Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Green Olives, Mint Roasted Vegetables, and Couscous

“How do I get five tablespoons?” asked a student. He held a cube of butter in one hand, a tablespoon measure in the other.

It was a grounding moment for me. With eight new and two returning students in the class, we have a wide range of capabilities, and I had not yet reviewed “ways to measure.” I handed him a knife and showed him how to slice through the paper at the right spot, making a mental note and wishing — as always — that we had more time.

Two hours were too short to teach the class how to use a whetstonecut up a whole a chicken, preserve lemons, peel, dice, spice, brown, braise, and roast. But we made a good go of it. To start things off, Christina shared the spicy applesauce she made with horseradish and the root from last week’s farmbox, which turns out to be burdock (check out her beautiful blog, butterbrot). While the kids sipped “mocktails” of seltzer and ginger-mint syrup, we discussed the benefits of buying a whole chicken, including cost savings, flavor, bones for homemade broth, nose-to-tail ethics, etc. I think anyone who eats chicken should have this skill, even if they use it rarely. While there are many different methods (Christina does it differently than I do), the most important factors are willingness, a sharp knife, and fresh, organic chicken, ideally from a local farm. Afterwards, a thorough wash of hands, knives, and cutting boards is essential (organic chickens are great for many reasons, but pose nearly as much risk of salmonella as the conventionally-grown ones).

rawchicken

In our Jubilee farmbox, we found several veggies to roast: cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, and turnips. Our mission was to chop them into roughly comparable pieces so they would get done at the same time. This took much more time than expected as our knife supply is limited, and our sharp knife supply even more so.choppedveg

While the original recipe called for cilantro, many people find it tastes like soap, so we substituted Italian parsley. I had to buy some from the grocery store, as mine didn’t survive the winter in the garden, but I look forward to growing bushels of it soon. There should always be room in a garden for parsley, one of the most versatile herbs.

The prep team carefully measured spices, including some precious saffron that Christina brought from home. Saffron threads are the stamens of a crocus that blooms for one week of the year and produces about three stamens, each of which must be picked by hand. Some 150 flowers and substantial labor are needed to produce a single gram of saffron, so you can see why it is so expensive!

spices

Christina also brought her own preserved lemons for the recipe. I was not satisfied with the ones I made recently (too salty), and am eager to try her method. Preserved lemons are a necessary component of this dish, but if you don’t want to make your own, you can buy them at Met MarketChefShop, or Amazon.com.

christinapreservedlemons

This recipe can be made with any cut of chicken. The simplest method is to bake the chicken in the sauce for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. I’m persuaded that browning and braising provide the best flavor, however, and make it easier to test the doneness of the chicken, so you can whisk it off the heat before it becomes tough.

chickenbraising

As the kids chopped and measured, they collected veggie trimmings and added them to the chicken carcass to make stock. Homemade stock has amazing flavor and is full of nutritious collagen (often missing from commercial stock). Isn’t it interesting how many cultures have a “go to” chicken soup therapy? In our house, a cold is treated with “Jewish penicillin,” Vietnamese phở, or Thai tom ka gai. The curative benefits are scientifically-validated.

With tartness from the lemons, saltiness from the olives, umami from the chicken, and mild heat from the spices, the dish packed a lot of flavor, and was made harmonious by plain couscous (so simple to make, for every cup of couscous, add one cup of boiling water with a little salt and olive oil). Yes, the bones were a hassle, but they slowed down the eating, and that’s a good thing! After nearly two hours of chatter and action, it was nice to see how serene the kids became. I’d like to think it was more than tastebuds responding.

cooks

Michael Pollan said about cooking: “To try your hand at doing something new is to find out a few new things about yourself, too.” In the kitchen, classroom, lab, or gym, as kids gain mastery, they gain self-regard. (And, as I tell my own children, they become so much more attractive as potential roommates and life partners.)

moroccanchicken

Unfortunately, the roasted vegetables were not ready when it was time to eat, so I told the kids they could sneak into the kitchen and eat them for lunch the next day, and apparently some did, as I found a nearly-empty pan that evening. A bit cinnamony for my palate, they were still tasty, straight from the fridge.
roasted veggies
The chicken stock was skimmed of fat, poured into a Mason jar, and tucked in the freezer, where it will keep for another class. Perhaps we’ll make Filipino pencillin, or sinigang-ma-manok. Hernando, the school janitor, said the aroma of our broth reminded him of Filipino food and promised to bring us some tamarind. Sounds fun!

RECIPES

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Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Green Olives

Adapted from Gourmet, this recipe serves 6-8.

Ingredients

  • 1 organic free-range chicken, cut into 8 pieces

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 4 medium onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick

  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

  • 4 tablespoons ground coriander

  • 4 teaspoons ground white pepper

  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger

  • 2 teaspoons saffron threads

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric

  • 2 preserved lemons (or more or less, to taste)

  • 1 ½ cups chicken broth

  • 24 pitted green olives, halved

  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley

Preparation

  1. Pat chicken dry, then season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté chicken until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side.

  2. Transfer chicken to a plate and keep warm, covered.

  3. Add remaining oil to skillet and reduce heat to moderate. Cook onions and garlic, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add spices and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

  4. Scrape pulp from preserved lemon, reserving for another use. Cut rind into thin strips and add to onions with broth and olives.

  5. Return chicken, with any juices accumulated on plate, to skillet. Braise, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes or until 165 degrees Fahrenheit at its thickest part.

  6. Serve sprinkled with parsley. Nice with couscous and roasted vegetables.

***

Moroccan Mint Roasted Vegetables

From 101 Recipes, this recipe serves 4. Mix up the veggies to use whatever is in season!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb mix of potatoes, cauliflower, and a few radishes (save the tops)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint

  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile pepper flakes

  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • a squeeze of fresh lemon juice

  • toppings: fresh mint, toasted sesame and/or pumpkin seeds, plain yogurt (seasoned with a bit of salt)

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 425F. Wash and dry the vegetables, then cut the potatoes and cauliflower into 1/4-inch thick slices/pieces. Trim and quarter the radishes, setting aside the green radish tops.

  2. Place the dried mint, chile pepper flakes, cumin seeds, and salt in a mortar and pestle and pound a bit, long enough to somewhat break up the cumin seeds. Add the ground cumin, cinnamon, and ground ginger. After that, add the olive oil and stir until combined.

  3. Place the potatoes, cauliflower, and radishes in a large bowl. Pour the spiced olive oil over the vegetables and toss gently but thoroughly – until everything is equally coated. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until everything is cooked through.

  4. Remove from the oven and serve on a platter topped with the radish greens, a squeeze of lemon and any/all of the other toppings. A fat dollop of salted yogurt really brings everything together.

Tags: , , , , ,

Categories: Entree, Gluten-Free, Kid Favorite

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