March in the Kitchen – Chicken Tagine with Prunes and Almonds in the Style of the Rif Mountains

Chicken Tagine – with Prunes and Almonds in the Style of the Rif Mountains

The Food of Morocco

The Food of Morocco

Just writing the title of this recipe transports me to exotic places. It came from a wonderful cookbook, “The Food of Morocco” by Paula Wolfert. This book is the March/April choice of the Cookbook Guru, an online cookbook book club. I have several cookbooks by Ms. Wolfert; they all have a definite Mediterranean slant and are all highly recommended. If you would like to read more posts inspired by the cookbook, click on the link.

She credits the origins of this recipe to the Moroccan writer Mohammed Mrabet, who lived in the Rif Mountains. It seems the people who inhabit the area are very individualistic and do things their own way. The technique of rubbing cumin into the skin of the chicken before cooking is not known in other parts of the country.

First I think we all need a short geography lesson if you were wondering, as I was, “where are the Rif Mountains?” The Rif, or Arabic Al-Rif, is a mountain range in Northern Morocco. It extends from Tangier to the Moulouya River valley near the Moroccan-Algerian frontier. For most of its 180-mile length, the range hugs the Mediterranean Sea, leaving only a few narrow coastal valleys suitable for agriculture or urban settlement. . The higher peaks, including Mount Tidirhine, which at 8,059 feet (2,456 metres) is the loftiest, are snow-capped in winter.The Berbers have inhabited the Rif since prehistoric times and the region’s name comes from the Berber word Arif.

This dish was reportedly cooked for members of the Tangier literary set by Mohammed Mrabet; who is mostly known in the West through his association with Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and Tennessee Williams. He is a writer and artist who makes colorful felt tip and ink drawings in the style of Paull Masson or a more depressive Jean Miro. He is increasingly being recognized as an important member of a small group of Moroccan Master Painters.

Ok, enough back story, here is the recipe:

Chicken Tagine – with Prunes and Almonds in the style of the Rif Mountains

  • One medium-sized chicken, preferably organic and air chilled
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of cumin (she prefers Moroccan which I did not have)
  • 12 ounces of pitted prunes
  • 2 -3 teaspoons of ground Ceylon cinnamon (I used 1 stick of cinnamon)
  • 2 large yellow onions, halved and sliced lengthwise
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger (I used ½ teaspoon of freshly grated ginger)
  • 1 cup blanched whole almonds
  • Vegetable oil such as canola for frying

This is the perfect dish for cooking in a clay casserole, if you have one. It is the first dish I have cooked in my new Emile Henry casserole.

Clay Baker

Clay Baker

  1. Wipe the chicken dry with paper towels, trim away excess fat. Cut off the wings and leg/thighs; leave the breast in one piece. Rub all the pieces with the cumin, salt, and pepper. Let stand at least 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile, cover the prunes with hot water in a small saucepan and add the cinnamon. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer 10 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Place the onions in a wide, shallow casserole, with the turmeric, ginger, more salt and pepper to taste, and ¼ cup of water. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, brown the almonds in a few tablespoons of oil in a large skillet. When golden brown, remove them with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Using the same oil, brown the chicken on all sides.
  5. Transfer the chicken to top the steamed onions.
  6. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper, then the lid to the casserole (the recipe as written did not say the lid). Cook on the lowest heat for about 1-1/4 hours.
  7. Uncover and discard the parchment paper. Add the cooked prunes to the casserole and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Arrange the chicken breast in the center of a serving dish, place the legs and thighs around and cover all with the prunes and sauce. Sprinkle with almonds to serve.
Chicken Tagine

Chicken Tagine

I made a few modifications to the recipe as written, have a few comments, and changes I would make next time.

  • We thought the chicken was very flavorful but the breast was dry. I would use either leg thigh quarters or all thighs next time.
  • I prefer whole spices to ground as they lose flavor and aroma quickly. You can see my substitutions in the list of ingredients.
  • She did not say to put on the lid of the casserole, after 30 minutes it was not really cooking as there was no liquid to submerge the chicken. I don’t know if this was a mistake or an intentional omission. I finally put the lid on the casserole to finish the dish.

The recipe is beautiful and I love the combination of spices and fruit. I would make it again but use primarily dark meat which would stay moist.

I’m taking this to share with Angie and the gang at the Novice Gardener for Fiesta Friday. Please come and have a virtual taste of all the lovely food.

Fiesta Friday

Fiesta Friday

41 thoughts on “March in the Kitchen – Chicken Tagine with Prunes and Almonds in the Style of the Rif Mountains

  1. Looks delicious! This is something my family would love, I will keep the all dark meat comment in mind! Thanks for sharing your recipe at FF#60. 🙂

  2. Great flavors going on in this tagine. I just received one as a gift last week, one of those conical shaped glazed ones. I’ve cooked tagine before, but never in the actual vessel. I’m very excited about using it, and have read up on tips etc. However, I’m not quite sure if I can use the pot directly on the burner, some say you cannot, but need a diffuser. Any ideas on that?

    • Is it an Emile Henry? The company does make tagine dishes. If it says “Flame” on the bottom you can use it on the stove. I’d love to have one. I think they are typically used on top of the stove, but you may need to use a flame diffuser to protect the bottom.

      • I’m not sure of the make, I don’t believe it has a stamp on it, but it’s the actual tagine you know conical shaped and ceramic with a glaze. I might just have to buy a flame diffuser, I believe you can order them from Amazon, or Ill try one of the kitchen shops in town. The beauty of it, is you can cook in it, then serve right out of the bottom part, it’s a gorgeous rust and black color. I hope to use it soon and have a Moroccan themed supper.

  3. Reblogged this on The Cookbook Guru and commented:
    Another gorgeous Tangine from one of The Cookbook Guru’s kitchens. Check out Liz’s Chicken Tangine with prunes and almonds and learn a little of the history of the dish at the same time.

    Happy Reading and Happy Cooking,


  4. Hi Liz, Great looking dish. I read elsewhere that the parchment paper is to stop steam escaping from the hole in the top of some tagine (and drying out the dish). I guess with your Emile Henry you could have skipped the parchment paper and just put the lid on. Maybe Paula thinks it goes without saying that you put the lid on the tagine 🙂

    • Hi Glenda, I was surprised as she does specifically write to cover the dish in other recipes. Using the parchment paper makes sense if there is a hole in the lid and you need to generate steam. I tried to follow that part of the recipe as written but it was not working.

      I will make it again and see if using the lid from the beginning makes a difference to the dryness of the chicken. I do think I would prefer dark meat though.

  5. This looks so much like a dish I learned in Catalunya! Mmmmm so tasty. Of course there’s a huge Moroccan influence in Spain so it makes sense, but I love seeing how cultures influence each other’s food. That little clay pot is lovely, I’m going to check that out. ~ sheri

    • Hi Jhuls, the prunes I used were on the small size and they seemed to dissolve into the sauce. I might use larger ones next time and I think any dried fruit would be good, even raisins. The prunes were not as striking an addition as I would have thought.

  6. Liz, I have eaten tagine and loved it but have not made it myself….I will now! thanks for this great recipe!

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