Braised Chicken with Dates and Moroccan Spices

I have tried many Moroccan chicken recipes in my day.  Most of the time I am disappointed at the depth of flavor.  They have all been shallow.  I found this recipe in Bon Apetit.  I don’t know what month it is from, but it was cut from a magazine, and that is the only one I get.  You can look it up on their website, too, I’m sure.  This is not a particularly easy recipe.  But if you have a will to try, and read the directions closely, then you’ll be fine. 

I think one reason this one is good is that it uses turmeric.  I had a recipe some months ago that called for this spice.  I wasn’t familiar with it, and when I smelled it, the first thing I thought about was kosher dill pickles.  And in fact, turmeric is one of the main spices in pickling.  It is used often in Indian and middle eastern cooking too.  It is from the tropics in south asia.  It needs a lot of rain and warm temperatures to grow.  It is a relative of ginger, and like ginger, you use the root as the spice.  While it is not available fresh in many places in the US, it can be used that way.  The compound that causes the yellow color is thought to have some medical uses.  It is currently being researched in many different medical studies, including uses against Alzheimer’s, cancer, and arthritis.  As a fun anthropological side note, turmeric is an important part of many Indian wedding ceremonies. 

Julia Child has a very important tip for braising and browning meat.  Braising is where you brown the meat, and then cook it until it is done in liquid.  Browning the meat imparts a good flavor, and then simmering makes it nice and tender.  As I just watched today on the episode about Beof Bourgenon on season one of Julia Child on DVD, you must dry the meat before you put it in the oil.  If you do not, the water on the outside gets hot before the chicken.  This creates a barrier between the chicken and the heat.  The result is that the meat steams instead of browning.  I was curious, so I did half of the meat without drying it, and half with drying it.  It really does make a difference.  Drying meat is super easy.  Just take a paper towel and pat it dry.  Simple as that, makes a huge difference. 

Another Julia tip for braising is that you do not want to crowd the meat in the pot.  If you do, it traps the water in the bottom of the pot.  Like not drying it, that leads to steaming the meat instead of browning it. That is why you do half of the chicken at a time in this recipe.

I also added winter squash to this recipe.  One aspect of a different recipe I tried that I really liked was to add squash.  You can do any winter squash.  I used butternut–it was the last one we had left from our garden.  The color was beautiful, and it was very tasty. 

Braised Chicken with Dates and Moroccan Spices  (6 servings)

Ingredients:

  1. 1 small chicken (3-4 lbs), cut into pieces.  You can go to a butcher (a proper one, not just the grocery store) and buy a whole chicken and they will cut it up for you.  Or I found one pre packaged already all cut up in King Soopers.  It’s in the organic chicken section.  Make sure that you keep the extra pieces and giblets for stock.
  2. 1 Tbsp flour
  3. Salt and pepper
  4. 1 Tbsp olive oil
  5. 5 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped (I used 2 shallots and a small onion b/c I didn’t have enough shallots).
  6. 3 cinnamon sticks
  7. 1.5 tsp ground dry ginger
  8. 1 tsp ground cumin
  9. 1/2 tsp turmeric
  10. 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  11. 3 C chicken broth
  12. 5 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (divided)
  13. 1 small butternut (or other winter) squash.
  14. 8 dates, pitted, roughly chopped (it called for 12 dates halved, but I find dates very sweet.)
  15. 1/4 C almonds, tasted, coarsely chopped
  16. 1/4 C chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy large pot (I used my smaller soup pot) over med-high heat.
  2. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt, pepper, and flour.
  3. Add half of the chicken pieces to the pot and brown on all sides.  Make sure you turn it fairly frequently.  It will take about 15 min.  Take out the browned chicken, and set it aside.  Brown the rest of the chicken, also set aside
  4. Add the chopped shallots/onions.  Sautee until golden, about 5 min.
  5. Add cinnamon sticks and the spices.  Stir until fragrant (about 1 min). 
  6. Increase heat to high.  Add broth and 3 Tbsp lemon juice.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover.  Simmer until shallots begin to soften, about 5 min.
  7. In the mean time, cut the squash in half lengthwise.  Scoop the seeds and strings out of the center.  Put the halves in a bowl and add an inch of water in the bottom.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Microwave for 5 min.  Let sit for a couple of minutes.  Slice lengthwise and then crosswise across the meat, not going into the skin (like you would with an avocado).  Scoop out the meat.
  8. Place chicken on top of the shallots in the pot. Wiggle them in so that they are all in the liquid.  Put the squash on top of that.  Eventually the liquid will get up and cover the squash.  But by putting it on top, it doesn’t get all mushy by cooking too long.
  9. Turn the heat down to low.  Let simmer until the juices of the chicken run clear–about 25 min.
  10. Start your rice or couscous (I forgot this step, so we had to wait a bit longer for our lunch).
  11. Transfer the chicken, onions, and squash to a bowl or platter.  Cover with foil.
  12. Boil the juices in the pot on high until slightly thickened.  (I like thicker sauce, so I whisked in a bit more flour).  Reduce heat to low, and add in the dates.  Simmer for 2 minutes until the dates are heated through. 
  13. Serve over the rice or couscous.  Pour sauce and dates over the chicken and rice.  Sprinkle with almonds and cilantro.  Enjoy.
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About dietforfoodies

I am a lawyer who loves to grow, cook, and eat food.
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