October 11, 2016

Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemon: Djaj M'qualli bi Zeitoun

Chicken, lemon, and olives are a delicious culinary trinity that appear together in many iterations from many cultures, especially those around the Mediterranean Sea. If you've tried my sure-fire dinner classic Chicken Sahara, you'll find a version particularly adapted to the North American manner of cooking. If you look into the dish's roots, though, you'll find one of its fascinating grandparents in Djaj M'qualli (transliterations of which also vary quite wildly).

This is a traditional Moroccan dish, with a complex harmony of flavours and a really impressive use of onions. The recipe classically also uses a chicken liver in the sauce, which I wasn't able to arrange despite having had chicken livers the night before, but I'd really like to do it that way next time. Unlike Chicken Sahara, or many of the chicken-lemon-olive tagine recipes out there, this is, as you can see, something of an almost dry dish - the sauce reduces to a thick gravy that drapes over the chicken rather than providing a pool for it to swim in. This recipe was adapted minimally from Fleur d'Oranger, Masala & Co.

One more thing: If you made Preserved Lemons back in January? This is a terrific use for them!

Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemon

Serves 4

4 chicken leg quarters, whole, skin on
3 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 chicken liver (optional)
1 cup Moroccan purple or green olives
1/2 preserved lemon (or several pieces, seeds removed)
1 tablespoon soft or melted butter
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
pinch of saffron threads, lightly warmed in a dry skillet
Water, as needed

For extra juicy chicken, brine it for four hours or so before proceeding.

Rinse and dry the chicken pieces. Combine the butter and the spices (except the saffron) into a spice paste, and massage all of the chicken parts thoroughly with the mixture. Lay the chicken pieces skin-side up in a single layer in a large skillet, and sprinkle the finely chopped onions and crushed garlic in between the pieces. Add enough fresh cool water to come half-way up the chicken. Turn the heat on high, and bring the water up to a simmer. Reduce the heat to the minimum, cover, and let the chicken simmer very gently until tender, about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F.

Remove the lid from the skillet and use tongs to remove the chicken pieces to a baking sheet (I used a pizza pan). Place the chicken, uncovered in the oven and roast for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

While the chicken browns and crisps, turn the heat up to high under the onion/water mixture and start stirring and scraping the mixture, reducing the water and cooking down the onion down to a thick mass. Add the chicken liver now, if using, grating it into the sauce as it cooks. Continue to cook and stir as it reduces. Add the olives, and add the saffron now, too (rub it between your fingers over the pan to crush the threads). Slice away and reserve the peels of the preserved lemon and add the middle parts to the gravy. Continue to cook and stir as the sauce thickens up until it is a thick gravy.

Remove the browned chicken from the oven and arrange on a platter. Spoon the gravy (called a deghmira), including the olives, over the chicken. Thinly slice the preserved lemon peels and decorate the chicken with the resultant strips.

Serve with warm bread and a salad or two.

The lucky person who got to take leftovers to work the next day reported that the sauce was even better on the second day, so it might well be worth making this ahead, especially if you're having guests to dinner.

October 03, 2016

Gingered Plum Crisp

Apple Crisp is one of my favourite homemade desserts. It's good enough to serve to company, yet still relaxed enough for any casual supper. Even better, if there is any leftover, you can easily enjoy it the next day for breakfast. Fruit, oats, right? Practically health food.

This is not Apple Crisp, of course, but it follows the same principles of preparation: pile your fruit into a baking dish, sprinkle with sugar, add a crumbly layer of oat streusel, and bake. The biggest difference between this and my Apple Crisp, in fact, aside from the use of plums instead of apples, is the spicing. Oh, and this one's vegan. Don't worry, though, you can always replace the coconut oil with butter, if that's how you roll. The coconut oil gives it a delicately tropical note that is very pleasant with the ginger and the plums. You could also accentuate that aspect by adding a tablespoon of grated unsweetened coconut to the oat mixture.

I made one larger baking dish (16-centimetre round baking dish, not pictured), and these two little gem-sized (perfect for bento, might I add) to take to work to share with a colleague. I forgot to take any pictures of the larger one, but here are the little bitty ones.

Gingered Plum Crisp

Fruit Layer
500 grams prune plums
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1 inch fresh ginger root, coarsley grated

Crisp Layer
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
3 tablespoons solid-state coconut oil

Wash the plums and slice them in halves to remove the pits. Chop them into small bite-sized chunks (not too small, or they will lose too much texture). Toss with sugar and ginger, and put them evenly into an baking dish. They should come up about three quarters of the height of the dish. If you are using silicone cup moulds, put them on a tray or inside another baking dish for stability. Fill them 3/4 high, too.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients of the topping with a fork. Add the coconut oil last, and stir very thoroughly with a fork or pastry blender to ensure that the oat mixture gets thoroughly coated. There should be very little dry and no floury-looking bits, so keep stirring until it all comes together. If you absolutely have to, add another tablespoon of oil (you shouldn't need to). If you press a bit of the topping between your fingers, it should clump together in a crumbly sort of way.

Scrape the topping out of the bowl onto the fruit. Spread it out to evenly cover all of the plums, and press lightly with your fingers to help create a surface-crust when it bakes. Don't press too hard, or you'll compact the topping and it will be a bit tough. Note that you can fill your dish right up to the edge, since it will "settle" a little as it bakes. If your plums are very juicy, they might bubble up a bit over top of the oat mixture in places. This is fine, if not quite as tidy looking.

Bake uncovered at 375 F/190 C for 40 minutes (25 for the little ones), or until the topping has taken on a dark golden hue and has sunk down in the dish slightly. It might be a bit darker on the edges - that's okay. Allow to cool at least a few minutes before serving (but it is plenty delicious at room temperature, or chilled, too). Serve on its own, or with a topping of your choice. Whipped coconut milk, perhaps?

Adorable, aren't they? Just perfect for dessert, breakfast, bento, or a tea-time treat.