My husband gave me Paula Wolfert’s book The Food of Morocco several years ago. I was immediately obsessed. For months, preserved lemon, smen and ras el hanout were as common in my kitchen as eggs and milk. The house seemed to perpetually smell of saffron, cinnamon and ginger and if you found yourself at our table chances were high that a bastila, long-simmering tagine, or couscous would be your dinner.
Last weekend we ordered food from Ajbani, a Moroccan take-out place, near our home. It was delicious and a flavorful reminder that it had been far too long since Moroccan food had graced my table.
So I hunted down this recipe for Chicken and Apricot Tagine. It’s a pared down version of Wolfert’s recipe for “Chicken with Dried Apricots and Pine Nuts” featured in her book. I created it for a week-long course on international cooking for 11 to 13-year olds that I taught several years ago. One day was devoted to North African cooking and we made this simplified version as part of a lesson on tagine cookery.
Wolfert’s original recipe is spectacular. If you have her cookbook already or are lucky enough to stumble upon a copy you should turn immediately to page 282 and make it. If however you find yourself with a hankering for Moroccan food, but no time for spice mixtures and saffron water then I offer this recipe up as a fine alternative. The smell of dried apricots simmering in honey-sweetened orange juice flavored with cinnamon is worth the attempt alone.
For those that don’t own a tagine, I detail how to create a similar cooking effect with parchment paper in the recipe below. It works surprisingly well and means that you have no excuse not to make this fabulous one-pot meal. Happy cooking!
Chicken and Apricot Tagine – Printer Friendly Recipe
This recipe, adapted from Paula Wolfert’s recipe for “Chicken with Dried Apricots and Pine Nuts” in her cookbook The Food of Morocco, is a fine introduction to Moroccan food and tagine cooking. Serve over couscous or rice for a satisfying main course.
1-½ lbs skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 large white onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup fresh orange juice (about 1 orange)
½ cup dried apricots (about 16 dried apricots)
½ cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Special equipment: parchment paper
Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel. In a small bowl, whisk together the turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, white pepper, and salt. Rub the mixture over the chicken pieces. Cover the chicken and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Heat the bottom of a tagine or a large Dutch oven over medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil and then the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes. Add the garlic and stir briefly until just fragrant. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
If using a tagine, cover with the tagine top at this time. If using a Dutch oven, cut a circle from parchment paper that just fits in the pot. Place the parchment paper round over the ingredients and then cover the pot with its lid. Note: The parchment paper traps the steam and creates an environment similar to a traditional tagine.
Cook, stirring the onions once or twice, for 15 minutes or until the onions are soft and just beginning to brown.
Add the chicken, skin side down, to the pot. Replace the top of the tagine (return the parchment paper and lid if using a Dutch oven) and continue to cook over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. While the chicken is cooking, combine the orange juice, dried apricots, honey and cinnamon stick in a small saucepan. Heat until the orange juice begins to boil then remove from the heat and let sit for 15 minutes.
After the chicken has cooked for 30 minutes, remove the lid (and parchment paper if using) and turn the chicken over. Pour the apricots and their liquid over the chicken pieces. Return the lid (and parchment paper round) to the tagine or pot and cook for 30 more minutes or until the chicken is tender. Serve the chicken sprinkled with the minced cilantro.