When I was a child, ‘chicken day’ was a most special day. It meant that my whole family – 2 adults and 6 children – would feast on a fragrant chicken tagine.
We would devour it with utter delight, licking our fingers at the end so as not to miss out on even a microscopic bit of the goodness. The tagine – along with the side dishes and freshly made Moroccan ‘focaccia-style’ bread – made us one big, happy and smiling family… though not without a bit of Moroccan-spiced chicken jus smattered across our satisfied lips.
‘Chicken day’ wasn’t just about the meal – it was about the journey from live chicken to scrumptious chicken tagine.
Unlike in Britain, if you want to eat chicken in Morocco, you don’t buy it at the supermarket.
You don’t even meander down to your local butcher. This would be tantamount to Moroccan culinary heresy. Back home we need to know the origin of our chicken along with a guarantee that it is fresh. There’s an obvious way of securing these vital assurances and while it is a rather messy process, it nonetheless was as essential a feature of ‘chicken day’ as any other.
When I was a young girl, ‘chicken day’ began with my mother and I walking down to the souk to choose a nice red organic chicken. That’s right, a living and breathing one. When we arrived back home, my mum would place the red hen in a large pot and kill it. It isn’t the most pleasant thing to witness or perform, but it is an experience that reminds one that meat just doesn’t grow on trees and that every piece of meat you savour comes from a living creature with its own life and history.
Once dead, we would place the chicken in boiling water to make the plucking process easier. We would then diligently pluck all the feathers, but despite our best efforts, there would always remain fine hairs on the chicken. These are not worth the trouble to pluck so instead they were singed over an open flame on the hob. It was tedious work but a job that we approached meticulously as even a single bit of fluff left on the chicken would risk ruining the delicious, sumptuous tagine (and its flavoursome skin) that was to come. Once fully defeathered, mum would thoroughly wash the chicken with salt, remove (and save) the giblets et voila… it would be ready for marinating!
Before cooking our fresh, organic chicken, we would rub it with finely chopped garlic, lemon juice, ginger, saffron, cumin, mustard powder and salt and pepper.
We would let it sit for a couple hours in the fridge before cooking it in the tagine with plenty of olives and – most importantly – preserved lemons. For a final touch, the giblets are added at the very end so they wouldn’t disintegrate. Shortly thereafter, my family and I would be pulled into the dinning room by the chicken’s unmistakable fragrance and we would be met with a huge steaming tagine in the middle of the table surrounded by a range of refreshing and tasty Moroccan salads and plenty of bread with which to mop up any left-over tagine sauce.
Joe and I would like to share with you our family’s take on the traditional Moroccan chicken tagine. For our recipe, we invite you to click here:
Zayane’s Recipe for Moroccan Chicken Tagine
- 1 whole chicken
- 2 medium onions finely chopped
- garlic as desired finely chopped
- 1 bunch of parsley and coriander finely chopped
- lemon juice as desired
- 1 tbsp freshly ginger grated
- saffron (put in hot water before use) or
- turmeric if saffron is not available
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 tbsp mustard powder
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 preserved lemons (use skin only)
- olives red or green as desired
- 1/2 cup of olive oil
- Before cooking, marinate chicken in the spices and garlic for at least 2 hours in the fridge.
- Place onions, chicken, marinade juices and herbs in the tagine (or pan) and add olives, preserved lemons and 1 cup of water.
- Cook on low heat for one hour.