's also a big fan of succulents (with an 80% success rate) and an amateur watercolor painter.

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