It starts by infusing flavour into the chicken with a spice rub, so it’s best to start this recipe a day in advance, or early in the morning. But once it gets going, it’s happy to blip away without much interference. This makes it a perfect dinner party dish, because it feeds a crowd and leaves you free to set the table and make a cracking dessert.
Tagines are, obviously, meant to be made in tagines. Whilst it might be difficult for my friends and husband to believe, there are some pieces of kitchen equipment I don’t have, and a tagine is one of them. I used a big cast iron pot and the results could not have been any more tender or delicious. I would love to hear if people think tagines are really worth the investment though. I do think they look amazing, but I’m not convinced I really need one. And, I’m normally fairly easily convinced that I need something for the kitchen!
I was a bit concerned that the fennel bulbs would be too strong in the dish. But they mellowed out to leave a wonderfully warm and subtle aniseed flavour.
The recipe calls for a whole chicken, of about 1.5kg, broken down. Instead, I used a 2kg mix of marylands and supremes so that it could stretch to feed 8 with some left overs. Marylands are a butcher’s cut comprising of the whole thigh and drumstick. Supremes are a butcher’s cut comprising of the whole breast with the wing bone attached. I did this because I find these cuts have much easier to navigate bones – an important consideration for a dinner party (plus I use to have a bit of a chicken bone phobia, which I’m now over, but I still prefer not to pick through my chicken in the company of others). Having said that, don’t use boneless cuts. You get such an amazing flavour boost from cooking meat on the bone.
1 whole chicken broken down into four, or equivalent in other cuts (I used a bit more to stretch to feed 8+)
1-2 large fennel bulbs, chopped into 8 wedges each
2 onions, roughly chopped
1 bunch of coriander, stalks chopped finely, leaves reserved for garnish
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
2-3 small preserved lemons, deseeded and chopped
80g stoned black and green olives
good pinch of saffron
500ml hot chicken stock (or more if you like it really saucy, like me)
cooked couscous to serve (mixed with fresh mint, sultanas and toasted pine-nuts is great!)
yogurt and harissa to serve (optional)
For the spice rub:
1 heaped teaspoon coriander seeds, freshly ground
1 level teaspoon ground cumin
1 heaped teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
Massage your chicken pieces in the spice rub and leave covered in a bowl in the fridge for a few hours (overnight is preferable).
Over a medium-high heat, fry your chicken pieces in some olive oil (skin side down first) for about 5 minutes a side until golden brown. Remove chicken from the pot temporarily.
Fry off your onions, fennel wedges, coriander stalks and garlic for a couple of minutes. Then mix in the preserved lemons, olives and saffron. Add the chicken back to the pot and evenly distribute the ingredients before adding your hot stock.
Cover the pot (or tagine) and simmer on a low heat for 1.5 hours, or until the meat starts to fall away from the bone. Mine ticked away happily for about 2 hours (without the lid for last 1/2 hour to thicken the sauce up).
Give the mix a bit of a gentle stir half way through and add more liquid if it looks dry. Taste, and season with salt and pepper if required.
Serve on a bed of couscous, topped with reserved coriander leaves and be ready to soak up the complements from your guests. This fancy stew (well, really, that’s what it is), elicited ohhs and ahhhs as I presented it to the table, but (most importantly) it tasted good!
You’ll see in the photo above that I served this with a super quick and easy side salad of grated carrot, ginger, mint, parsley and coriander with a pistachio oil and orange juice dressing. A great, refreshing accompaniment.