If only you could sit in my kitchen and taste it!!
Think spice markets, perfumed gardens, peacocks and nightingales, honeyed dates, hot mint tea, lattices and glowing tilework...and then inhale! Taste this recipe and you're THERE...
This was my second experiment cooking in what I think of loosely as "Moroccan Style." This recipe was found at this site, and promised a dish fusing flavors both savory and sweet.
The only problem is that I usually don't enjoy sweet flavors in conjunction with meats...probably just evidence of my upbringing. I'm open to change, as long as it's not a recipe asking me to dump a jar of marmalade over a perfect chicken breast and shout Bon Appetit...though I may be there someday, I'm not there yet :)
I chose this recipe because the spices were ones I have, though the list is longer than the last recipe's list. This one was also a chicken recipe, and the real hook was the word "Tagine" in the recipe title.
A tagine is a cooking vessel with a removable cone-shaped top and shallow-lipped round bottom dish that combines the benefits of clay cookery with a design that allows for slow-cooking, the conical top acting as a trap for the steam to return as condesation back to the stew. It's essentially part casserole and part stew pot, and is kept on a low heat to simmer for hours, which helps the flavors meld and mellow together into something quite wonderful. Or at least that's what I've read :)
Here's what my fantasy tagine looks like...and I've come so close to purchasing one, and yet...money's tight and I have a perfectly good pan with lid till I'm really sure that's where I want my money to go. Here's the one I saw on Amazon that captured my fancy...
Tagine of Moroccan Chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 chicken thighs, bone in, skin removed
2 medium onions, sliced into thin wedges
1 1/2 teaspoons Garlic Salt
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 teaspoon Saffron, crushed (optional) -- I substituted Ground Turmeric
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup raisins
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Slivered almonds, for garnish
Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
Add chicken; cook 10 minutes, or until browned, turning once.
Transfer chicken to plate; cover to keep warm.
Cook onion in same skillet 7 minutes.
Add garlic salt, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, and saffron, if desired. (I omitted saffron and substituted turmeric.)
Stir in tomatoes and honey.
Return chicken to skillet; cover and simmer 5 minutes.
Stir in raisins.
Simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is done.
Serve chicken stew garnished with toasted, slivered almonds and chopped fresh cilantro on a bed of couscous, if desired.
While it browned, I collected the spices...
This is the point at which I continued on and removed the thighs to a plate and covered them to keep them warm. Next step was adding the thinly-sliced onion wedges.
Cook for 7 minutes...the dark stuff at the bottotm of the pan is the remains of the chicken browning liquid and the bits that stuck to the pan. They add flavor...these weren't charred, so I left the browned stuck-on bits right in there.
Into the softened onions and their fragrant liquid are added the spices, tomatoes, and honey, to simmer a few minutes. It is at this point I believe those who have actual tagines would move this from the pan to the tagine. The fragrance of the spices is incredible! Just one whiff of this is enough to make you hear camel bells, sand dunes and far away oases... You just want to put your nose right into the steam and inhale deeply...mmmmm!!!!
Ok, it felt strange putting cinnamon and honey into this...my southern girl cinnamon roll training revolted against the very idea of swirling it among the other savory spices bubbling around the meat. But OH MY, what a MAGICAL combination of fragrance and flavor...!!
According to the directions, there is very little simmer time left till this is done. I added to it a little, because I had started out with semi-thawed chicken, and I like it nearly falling off the bone when fully cooked. Here, the raisins have been added. Just ignore that cinnamon-roll training, if it seems too strange that you're once again adding sweetness to a meat dish. Honest...this is awesome. I know...I've already eaten it! I have eaten and lived to tell the story...it's...oh hang on, I'll go into raptures in a second...
Anyway, this is the step where you could leave it on to simmer very very low, covered, all day if you like, and then finish things off with a 5 minute cous cous. You can simmer it and then add the raisins, if you don't want them to disintegrate in the liquid too much. I used cous cous straight out of the box, one with natural ingredients in the herb packet. I like cous cous cooked in chicken broth or herbed liquid. Cous cous cooks up literally in 5 minutes, and is the perfect companion for this tagine/stew. It tends to absorb the savory liquid, and is very moist.
We enjoyed ours tonight served on a bed of herbed cous cous (out of the box!), with some torn spinach on the side.
Here's the last important note about this recipe. The garnish adds A LOT. I don't think it would have been the same without the finish of fresh chopped cilantro and almond slivers generously gracing each individual serving. There is just something PERFECT about the taste of the whole combination, so DO DO use these and consider them ingredients rather than just garnishes for visual appreciation. I also (as is our family habit) included lemon wedges to squeeze over the salad...and anything else you like, which means for us, everything on the plate :)
All in all, this recipe was a complete winner, and my husband was completely silent while eating it, he was that intent....heehee...
If you're burned out on tomato-ey things, such as spaghetti and marinara sauces, don't look at this and think it's a re-hash of any tomato 'n onion duet you likely usually taste. No way...it's...sublime!
It's not hot. It IS a flavor party! The "unusual" factor is not the sort you really have to try to develop an acquired taste for...it's good straight from the first hesitant taste test.
In fact, there probably won't be leftovers, unless, like us, there are only two of you. If that's the case, you might be like me...looking forward to the next meal when you'll have an excuse to eat some more :)