Braised Chicken with Lemons and Olives

chicken with lemons and olives

There is no cuisine quite like that of Morocco. The North African nation has had so many culinary influences over the centuries, resulting from invasion or trade, that its cuisine has developed into a special blend. The food has evolved to include a host of different herbs, spices, and flavors as well as ingredients originally from elsewhere. This recipe, for example, includes lemons and olives, which are both extensively used and grown in the Mediterranean. The aromatic spices, such as cumin, coriander, and cinnamon, remind us of the Far East. These flavor combinations are what make Moroccan food so unique.

The most popular Moroccan dishes use these flavors in stews and braises, which are eaten as an everyday food. The technique starts by searing meat and then cooking it in shallow liquid until absolutely succulent. Moroccan cuisine uses the technique in its famous tagine, which is both the name for the cooking vessel and the dish that comes out of it. You would recognize the unusual clay pot when you see it, because of its characteristic conical dome lid, which covers a shallow dish. Cooking in it produces very tender meat. Typically, beef, chicken or lamb and sometimes fish is made in a tagine. It's a very versatile piece of equipment. But you don't have to own one to make a tagine.

This recipe, though not made in a tagine, is a take on the classic chicken tagine with lemons and olives. Moroccan food is known for such flavors as sweet, savory, tangy, briny, and spicy. Here the tart lemons cook along with the chicken and turn soft and entirely edible. An earthy spice blend of paprika, cumin, coriander, ginger, and cinnamon adds warmth and depth of flavor. The olives lend salt-and-brine flavor reminiscent of the sea. This meal would be wonderful served with fluffy couscous. Bring a bit of Moroccan goodness to your table with this recipe.

Braised Chicken with Lemons and Olives

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds), cut into 8 pieces
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 large white onion, halved, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups chicken stock
2 lemons, cut into wedges
1 cup pitted green olives

Warm oil in a large deep skillet or braising pan over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Sear chicken in batches until brown all over. Remove to a plate. Pour off most of the fat in the pan.

Lower heat to medium-low. Add onions and a pinch of salt and sauté until soft and lightly caramelized, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add spices: paprika, cumin, coriander, ginger, and cinnamon; toast 1 minute. Add stock and scrape up any brown bits on bottom of pan. Add back the chicken. Add the lemons. Bring to a gentle boil. Lower to a fast simmer and cook, covered, until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes, turning once during cooking time.

Remove chicken to a plate. Add olives. Increase heat to high to reduce sauce by a third. Check seasoning. Return chicken to pan and rewarm. Serve with couscous. Yield: 4 servings.