Chicken Tagine – with Prunes and Almonds in the Style of the Rif Mountains
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Transfer the chicken to top the steamed onions.
- 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.
- 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.
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.