11 May, 2007

a savoury Moroccan stew

Now I have to realise that we've come back down to earth (London) and I have no reason to post any more photographs of Marrakech. Sob. This is it.

However. I have a recipe for you that justifies just this one more Morrocan post. I know, it's not so horrid coming back to reality when reality is the totally cool town of London. Pretty soon I will be back in the mode of appreciating all things English. In fact I did laugh in a recent conversation with my sworn interpreter, Avery, when we were watching something on television and I said, "Wait a minute: 'the dog's beans,' what does that mean?" Avery considered for a moment and then said, "It's a lot like 'the cat's pajamas.' Or 'the cat's whiskers.'"

Thank you, bilingual child.

So, dinner time in the real world beckoned last night. And although we left behind the actual tagine (the pottery dish so typical of Marrakech, with a wide flat base and a high, stocking-cap-like top) that the carpet guys offered me (and a good thing since I don't know how we would have fit one more item in our luggage), I decided I could try to reproduce the chicken dish we had on the birthday evening. Why not? I have to say that as much as one complains about Tesco, it's hard to criticise a boring, enormous supermarket that contains ingredients like preserved lemons and pitted oil-cured black olives. Who's buying this stuff? If it takes even me, no slouch at grocery shopping, a year and a half to want such things, who else is keeping them afloat at the Cromwell Road Tesco? Well, anyway, enough speculating. The point is, if you can find the proper ingredients (and I've given you proper links so you can order them online if you have to), a truly superb and exotic chicken dish is in your future. Granted, I was lucky enough to have the mysterious spice blend called ras el hanout fresh from Marrakech, but you can order it too. And here's the link for lemon grass powder, which I think is half of the "lemon ginger" I bought at the Moroccan spice shop. Powdered ginger should provide the rest. The recipe I'm giving you begins with cutting up a whole chicken. This is designed to provide you with the unwanted bones to pop into a stockpot with carrots, onions, parsley and salt, covered with water, and give you a very nice chicken stock at the end of the evening. When I'm lazy and shop at supermarkets where all the meat is packaged up and you can't choose the pieces you want, it's impossible to find a whole chicken cut up. If you can, more power to you. But then you lose the stock, which today is simmering on the stove with celeriac root, for soup for lunch. Anyway. I digress.

Djez Makalli (Moroccan Chicken Braised with Preserved Lemons and Olives)
(serves four)

5 cloves garlic
2 shallots or 1 onion
large handful flat parsley leaves
juice of 1 lemon
2 tsps salt
1 tbsp ras el hanout
1 tsp lemon-ginger powder
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
dash of brandy
1 large roasting chicken, cut into legs and breasts
2 tbsps sunflower or rapeseed oil
1 tbsp butter
3 large carrots, cut in disks
2 cups tiny new potatoes, scrubbed
2 small or 1 large preserved lemon, finely chopped
1 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted
chicken stock to cover (about 600 ml, or 2 1/2 cups)
4 tbsps flour

Place first nine ingredients in blender or Magimix and whizz until it achieves a rough paste. Place chicken pieces in a large bowl and rub with the paste. Set aside while you melt the butter and oil together in a large, heavy pot with a close-fitting lid. Put chicken pieces and all the paste into the pot and stir over high heat until lightly browned on all sides. Throw in carrots and potatoes, preserved lemon and olives, and pour over stock until everything is covered, give it a good stir. Cover the pot as tightly as you can and turn heat down to a high simmer. Cook for at least 1 1/2 hours, stirring only very occasionally.

At the very end, ladle 1/2 cup or so of the broth into a cup and add the flour. Stir until completely mixed and then add the mixture to the broth in the cooking pot. Stir (with a whisk if necessary to break up any lumps) until the broth achieves a nice gravy-like consistency.

You could serve this dish with couscous, rice, or I suppose noodles. I found the potatoes to be just enough starch.


It was so good! And really quite close to the dish we had in Morocco, so if I had been able to add men in tuxedos, live Marrakech music, lots of wine flowing freely, and a holiday atmosphere, it would have been... perfect.

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