Monday, 17 February 2014

Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds




I am apparently enduring a tagine phase, but that's alright. This is a classic Moroccan dish and similar to the dish I presented for my audition on MasterChef Canada. For the show I made a beef and prune tagine (where this is a chicken and dried apricot tagine) which is very similar in preparation and concept. I had practiced my MasterChef Canada dish several times before filming and making this brought back a lot of memories from last summer. I've been thinking about redoing my audition dish here on the blog. Although it will be similar to this one, who knows. We'll see!

This is a great dish because it marries sweet and savoury in a way that is uniquely North African. The dried apricots are simmered in water and honey with a cinnamon stick and a pinch of salt so that they plump up and get sticky. The cinnamon stick helps to tie the flavour in with the tagine as there is a bit of ground cinnamon in there. The apricots are cooked separately from the chicken tagine and only added at the end before serving. This makes for a cleaner presentation and eating experience. 

I served this tagine with fluffy, steamed couscous but it will work just as well with a nice, crusty bread to mop up the delicious sauce. I used whole, blanched almonds (a blanched almond has been buffed and had the brown skin removed) but you can use slivered almonds if you prefer. I used four chicken legs for this tagine. I find that dark meat poultry meat works best in stews like this but you could cut up a whole chicken if you like. The breast meat may be a little stringy but if it doesn't bother you, go right ahead. I recommend using bone-in chicken. Not only is it more traditional but it will add flavour and make the meat oh so tender. No knife required.

Once again, I used an actual clay tagine to make this dish but you can use a dutch oven or deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid. I used a tbsp of harissa which is a paste made from hot chilies, garlic and caraway seed. You can use a pinch of dried chilies or omit it completely if you prefer. I also used a pinch of saffron threads but it's mostly for colour. If you don't have saffron just add a little extra turmeric.  

If you're using a clay tagine, never bring the heat above medium and never place it directly on your stove. Use a pizza pan or some kind of breaker to absorb the direct heat, or your tagine will crack.


Ingredients

4 chicken legs
1 white onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken stock or broth
1 tbsp harissa paste
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 pinch saffron threads (optional)
2 tbsp of oil suitable for frying
1/3 cup blanched almonds
1 cinnamon stick
3 tbsp honey
Salt & pepper
Fresh cilantro and/or fresh parsley, chopped (for garnish)



Using a sharp knife, separate the chicken thighs from the drums. Then season liberally with salt and pepper.






 
Add 2 tbsp of oil to the tagine and brown the chicken on all sides in batches over medium heat. Each batch should take about 5 minutes. This will not cook the chicken through, just sear the outside and bring out flavour to the dish. 


 

Once evenly browned, set the chicken aside. Then add the onion and garlic to the tagine. A little pinch of salt will help to sweat the onion. Sautée for about 7 minutes or until the onions have cooked down and become translucent. 




Add the harissa, ground spices and the saffron to the onions and stir to thoroughly combine. Let that cook for about a minute to wake up the flavours.




Then add the cup of chicken stock and bring to a simmer.





Add the browned chicken and any liquid that may have accumulated into the tagine. 





Place a lid over your tagine and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook the tagine for at least 45 minutes, but an hour is best. That way the meat will be fork tender and fall right off the bone. From time to time, remove the lid and turn the pieces of chicken in the sauce. Skim away any fat that may collect on the sides and discard. 


To prepare the apricots, fill a saucepan with just enough water so that when the apricots are added they will be completely submerged. This amount will vary depending on the size of your saucepan. To the water, add the cinnamon stick, 3 tbsp honey and a pinch of salt.  Bring to a simmer.


   

Add the dried apricots and leave to simmer in the nectar for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on the so that they don't boil. A constant, gentle simmer is perfect. While cooking, the apricots will soak up some of the liquid and plump up a bit. 





Drain well before adding to the tagine.

As for the almonds, you have a few options. You can either toast them in a dry pan until they are a nice golden colour. You could lightly toss them in oil and roast them in the oven at 350F/175 C for 5-10 minutes or until they are a nice golden colour. Or you can fry them in oil until they are (you guessed it) a nice golden brown colour. Any of those three methods will intensify the flavour and crunchiness of the almonds. No matter which method you choose, lightly salt the nuts as soon as they're off the heat. If you fry them in oil, transfer them to a paper towel to soak up any excess oil as they cool. 

When you're all done, remove the lid from the tagine. Taste and adjust for seasoning then decorate with the drained apricots. Try to distribute them evenly. Do the same with the almonds. Then sprinkle with some chopped fresh cilantro/parsley and serve with fluffy couscous or crusty bread.





This was a real treat. Cooking the tagine with the lid on traps the steam and any condensation that collects rolls right back into the stew creating mouth-waterlingly tender chicken. A few flicks with your fork and it will fall apart right off the bone. It has got to be one of the best ways imaginable to eat chicken. Couscous or bread will help to soak up that delicious sauce rich with spices, some sweetness and just a touch of heat. It's a great flavour profile that hits your taste buds with a little something different in every bite. 

I hope you enjoyed this recipe and are inspired to try it out for yourself. Let me know if you have any questions/feedback in the comments below. 

Much love and respect to everybody,

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