Monday, January 14, 2013

Chicken Tagine with Apricots

What is it about food that transports us? That sensory endeavor that takes you back to a favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant a decade ago or even to another continent. Years ago I visited Morocco and fell in love with a dish called tagine. This spicy, sweet braise has such a unique flavor that it instantaneously takes me from the wintry tundra of Chicago to the sands of the Sahara and the buzz of the medina.

So what the hell is tagine? It actually refers to the funny shaped dish that is traditionally used to prepare it. It's conical shape moves steam in a way that keeps meat moist and fork-tender. I picked one up in Morocco and ingraciously hauled it back to the US, surely to the woe of every TSA agent and flight attendant. I hardly ever use it and I know I'm adamantly opposed to kitchen clutter, but this one just makes me smile. It's sculptural and filled with memories.

I actually learned how to make tagine in a one-on-one cooking class at an inn in Marrakech. Raman showed me how and set off years of tagine cravings. It's a complicated and somewhat time consuming dish, but certainly worth the effort from time to time. 

Ironically, my tagine isn't actually big enough to use for a full dish. I know, right? But a heavy-bottomed dutch oven does the trick. In fact, America's Test Kitchen prefers using the dutch oven.

You'll start by getting a solid browning on the chicken.

Onions and loads of spice build an incredible base for the sauce.

Dried apricots will beautifully set off the spices in the dish, building complexity and uniqueness.

After a long simmer, serve over couscous and garnish with almonds and parsley.

This culinary adventure will leave hardly a bit to spare. Dream of Saharan sunsets and spice markets while you do the dishes. Thank your tastebuds for the ride.

Chicken Tagine with Apricots
1 chicken, quartered
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 red onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups dried apricots
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon saffron
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups chicken broth
2 bunches parsley, very finely minced (reserve 1 tablespoon for garnish)
3 cups coucous
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cups water

In a large dutch oven heat olive oil over high heat until shimmering. Pat chicken with paper towels to dry and season with salt and pepper. Add chicken, start skin side down and brown both sides (about 4-5 minutes per side). Take care not to crowd the chicken and brown in two batches, if needed. Remove chicken to a plate. 

Reduce heat to medium and add onion to remaining oil and cook until translucent, stirring frequently. Add garlic to pan, cooking 1-2 more minutes. Add turmeric, ginger, saffron and black pepper; stirring until fragrant. Add chicken stock, taking care to scrape all of the bits from the bottom of the pan. Add apricots and parsley (reserving 1 tablespoon) to pan and place chicken back in pan, along with any juices collected on the plate. Cover and reduce heat to very low. Simmer chicken for 45 minutes, or until internal temperature of chicken reaches 165 degrees. 

Boil water for couscous in a separate pot. Once boiling, add olive oil and couscous. Cover and remove from heat. After 5 minute remove cover and fluff couscous with a fork.

Serve chicken and it's sauce over couscous. Garnish with almonds and parsley. 

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