I have quite a few Moroccan Jewish friends, so it’s no surprise that one of the first Jewish dishes I learned to cook is Moroccan Lemon Chicken. The Jewish version of this dish is almost identical to what might be considered traditional Moroccan Lemon Chicken, but it omits an ingredient called smen—Moroccan preserved butter. Butter and meat don’t mix in a kosher diet, so olive oil is generally used by Moroccan Jewish cooks to replace the smen. This is typical of many regional Jewish dishes; creative substitutions and “tweaks” are made in order to make these types of dishes kosher. The kosher aspect of this dish also lightens it considerably-- olive oil is a much healthier cooking fat then butter.
Traditionally this dish is made in a tagine, which is a ceramic Moroccan cooking dish. Since most of us don’t have a tagine lying around I’m giving instructions for cooking it in a deep skillet or sauté pan. Make sure your pan has high sides to contain the liquid broth. If you have a tagine, use it!
Also traditional to this dish is an ingredient called preserved lemons, which are simply lemons that have been preserved in a brine made from salt and their own juice. Preserved lemons are really easy to make at home; there are many websites online that will walk you through the steps. Local gourmet markets sometimes stock them, too. If you can’t find preserved lemons and don’t want to go through the process of making them yourself, feel free to use fresh lemon peel; the flavor won’t be as complex, and you will need to season with a bit more salt to compensate for the saltiness in the preserved lemons. But don’t worry, even with fresh lemon peels this is still a very tasty dish.
If you do use preserved lemons, know that they have a lot of salt in them which will naturally flavor the sauce in this dish. If you’re watching your salt intake, use a low-sodium chicken broth and don’t add any additional salt; the preserved lemons and olives will give the dish all the saltiness it needs.
Choose firm, good quality green olives for the sauce. You can usually find better quality olives at the deli counter, rather than jarred or canned. It can be tough to find quality green olives that are pre-pitted, so I suggest buying whole olives and pitting them yourself.
Serve chicken with sauce on a bed of couscous, basmati rice or mashed potatoes topped with fresh cilantro. It’s absolutely delicious and not so difficult to prepare. For this recipe, you will need a spice mortar and pestle, as well as a large, deep skillet or sauté pan with high walls (or a tagine).
Gluten Free Note: This dish can easily be made gluten free. Just make sure your chicken stock is GF, and that your preserved lemons are from a GF source. Pair with a GF starch like mashed potatoes or rice. - theshiksa
I enjoyed this recipe. I love cooking with whole chickens, they are very economical and while I prefer the dark meat, others in my family prefer light so everyone is happy! I cut a whole chicken into quarters and proceeded with the recipe. I did not have preserved lemons on hand and so used lemon peels. It wasn’t a good substitution, I do think the dish suffered a bit because of this—it did not get right citrus punch. Despite this I loved the authentic Moroccan flavor of the saffron, turmeric and olive combination. Couscous was the perfect accompaniment for this dish; it soaked up some of the fabulous sauce that was created during cooking. —epickles