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.

chicken with lemons and olives

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 or 8 chicken thighs
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 large white onion, halved, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups water
2 lemons, cut into wedges
1 cup pitted green olives
steamed couscous, for serving

Warm oil in a large deep skillet or braising pan over medium heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Sear chicken in batches until brown all over. Remove to a plate.

Lower heat to medium-low. Add onions and a pinch of salt and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add spices: paprika, cumin, coriander, ginger, and cinnamon; toast 1 minute. Add a splash of water and scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of pan.

Add back the chicken. Nestle in the lemon wedges. Pour over with the remaining water, but just enough to barely cover. Bring to a gentle boil. Lower to a quick simmer and cook, covered, until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning once during cooking time.

Remove chicken to a plate. Add olives. Increase heat to medium-high to reduce sauce by a third. Check seasoning. Return chicken to pan and rewarm. Serve with couscous. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.


  1. This looks fabulous (and I love that pan)! I've been dreaming of lemon and olive chicken since the weather started turning warmer here...maybe this will be the catalyst to actually make it! :-)

  2. I made this dish but I grinded spices myself, so there was a lots of flavor. Maybe with this dish one can use salted lemons (maroccoan style) also.
    Easy to make with great flavors :)

  3. First, I have to tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog. It's educational & delicious!

    I made your braised chicken w/ lemons and olives last week and my husband and I loved it! The flavors are exciting and the technique of braising is fool-proof. I served it with Israeli couscous w/ pine nuts and currants & creamed collard greens w/ cornbread. I have to tell you - it was perfect.

    Thank you!

  4. Recently, my children requested that I "cook something new" and "make chicken with olives." This recipe satisfied both requests perfectly. The spices were delicious and couscous absorbed the juices nicely. Since we don't eat onions, I added carrots and baby bella mushrooms to up the veggie content. Votes at the dinner table tonight were unanimously "thumbs up!"

  5. Hey Mindy,
    It's a great pan for braising. A vintage eBay find.

    Hi Betoni,
    Grinding your own spices really makes a difference in fresher flavor. I also grind my own spices. I was going back and forth on using preserved lemons for this recipe, but the batch I had made earlier still needed some time on the shelf to pickle. Yes, they would be wonderful in this recipe added toward the end of cooking.

    Hi Blair,
    Thanks so much for being a loyal reader! Your side dish pairings sound exceptional. Glad you and your husband enjoyed it.

    Hey Chris,
    You don't eat onions! Well, to each his own. Adding carrots and mushrooms sounds great. Appreciate the thumbs up!



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