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
Test Kitchen Notes
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
- Serves 6
3 1/2 pounds
bone-in chicken pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons
1 1/2 teaspoons
extra virgin olive oil
large onion, finely chopped
garlic cloves, crushed
preserved lemons (or sub fresh lemons)
pitted green olives
fresh chopped cilantro, for garnish
Salt and pepper
- Choose your favorite cut of meat for the chicken pieces. You can use a whole chicken cut into pieces, or buy specific cuts that you like. I usually use whole leg/thigh pieces because I find the dark meat more flavorful.
- Remove skin from chicken pieces (freeze the skin for stock or use it to make schmaltz!), then rinse and dry them. Grind the saffron threads into powder using a spice mortar and pestle. Mix saffron powder, cumin, paprika, turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Rub the spice mixture evenly onto the chicken pieces.
- Heat olive oil in deep skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat. Sauté the onion in the oil till it turns translucent. Add the garlic and continue to sauté till lightly browned. Arrange the chicken pieces snugly inside the skillet. Pour chicken stock over the pieces; they should be almost covered with stock. You probably won’t need the entire quart depending on the size of your pan. Remove pulp from the 2 lemons. With preserved lemon this is easy, the pulp will be softened and you can just scoop it out. For fresh lemon, I find it’s easier to slice the peel off of the lemon (if a little pulp clings to the peel it’s no big deal). Slice lemon peels into long, thin strips. Arrange the strips evenly in the pan.
- Bring stock to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cover the skillet. Let the chicken simmer for 60-75 minutes, periodically ladling the seasoned stock over the chicken pieces, until the meat is fork-tender. I usually cook it closer to 75 minutes because I like the meat very tender.
- Remove chicken pieces from the broth using tongs or a slotted spoon; arrange the pieces on a serving dish. If you prefer to present the meat off the bone, pick the tender meat in pieces from the bone and reserve the meat with the lemon pieces.
- Add olives to the sauce in the skillet. Bring sauce in the skillet to a boil and let it reduce and thicken for a few minutes. Remove skillet from heat and taste the sauce. Season with more salt and pepper, if desired.
- Serve on a bed of couscous, basmati rice or mashed potatoes; pour the sauce over the chicken and the starch. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro. Can also be served with flatbread or pita bread to dip in the sauce. Serve warm.