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"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." David Mamet

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Tagine Dream No. 1: Chicken tagine with chickpeas and dried cherries

My new tagine
I've wanted a moroccan tagine  for years - and finally got one for my birthday from dear Pete and Jack. I love the aspirational heaven-toward funnel shaped lid, and the way food looks served in it at the table. Mostly, I adore the food that's cooked in it. I've eaten tagines for years, notably at my Aunt Clotilde's in France and Cafe Mogador on St. Mark's where I treasured the rich, layered spices and aromatics that compose their base. 
     Oddly, my North African-born mother never made or used tagines. All of her crazy-good meals, from the most basic hamburger to her fresh salad, had a Mediterranean cache, and she would break out some truly middle eastern recipes for holidays or special occasions. Also, unlike me, she never did cozy up to stews or soups. The closest she got was a memorable Julia Child-inspired Chicken Marengo, a similar dish with Italian flavors, which were probably more appealing to our American-born father and to us suburban kids.
     Last night I gingerly approached my earthy-orange tagine, not sure how to actually cook with it. But I am here to tell you that it was so easy and so gratifying. The most time-consuming part was grinding up the Ras El Hanout spice blend. Everything was done in the same pot, and it took no longer than any braised stew.
     There seem to be as many varieties of tagine as there are lasagna. The traditional tagine has several components: some sort of meat, usually chicken or lamb, arabic spices, and dried or preserved fruit, which is stewed and served over couscous. I happened to have on hand chicken parts, canned garbanzos, quinoa and dried cherries and quinoa. With a tip of my tagine lid to the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen, my first adventure with tagine was a big hit with Pete and Jack.

Click below to jump to recipe...

Chicken Tagine with Chickpeas and Dried Cherries 
Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2011
1 can chickpeas, drained (or 3/4 cup dried and soaked for 2 hours)
5 garlic cloves (2 whole, 3 chopped)
1 large cinnamon stick, broken in half
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds chicken legs and thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, diced
5 teaspoons Ras-el-Hanout spice blend
1 tablespoon chopped peeled ginger
1 cup canned diced tomatoes with juices
2 1/2 cups water or chicken stock
1/2 cup dried cherries 
2 cups cooked quinoa
Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
       In a large pot, cover the chickpeas and two whole garlic cloves with water, bring to a boil and then cover and simmer while you prepare the tagine. If you are a purist, know that you have time to first soak and then simmer the dried chickpeas while preparing the chicken. I just happened to have canned chickpeas on hand and figured why not?
       Pat dry and season the chicken parts with salt and pepper. In a seasoned tagine, heat the oil over medium-high and brown the chicken a few pieces at a time to avoid overcrowding. Transfer to a separate plate. I like to get a nice crisp skin, which took 6-8 minutes per batch.

Tagine note: The tagine spread the heat nicely, eliminating the hot spots which are always a problem with my go-to cast iron pan. This made browning a much calmer process. Score for the tagine!
     Sauté the diced onion in the remaining oil, until a lovely butternut color - which means lowering the heat to medium to avoid burning. Stir in the chopped garlic, Ras el Hanout, and fresh ginger until fragrant, about a minute. Add the diced tomatoes and reserved chicken pieces. Bring to a boil and add the water/stock.
Stock note: Bon Appetit calls for chicken stock. I sometimes have some in the freezer but this time I didn't, and had run out of find my favorite broth base, Better Than Bouillon. I pressed on and, in the end, the flavor was plenty rich with just plain water.
      Bring to a boil again. Put the lid on the tagine, which is equipped with a tiny steam hole and fits nicely. Reduce the heat to a simmer for about an hour and a half. Add chickpeas and cook for 10 minutes, followed by the dried fruit for another 10.
      Drain the chickpeas. Before submitting them to the tagine, take a taste. You will be shocked at how their deliciousness. If you are like, you'll file this idea for an unusual side to spice up and round out a roasted squash meal, or as a portable room temperature dish for a picnic with shredded cilantro or parsley and a little salt and pepper. 
     To serve, scoop a nice 1/2 cup of the cooked quinoa on a plate and spoon the tagine over it.  

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