Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chicken tagine with preserved lemons

My new favorite way to prepare chicken!

First, a story. As you know, I usually only buy whole chickens. Cheaper, taste better, you can use the scraps for broth. Every once in a while I'll buy chicken parts on sale (still, usually bone and skin on--cheaper, taste better). But currently I only had two whole chickens in the freezer.

And this recipe called for chicken parts.

There are two ways to get around this problem, without buying something new. 1) Re-jigger the recipe so you can use a whole chicken, or 2) Cut up the chicken. Normally I'd go with 1). But this recipe (as you'll see below) resisted tinkering with in that way, so I was going to have to cut up the chicken myself.

I'd never cut up a whole chicken into its component parts before, and it was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. So I can now recommend this method.

But before you go butchering your own chicken carcass, make sure you have a really good, really heavy-duty pair of kitchen shears. I do, and I'd much rather use those than try to do it with a knife. I have super-sharp, top of the line knives, and I still feel like they're inadequate to serious butchery (as my adventures in fish gutting with the kitchen shears have proven).

So I used the scissors to cut up the chicken--literally--and broke it down into its component parts: two wings, two legs + thighs, two breasts. A good pair of scissors will cut right through a ball-and-socket joint. The giblets and backbone I threw into a stockpot, along with a freezer bag full of vegetable scraps, to make chicken broth.

Then I made this chicken tagine.

1 whole chicken (or equivalent), in parts (or just chicken thighs)
1 teaspoon saffron threads (saffron is expensive--if you don't have any, skip this part and just add more turmeric, below)
olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons each ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, lime juice
1 small bunch of cilantro, chopped
2 preserved lemons, pulp removed and chopped, and skins cut up into small dice
1 cup green olives, halved

Toast the saffron in a small skillet and set aside. (Like I said, it's expensive, so if you don't already have some, just skip this part.)

In a Dutch oven or large skillet with lid, saute the onions and garlic in oil until soft. Add spices, half of the cilantro, the saffron, and salt and pepper. Stir, and add the chicken parts, on top of the onions. Sprinkle the cut-up lemon pulp over the chicken.  Add a cup or so of water and cover. Let simmer 30-45  minutes or until chicken is cooked through. (Check periodically and add more water if necessary.)

Add olives and simmer 10 more minutes. Add reserved lemon peel and rest of the cilantro. Salt to taste. Serve with rice.

This is a great Middle Eastern dish, with a really nice combination of flavors. Easy to whip up, flavorful enough for a dinner party.

Cost: one whole chicken (purchased in bulk), $4. Preserved lemons, made myself (cost of lemons, maybe $4, also in bulk, and I used only two of those, so 50 cents). Olives, $3.50 from deli. Cilantro, $1.59. Everything else, excluding the cost of the saffron, maybe 75 cents. Total: A little over $10 total, for six adult servings, not including the rice. If we include another $1 for the rice (I used brown rice, which is a little more expensive), that's still only $1.80 per serving.

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