Lemon is our ingredient of the season! So far we’ve used it in a buckle, in bars, in a savory pasta, popsicles, and in the shower.
If there’s one thing making this chicken with preserved lemons dish confirmed, it’s that Calder and I fall hard for main dishes with a mix strong flavors. For example, this dish calls for fresh and preserved lemons, fresh ginger, garlic, onions, olives, and cilantro (wow!). I would never dream of putting that many flavors together on my own, and I wouldn’t have the confidence to assume that they would go well with chicken. BUT when flipping through cookbooks, that’s just the sort of edgy combination that jumps out and gets me excited to try a new recipe. Such was the scene last week when I pulled our Tagines & Couscous cookbook off the shelf.
Stop. Do you know what a tagine (also spelled tajine) is? It was only in the past few years that I learned, and then we received a beautiful tagine as a wedding gift. A tagine is a piece of cookware from North Africa that’s made of clay and is sometimes glazed or painted. It’s made of two pieces, the bottom is flat with low sides, the top is cone-shaped. The top’s shape is meant to allow condensation to form and drip back down into the bottom of the dish. While tagines are traditionally used to cook over hot coals, they can also be used on traditional stovetops and in the ovens.
Funny thing – ours is so beautiful that I still haven’t gotten up the courage to actually use it. I’m scared it’ll break! Luckily, even if you don’t have a tagine, you can still make many of the recipes that call for them using a heavy-bottomed pot, like a dutch oven. That’s what I did for this dish.
A note about the preserved lemons and green olives.
- Preserved lemons : The cookbook has the instructions for making your own preserved lemons. It’s as simple as combining fresh lemons with enough salt, fresh lemon juice, and time (you have to wait about one month). If you’re not up for that extra step, then you can do as I did, and pick some up at the grocery store. You can often find them in jars at large grocery stores in the city (or sometimes in the international section of even small grocers). I was able to find them in the olive bar at Whole Foods, which is fantastic, because rather than buying a whole jar, I can pick up just one or two when I need them.
- Cracked green olives : After reading this article, it seems to me that any cured green olive you buy will be a “cracked” green olive. So I just picked up some of our favorite green olives from the olive bar. While they didn’t explicitly say cracked on the label, I figured it was more important for us to like the olive than to go out of my way for another olive that we may not like.
I was curious to see what they tasted like before adding them to the pot of cooking chicken and sampled the first one I cut. They’re just as you would expect – retaining their lemony tartness with a heavy dose of salt, but there’s something unique about the flavor, and it’s so amazing once you eat it in combination with the meat and its fatty juices. The preserved rinds are soft and easy to eat, but you’ll still have to remove the seeds.
This dish requires soaking the chicken legs in a marinade for two hours before cooking. That may seem fussy, but I realized that since I’m home with the boys, this made cooking dinner even easier for me. I was able to do a lot of the prep and put the chicken in the marinade while they were napping. That left relatively little work to do to finish off dinner once they woke up.
Traditionally, you would serve this dish with buttery couscous, but on this particular day I had a lot of leftover cooked brown rice that I wanted to use up. Whenever I’m using the previous day’s rice, I like to dress it up a bit with some fresh veggies. On this particular day I diced some onion, yellow pepper, and zucchini. I sautéed the vegetables in olive oil until the onions were translucent and the zucchini cooked, then I added the rice, salt, garlic powder, and a touch of water (to create steam). Cover it with a lid on low heat to let the rice warm up, and it’s ready to serve!
- 3-4 whole chicken legs (the recipe called for 4, but I used 3)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 pat butter
- 2 preserved lemons, sliced with seeds removed
- 6 oz cracked green olives
- 1-2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 onion, grated
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
- small bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
- pinch of saffron threads
- freshly squeezed juice from 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon course sea salt
- 3-4 Tbsp olive oil
- freshly ground pepper
- Mix together the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Put the chicken legs in a shallow dish and coat them in the marinade, rubbing it into the skin. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
- Heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy-based casserole dish. Remove the chicken from the marinade and brown in the olive oil.
- Pour the remaining marinade over the chicken and add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the chicken legs.
- Bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer, continue cooking for about 45 minutes, turning the chicken legs from time to time.
- Add the preserved lemon, olives, and half the thyme to the chicken. Cover and simmer for another 15-20 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the remaining thyme over the chicken and serve.
I can’t stress enough how much we loved this crazy flavorful dish! Calder requested that I make it again this week. I could, but instead I’m going to try one of the lamb tagines from the same cookbook. I’ll let you know how it goes!
ps. If you’re looking for another meaty dish full of amazing fresh flavors, try our favorite meatballs.