Eric Akis: Moroccan-style chicken has spice and tang

Eric Akis

A casserole filled with saucy, bubbling hot chicken always makes for a fine Sunday dinner.

The options are many, from cacciatore to coq au vin. But if you’re looking for something with a little more spice and tang, Moroccan-style chicken fits the bill.

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Pieces of chicken are floured and richly browned before being set in a casserole with some olives. Onions and carrots are sautéed in the pan you browned the chicken in, then garlic and spices, including ginger, cumin, smoked paprika, turmeric and cayenne, are stirred in. Those spices are cooked a short while, which helps them “bloom” and better release their flavours.

The next step is to add chicken stock, lemon zest and juice and a bit of honey to the pan, bring it to simmer, then pour it over the chicken. The chicken is then baked, covered for the first part of the cooking, then uncovered for the last part, which further enhances its colour.

You end up with tender, succulent, saucy, aromatic and heavenly spiced pieces of chicken with a lemony flavour complemented by the sweetness of the honey and the saltiness of the olives.

Serve the chicken with couscous or rice pilaf and a green vegetable, such as green beans, steamed and tossed with butter, toasted walnut pieces and little orange juice.

Note: When choosing a lemon for the recipe, remember the best ones will be plump, firm, but not rock hard, feel heavy for their size and have smooth, brightly coloured skin. Thin-skinned lemons tend to have more juice; green tinges are a sign of under ripeness and the fruit tends to be more acidic. Lemons in prime condition will keep at room temperature about a week, but will better retain their juiciness and last two weeks or more if kept refrigerated in a plastic bag. Firmly roll a lemon under the palms of your hands before juicing. This will loosen the inner membranes and cause the juice to flow more freely. One medium lemon should yield the zest and juice needed for the recipe.

Moroccan-style Chicken with Lemon, Spice, Honey and Olives

Chicken floured, browned and baked in a heavenly spiced stock mixture, with tangy lemon, sweet honey and salty olives. In other words, delicious!

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cook time: 65 to 70 minutes

Makes: Four servings

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

4 large chicken thighs (see Note 1)

4 large chicken drumsticks

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 Tbsp olive oil 12 to 16 green olives

1 medium onion, diced

1 medium carrot, halved lengthwise and sliced 2 medium or large garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/8 tsp ground turmeric

1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth

2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint or parsley

• lemon slices and mint or parsley sprigs, for garnish, optional

Spread flour out on a wide, sided plate. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Deeply dredge chicken in the flour, shaking off the excess.

Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. When oil is hot, cook chicken, in two batches, until rich golden, about three minutes per side, then set in a single layer in a 13-by-9-inch casserole. Set the olives around the chicken.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Drain all but 2 Tbsp of oil/fat from the skillet, then set over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook until softened, about four minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger, cumin, paprika, turmeric and cayenne and cook 90 seconds to two minutes more. Add the stock (or broth), lemon zest, lemon juice and honey to the skillet and bring to a simmer. Pour mixture over chicken.

Cover and bake chicken 30 minutes. Now uncover chicken and bake 15 to 20 minutes more, or until bubbly and cooked through. Sprinkle with chopped mint (or parsley) and serve, garnished with lemon slices and mint (or parsley) sprigs, if desired.

Note: If desired, you could buy four large, whole chicken legs and split them into thigh and drumstick portions.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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