The flavors of Moroccan food always seem to be a bit on the fence — a little sweet, a little savory. But that’s exactly why it’s so perfect for our schizo springtime weather. When you’re going from “Woot! tank-top time!” to “Crap, where’s my rain jacket?” one day to the next, you need a dish with flavors nimble enough to move along with you. And tagines, those luscious stews brightened with a touch of dried fruit, fit the bill perfectly.
Tagines are warming enough to drive off the damp of these soggy chilly days, but they’re not the heavy, super-rich braises of fall and winter. At least not this chicken version, which is sweetened with dried figs and apricots, and comes together in no time. It’s very balanced and not nearly as sweet as some tagines I’ve had, because I went easy on the fruit, and added saffron, savory spices like cumin and coriander, and a little preserved lemon for a briny bitterness.
To be honest, I would’ve loaded this thing down with even more fruit if I could. But the other members of my family aren’t as keen on sweet-with-meat as I am. But the result is definitely a crowd-pleaser, straddling the line between rich and light, sweet and savory, and offering layers of nuanced flavor that belie how easy it is to throw together.
And it turns out other people agree, since I’m proud to report this recipe recently won the “Your Best Recipe with Dried Fruit” contest on Food52. If you haven’t explored this food site, you should start poking around there immediately. Imagine if all of your friends were amazing cooks who had really creative ideas, and they loved sharing their recipes and tips with you. That’s Food52 in a nutshell. It’s a super fun, very supportive, and really smart community of cooks. And if they loved this recipe, you probably will, too.
Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Figs and Apricots
You might be tempted to leave out the preserved lemon, since it’s such a small amount, but I urge you to give it a try. It really does provide a wonderful salty-briny-citrusy foil to the rest of the flavors in the dish. Don’t think you have to buy a whole jar, either. You can make preserved lemons for next to nothing if you’re willing to wait a few weeks before using. Or you can buy just one from the olive bar at stores like New Seasons and Whole Foods.
1 teaspoon olive oil
6 bone-in chicken thighs
1 yellow onion, one half diced, one half thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 pinch saffron
1 1/2cups chicken broth
1/2 cup halved, dried black Mission figs
1/4 cup diced dried apricots
1/4 preserved lemon, skin and flesh, diced
Toasted pine nuts and chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Couscous or another grain, to serve
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add the chicken thighs, skin side down, and allow to sear until golden brown and can be easily loosened from the pot, about 5 minutes. Turn over and sear the other side, about 5 minutes more. Transfer to a plate.
Add the onions to the pot and saute until translucent and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add the cumin, coriander, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, black pepper, and cloves. Stir to combine.
Heat the chicken broth and crumble in the saffron. Pour into the pot, stirring to scrape up any browned bits. Add the browned chicken thighs, the figs, apricots and preserved lemon. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until chicken is tender and cooked through, about 30 minutes.
Serve alongside couscous, garnished with toasted pine nuts and chopped fresh parsley.