Cooking for 6+ guests always requires a bit of thought and forward planning. You typically
want something that is relatively fuss free, that you can pop in the oven and leave to cook. I have a very open planned kitchen so if I am prepping veg, talking and raising a glass at the same time it can become a little overwhelming. I prefer to plan ahead and then enjoy my guests company once they arrive without being frantic in the kitchen.
Moroccan food is a great people pleaser and tasty all year round. It’s spices are delicate, fragrant but not hot spicy; think along the lines of cumin, coriander, turmeric, black pepper, saffron and paprika. They are perfect gently marinaded and cooked with some tender chicken thighs or even some lamb. Olives and preserved lemons are synonymous with Moroccan cuisine and are key for this recipe. I need to do a post on preserved lemons so those of you who live in places where preserved lemons are hard to source you can make your own and store them.
The marinading can be overnight or in the fridge or for an hour or so if you are working to a tight deadline. The part that takes the longest is browning off the chicken thighs. You want to leave them for about 5 minutes each side so that both sides are nicely bronzed. Then you place them to one side on kitchen paper whilst you prepare and cook the onions. I cook my chicken thighs in batches as I don’t want to overcrowd the pan.
You can cook the whole dish on the stove, however I often find it is easier to place in a preheated oven for around 30 minutes so that the chicken thighs are sufficiently cooked and moist and all the flavours have blended together to create the most delicious of dishes.
I tend to serve with spiced rice or couscous with pomegranates, slithered almonds or pistachio nuts and fresh coriander or parsley. It is always best to cook more than you need as seconds is pretty much guaranteed or if you feeding a reserved bunch then at least you have lots of lovely leftovers for another day. It’s a win win.
Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Lemons
2.7kg chicken thighs, skin removed
2 heaped tbsp garlic paste
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp of ground cumin
1 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp of olive oil
3 medium sized white onion, finely chopped
1 tsp of saffron threads
1 tsp of ground turmeric
370g green olives, stonned
1 fresh lemon
6 preserved lemons, quartered
1. Remove excess skin from the chicken and place in a large mixing bowl.
2. Add the garlic paste, paprika (I love using this one), cumin, black pepper and half the olive oil. Smother the chicken completely with the paste and leave covered in the fridge for a few hours, or even overnight if you are being organised.
3. Heat the remaining oil in a casserole dish or shallow pan. Add the pieces of chicken so that they are golden on both sides – this may need to be done in stages. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place on a plate with kitchen roll so as to soak up the oil.
4. Add the chopped onion to the oil, add more oil if you feel it is necessary. When the onion is golden, add the saffron, turmeric and olives and let it simmer for a few minutes.
5. Pour the juice of the fresh lemon over the pan along with 200ml/7 fl oz of cold water. Add the preserved lemons at this stage. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and let it simmer. If you find there is too much liquid then increase the heat again to reduce the liquid.
6. Preheat an oven to 180 degrees centigrade.
7. In a couple of ovenproof dishes spread out the chicken and pour over the onion, olive, preserved lemon and juice equally. Place in the oven for 30 minutes, by which time the chicken will be sufficiently cooked and ready to serve.
8. Serve with either couscous, pomegranates, almond slithers and fresh coriander or cinnamon rice with brown lentils – both work equally well.
You can cook the chicken ahead of time and then simply heat up gently in the oven for 10-15 minutes (add a little extra water to keep it juicy) then serve.