One of my dreams is to visit Morocco one day. Okay, let’s dream bigger than that. I actually want to travel the world. It’s probably everyone’s wish list at the moment, right? Well, someone asked me what cuisine I'm specializing. The moment I heard that question, my mind went blank. You’ve go to be kidding me. I absolutely have no idea. To specialize in a particular cuisine, you have to move to another country and learn about their food. That’s not all, you have to learn about their culture and traditions, shop at the farmer’s market, know what’s in season and mingle with the locals. And you have to stay long enough to dedicate yourself to their cuisine until it becomes second nature. It sounds like a great plan. You may not stay in a particular country long enough but visiting a foreign land is one of the best ways to learn about life.
The inspiration for this dish is the use of earthy spices, the addition of olives and dried fruit as well as of chickpeas and herbs. They are really great for a gloomy day to perk up your spirits. This is not a traditional recipe but I’ve always love the diverse cuisines of Moroccan flavors which is a mix of different influences from the Arabs, African, Mediterranean and the Middle East. I have never been to Morocco and never had eaten in an authentic Moroccan restaurant but the exotic and sophisticated Moroccan food and culture is simply irresistible.
For this dish, I’m using some chicken thighs which are cheaper than lamb. If you’re going to remove the skin after cooking, season the chicken meat under the skin as well. But I completely seasoned the skin as most of the spices will blend into the sauce. That’s right, leave the skin on as they provide good flavor. Don't be afraid of fat from meat. They may contain saturated fat but they are also important for our body in moderation. You can also add the spices while you’re sweating your onion and just simply season the chicken with salt and pepper.
Some people hate olives but I love them. The secret to loving olives is to combine them with other ingredients and the dried apricots which are sweet, goes well with it. If you happen to have some preserved lemon prepared, that would be a great addition too. And braising is such a wonderful cooking method as it allows the dish to cook slowly to blend all the flavors. Here's a video lesson from Rouxbe Online Cooking School about braising.
Instead of couscous, I am pairing this with millet which I happen to have in the fridge. I also find that the millet is fluffier the next day. So, after cooking the millet, allow them to cool quickly and store in the fridge covered, and steam the millet with a little bit of water the following day. The result is still fantastic.
Moroccan-Inspired Braised Chicken
1 tsp smoked paprika 1 ½ tsp ground coriander 1 ½ tsp ground cumin ½ tsp ground cinnamon 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste unrefined sea salt fresh cracked black pepper
8 bone-in chicken thighs
2-3 tbsp extra light olive oil or grapeseed oil
1 onion 2 cloves garlic 1-inch piece fresh ginger root ½ cup dry white wine 2 tsp tomato paste ½ cup sulfur-free dried apricots ½ cup kalamata olives 1 cup cooked chickpeas 1 can 28-oz chopped tomatoes ½ -1 cup chicken stock 1 tbsp honey 1 bay leaf
1/4 cup cilantro leaves 1/4 cup mint leaves
To prepare the chicken thighs, combine the paprika coriander, cumin, cinnamon and cayenne in a small bowl. Then, wash and dry the chicken thighs and trim off the excess fat and skin. Place in a sheet pan and season the chicken on both sides with the spices, salt and black pepper. Let stand for 5 minutes.
To brown the chicken thighs, heat a large heavy-bottomed pan with lid. When the pan is hot, add enough oil to coat bottom of the pan. Add the chicken, skin side down and cook until the chicken is brown on both sides, about 10 minutes total.
Once all of the chicken has been browned, turn off the heat, remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Drain some of the excess oil and reserve the untouched pan for later use.
To cook the sauce, peel and chop the onions, emince the garlic (see video below) and mince the ginger. Cut the apricots in half, pit and halve the olives. Measure and gather the white wine, tomato paste, cooked chickpeas, canned tomatoes, chicken stock, honey and bay leaf.
Using the same pan, turn on the heat to medium. Add more oil if needed, then add the onions and sweat until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for another minute. Deglaze with white wine. Once the white wine has been reduced, stir in the tomato paste and stir to combine. Then, add the apricots, olives, chickpeas, tomatoes, half of the chicken stock and honey. Stir everything together and add the bay leaf. Place the chicken on the sauce on a single layer skin side up. If you need more liquid, add more chicken stock to cover the chicken by two-thirds. Bring the dish to a simmer, cover and cook until the chicken is tender for about 30-35 minutes.
Alternatively, you can also braise the chicken in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degree Celsius) oven for about 30-40 minutes or until the chicken is fork tender.
Once the dish is ready, season to taste with salt if necessary and let the dish sit for about 10 minutes before serving.
To serve the dish, remove the cilantro and mint leaves from the stem and roughly chop. Sprinkle over the dish and serve with steamed millet, couscous, soft polenta or pasta and an antioxidant salad.