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Author Notes: This is a variation of a recipe I found in Bon Appetit years ago which was on the French side of things (prunes and Armagnac). I’m a fan of dates and love the combination of dates with Moroccan seasonings, so I modified the dish for a trip to North Africa. The main flavor component is the Moroccan spice mix, Ras El Hanout. It’s a complex blend of spices; a jar of which I found at Williams-Sonoma, but you can also make (I've included a recipe below, adapted from GourmetSleuth.com). Once you solve the spice mix sourcing or making, the recipe is pretty easy. Instead of thighs, you can use a whole chicken cut into pieces or some other combination of parts. Just beware of cooking times. This recipe is killer if you modify it to braise lamb shanks. I served this dish with a side of saffron scented cardamom rice and an eggplant stir-fry. As for sourcing Ras El Hanout: You can find it at your supermarket (McCormick brand) if they stock more exotic blends. A most simple substitute is equal parts paprika, coriander, ginger and a pinch of saffron, but it’s not close, use it as a last resort. To make your life simpler, go buy a jar. —Pete
Serves 4 to 6
For the Moroccan-Spiced Chicken with Dates and Shallots:
- 3 tablespoons Ras El Hanout spice mix, plus more for seasoning (see recipe below)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 6 large chicken thighs (or 8 smaller thighs)
- 32 large, pitted dates (Medjool), divided
- 3/4 cup brandy, divided
- 10 medium shallots, peeled
- 1 1/2 cups chicken broth (low sodium)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons hot pimenton (or other smoked paprika, go mild to suit taste)
- 3 large sprigs thyme plus 1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ground black pepper
- Mix the Ras El Hanout spice with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil and tomato paste until a paste is formed. Smear the spice paste on the chicken thighs, place in a sealable plastic bag and refrigerate for 4 hours, or up to overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.
- Boil 24 dates with 1/2 cup brandy in small saucepan for about 2 minutes. Cover and set aside.
- Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken thighs to skillet, skin side down; cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn over and cook for another 3 minutes. Transfer to plate.
- Pour the rendered fat from the chicken into a glass container. (Here, I had a lot of “browned bits” which normally you keep and cook with. I was afraid it might be a little burned and would add a bitter taste. I scraped and wiped most of it out with a paper towel. Sacrilege? Maybe. But better safe than sorry—you be the judge.) Add 2 tablespoons of the drippings back to the wiped pan.
- Add whole shallots; cook until browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Note: You can halve the shallots and they will end up separating during the cooking process. They will end up very soft and tender this way. Your choice.
- Add remaining 1/4 cup brandy; boil 30 seconds, scraping up anything left from the chicken. Add broth, garlic, dates, 1 teaspoon (more or less to taste) Ras El Hanout spice, pimenton, and thyme sprigs; bring to boil. Add chicken in single layer, skin side up, and any accumulated juices. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes or more as needed (an instant-read thermometer should read 165° F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat). Transfer chicken to plate.
- Stir vinegar into sauce. Add butter, and allow to melt, and stir. Cook at a gentle boil until thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove thyme sprigs. Season with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over chicken. Sprinkle with chopped thyme. Top with remaining dates.
For the Ras El Hanout spice mix:
- 1 1/4 teaspoons ground allspice
- 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 20 threads saffron, crushed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground mace
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon ground anise (from star anise)
- Mix together all ingredients store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months.
- This recipe is a Community Pick!
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Recipe with Dried Fruit