Tagines – slow-cooked stews of succulent meat and fruit in a silky, gently spiced sauce– are surely one of the glories of North African Jewish cuisine. A tagine is also the name of an earthenware casserole with a conical lid in which the stew is traditionally cooked but a wide, flame-proof casserole is fine.
Warm spices like cinnamon, ginger turmeric and black pepper have anti-inflammatory properties, while dried apricot provide fibre, vitamin A, and natural sweetness.
I like to use chicken thighs rather than breasts, so they remain moist and tender while cooking slowly in the spiced sauce. Bone-in thighs work too, but will take a good 15-20 minutes longer to cook, and you’ll need to remove the skin before cooking or the finished tagine will be covered with chicken fat. Allow 1 large or 2 small boneless thighs per person.
Serve with a potato-topped vegetable tian or gratin, or steamed new potatoes and a green salad. After Pesach, Israeli couscous and lightly cooked green beans go beautifully.
The entire dish can be cooked and refrigerated up to 2 days ahead, then reheated about 45 minutes before serving.
1 rounded tsp ground ginger
1 rounded tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground cinnamon
10 grinds of black pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed in a press
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
To sauté the chicken
2 kg (8 large or 16 smaller) boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets
1 large red onion
2 tbsp water
Juice of a large orange (about 80ml)
150g (about 20) dried apricots (the soft, ready-to-eat type are best)
1 cinnamon stick
4 tbsp chicken stock or water
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp potato flour mixed to a cream with 2 tbsp water
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
First, mix the spice paste ingredients together. Coat the chicken with the paste using a silicone brush or your hands (wear disposable gloves if you prefer). Leave for 20 minutes at room temperature, or up to 24 hours in the fridge.
Spread the pine nuts on a baking tray and place in a cold oven. Set the oven to 160°C/Gas 3 and roast the nuts for 10 minutes while the oven heat up or until they’re golden brown and smell toasty, then take them out but leave the oven to continue heating up.
Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice onion. Heat the tbsp of olive oil in a flame-proof casserole, add the onion, a pinch of salt and 2 tbsp water and cook gently, uncovered, for 15 minutes until soft and translucent, stirring from time to time.
Increase the heat, add the chicken to the onions (do this in 2 batches if necessary so the pieces will fit in a single layer without crowding the pan) and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes until the chicken is golden brown on both sides (it won’t be cooked through yet).
Cover the casserole with a lid or foil. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the chicken is tender and the flesh opaque, or if more convenient, simmer on very low heat on the stove for the same amount of time, stirring occasionally to make sure the chicken isn’t sticking to the bottom (if it does, add an 2 tbsp of water).
Remove the chicken from the sauce and transfer to a plate, leaving the onion and juices in the casserole. Add the apricots, cinnamon stick and stock or water to the onions, then bubble gently for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to concentrate the flavor and allow the apricots to absorb some of the sauce.
Mix the potato flour and water to a smooth cream, then stir into the sauce and bubble until thickened.
Return the chicken and any juices to the casserole. The dish can now served, or allowed to cool then refrigerated for up to 2 days.
To serve, reheat gently on the stove, covered, until beginning to bubble, then transfer to the oven at 160C/ Gas 3 and bake until heated through, 20-30 minutes. If you don’t want to serve it in the casserole, transfer to the chicken to a warm serving platter or tagine and spoon over the sauce and apricots. Sprinkle with the pine nuts, parsley and pomegranate seeds and serve at once.
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