Moroccan-Style Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives
"Paula Wolfert may be the most influential cookbook author you've never heard of." — Emily Kaiser Thalin
Damn. Ten plus years in food spaces and I shamefully didn't know of Paula's culinary contributions until my former (badass) Food & Wine colleague, Emily Kaiser Thelin, wrote the biography, Unforgettable, The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert's Renegade Life.
Actually, that's not entirely true.
I've been enjoying Paula's legacy for years. Preserved lemon! Gentle Aleppo and Marash Peppers! Parsley-not-as-garnish! Since the sixties, Paula Wolfert has been introducing now-household Mediterranean flavors to American Palettes. (Ottolenghi: Love you, but there is a badass lady cook that paved your olive-and-pomegranate-lined way.)
This recipe is a simplified version of Paula's Chicken M'Chermel, originally published in The Food of Morroco circa 1968. Her version is more involved (there's food a processor and chicken livers), and mine is way less authentic (there's Sicilian Castelveltrano olives and a Dutch oven). But despite the shortcuts, the chicken is still melt-in-your-mouth tender, and uber zesty preserved lemons and bright-and-briny olives add punctation to every bite. According to my sis, "it's effing delicious."
Served over white rice, to make the most of the chicken jus.
Total Time: 2.5 hours
1/4 cup or 6 good glugs of extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup raisins
2 3-finger pinches of freshly ground black pepper
3 3-finger pinches of good kosher salt
3 bone-in, skin-on chicken whole chicken legs (or the component pieces: drumsticks and thighs)
2 red onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced into half moons
1/2 cup water
1/2 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/2 bunch Cilantro (aka coriander), roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 cup smashed and pitted Castelveltrano olives *I am all for shortcuts, but the olives are worth pitting yourself. The pre-pitted ones get soft and dull, in both flavor and texture.
1 preserved lemon, quartered, separated into pulp and rind. Pulp, deseeded and sliced, skins, very thinly sliced.
1 lemon, for juicing
cooked rice or couscous for serving
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a large bowl, mix olive oil, garlic, paprika, cumin, raisins, black pepper, salt, and chicken. Loosen the skin from the meat, and use your hands to make sure the marinate coats the chicken under and over the skin. Cover and let sit for anywhere from zero minutes to overnight. The more time the better, but if you don't have time to let the chicken marinate, it will take on plenty of flavor in the cooking.
In a cast iron Dutch or French oven, combine the onions, half of the parsley and cilantro, the water, the turmeric, and the preserved lemon pulp.Toss together with your hands, creating a moist bed of aromatics.
Add chicken and marinating oil, making sure to arrange the chicken pieces skin-side-up. The bottom half of chicken pieces should be nestled into the aromatics to slowly braise, leaving their oiled skins moisture free and able to brown and crisp up a bit.
Crumple a piece of parchment and place loosely over chicken, then cover and place in heated oven for 1 hour and 45 minutes to two hours. You'll know the chicken is done when the flesh is very tender and easily pulls apart with a fork. *Skip the parchment if you don't have it. The paper catches condensation and helps to concentrate the flavor of the braise, bit it's a nice to have, not a need to have.
After the chicken is out of the oven, toss in remaining parsley and cilantro and preserved lemon rind. Squeeze fresh lemon over the whole thing and serve straight out of the pot with steamed rice or couscous.