Chicken Tagine with Apricots, Raisins and Dates

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I have been on a Mediterranean kick lately. Not only is the food healthy, but they have some intriguing flavor combinations. When exploring Mediterranean cooking, Moroccan food is mandatory. I fell in love with Moroccan food years ago at Epcot in Disney World. I know an “international experience” at Epcot is rather lame, but at the time Epcot did grant exposure to the world to rather insular Americans which I was at the time.

Moroccan cooking uses typical spices of the region: cumin, coriander, cinnamon, allspice, saffron, and nutmeg. They also use fruits in their cooking which seems somewhat unique. For this recipe, I was looking for the right savory spice profile balanced with some sweetness from the fruit. I was looking for the balance to tip more to the savory than sweet.

A tagine is a Moroccan dish named after the traditional earthenware pot in which it is traditionally cooked. So I guess this recipe is not really a “Chicken Tagine”. It is a “Chicken Dutch Oven.” I don’t have a traditional earthenware tagine, but can use the traditional ingredients and spices and find an appropriate, if not traditional, vessel in which to cook them.

I used whole spices, toasted and ground them. You could use store-bought ground spices. As long as they are fresh, the flavor profile should be okay.

I have a niece that is allergic to apricots. Other dried fruits can be substituted. I would stay away from overly sweet fruits. Dried papaya, mango, or pear would be interesting. Dried strawberries would be a different twist, but I would probably crank back on the orange juice. I wanted to add some pomegranates, but, sadly, couldn’t find any.

Concerning dried fruits, I have discovered that most are heavy in chemical preservatives. I tend toward their organic cousins that have nothing but fruit. Without fail, if my wife has a head-ache, I can trace it to a food label I did not read closely enough the prior day. You could read that as, if my wife has a head-ache, it’s probably my fault. But then again, that’s a given.

This meal was great on the first night and even better as leftovers the second as the spices intensified.

I served the tagine over whole wheat Israeli Couscous with some whole wheat garlic Naan. Yes, I know Israeli Couscous and Naan are not Moroccan, buy it made for a delicious meal.

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
4 Chicken Legs, separated into Thighs and Drumsticks
1 Onion, chopped
1 Small Hot Pepper, minced
1 cup Dried Apricots, roughly chopped
3/4 cup Fresh Dates, pitted and roughly chopped
3/4 cup Raisins
2 Tsp whole Cumin seeds
2 Tsp whole Coriander seeds
3 inch stick of Cinnamon
2 pinches of Saffron
10 Allspice Seeds
1 Tsp freshly grated Nutmeg
3 Cups Apple Cider
3 Cups Water
Juice of 1 Orange
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Direction:
1) Heat Olive Oil in a Dutch Oven over medium-high heat.
2) Salt and Pepper chicken and place in the Dutch Oven. Brown on all sides, approximately 10 minutes.
3) Meanwhile, toast spices in a hot, dry skillet until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove spices to a mortar and grind with a pestle or pop into your handy, dandy spice grinder. Pre-ground spices are acceptable, but fresh ground are better.
4) When browned, remove chicken from Dutch Oven and reserve. Add onion and peppers and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
5) Add ground spices to the onions and peppers and cook for an additional minute.
6) Return chicken to the Dutch Oven. Add fruit, orange juice and enough half-cider, half-water mixture to cover. Increase heat to a boil and the reduce to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes. If more liquid is needed during cooking, add cider and water in equal proportions.
7) Remove chicken to a plate and cover to keep warm.
8) Increase heat on Dutch Oven to a boil and reduce broth for 10 minutes.
9) Serve chicken plated over couscous and top with the reduced broth.

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