Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Moroccan Chicken Tangine

So, on Monday morning, while Dean was sawing lumber and building the composter (and the kids were outside "helping"), I enjoyed the relative peace and quiet of the house by trying to knock off an episode or two of America's Test Kitchen from the DVR.  I have 21 in queue right now...

First up was an America's Test Kitchen version of a Moroccan dish called 'Chicken Tangine'.  I have never cooked anything remotely like this.  Ethnic foods for me have been limited to Mexican and ... well, Mexican.  I can't call spaghetti 'authentic' Italian.  I just can't.  There is very little thought process that goes into it (sorry if you are Italian and I've just offended your grandmother).  I'm talking about SPAGHETTI.  Sure, I have a rather ingredient-heavy recipe - but hey - you throw it all into a crockpot and simmer it for hours.  Where's the challenge?

With Chicken Tangine, it was a 21-step process.  And it begins with food prep.  You need six different spices just to get started.  I had all of them, but the age of two of them I couldn't vouch for.  One of the bottles had a label on the bottom with my maiden initials on it.  I put it there in 1992, when I lived with two other roommates and we just stored all of our spices together.  1992.  So that makes that bottle 20 freakin' years old.  I sniffed it.  It smelled vaguely of sawdust.  How is it, in the past 20 years, I didn't use all of my cayenne pepper?  About ten years ago I got into the habit of labeling my bottles with the month and year that I opened it.  I know that about 3/4 of my spices need to go, based on age (most lose potency even just after 6 months).  That is an expensive proposition.  But in ethnic cooking, where spices are the headliners, you can't skimp - so it was off to the store.

Since I didn't have a prep team to dice and measure everything for me, I had to go through the recipe and do it myself.  Toast some almonds.  Mince and mash lemon peel, garlic and salt together until you have a paste.  Slice onions, olives, carrots... and on and on.  Each into it's own bowl until it was all ready to go.

Here is some sage cooking advice that isn't mine, but I know it works:  Prepare all of your ingredients beforehand.  Line them up in little bowls, dishes, spoons, whatever you have on hand.  Because as you see chefs on the cooking shows emptying bowl after bowl of different ingredients into the cookpot as they go - there is a reason, and it's not to look fancy.  It is so you can pay attention to what is going on in the pot.  You don't want your back turned, madly dicing the onions, when you chicken is burning.  Do it all beforehand, so that you can pay attention to what you are doing.

This recipe required ingredients and techniques I've never done before.  Shallots.  I used to dislike onions.  A lot.  I am now reformed, but because of my dislike, I never, never tried shallots.  Oh - my goodness - I have missed the boat!  They are mildly oniony, and they soften like butter.  No kidding.  I am going to plant some.  Immediately.  My usual, pathetic, lame grocery store - soon to be former grocery story, didn't have any.  ANY.  So I pulled up some images on the internet to show Dean, and sent him after some at a different store.  He came through  - I didn't know they could grow as big as the ones he brought home, but they were very good.  So glad I finally tried them.  The other thing I have never done before, believe it or not, is cut up a chicken.  I don't like dark meat, so almost all of the chicken I cook is breast meat, or I buy a whole chicken, jamb it on a beer can and roast it in the oven, and give the drumsticks to Jordan.

I watched the cooking video three times to get down the method of cutting up a chicken.  They make it look soooo easy.  ha.  I had a weak pair of kitchen shears, and a dull chef's knife: a lethal combination.  Luckily I didn't hurt myself.  I couldn't find any of the joints that were supposedly "just right there", or cut out the back bone without hacking into the breast meat quite a ways... Uugh.  I bagged up the backbone, wings and other various bits and pieces in a Ziploc to save for a day that I will make a chicken broth.  I felt like I was left with only a fraction of the chicken that it once was...  but at least I did it.  Next time I will be prepared with a sharper knife.  And a mean pair of scissors.

Next up was to make some couscous.  I've never attempted this before, either.  I had a disaster with polenta a while back and I vowed to stay safe with rice.  And only rice.  I do thank the testers at America's Test Kitchen for finding a way to make it easy and practical - take it out of the box, but not follow the box's directions.  It turned out awesome.

So there you have it: four new things to add to my 40 Things: ethnic recipe, shallots, cutting up a chicken and making couscous.  No wonder it took me two hours to get dinner on the table!

One other piece of advice: If you are already a fan of Fly Lady, you probably already do this.  Partially fill one of your sinks with soapy water, and wash and rinse your cooking dishes as you go.  As you can see in the picture, there were a ton of dirty dishes generated in act of making this recipe.  Most of them could be cleaned with a just a swish in the soapy water and a quick rinse.  I only had two pots at the end - the chicken pot and the couscous pot that still needed washing.  I was thankful not to add anymore to my dish pile.  I still have the perpetual pile next to the sink that never.  goes.  away.

Here is the recipe, from America's Test Kitchen

Chicken Tangine

1. Make your spice blend, set aside
* 1 1/4 tsp paprika
* 1/2 tsp ground cumin
* 1/4 tsp (each) of ground ginger, cayenne, coriander and ground cinnamon

2. Make lemon paste, set aside
Take one long strip of lemon peel (use a peeler and make sure there is no pith), and one clove of garlic and mince both until very fine.  Sprinkle mixture with a little salt and then take the flat of the knife blade (use a nice, wide chef's knife), and wipe it back and forth, mashing the mixture.  The goal is to release the lemon oil.

3. Dice one small yellow onion and place in a bowl, and add two long sections of lemon peel on top.  Set aside.

4. Mince 4 cloves of garlic, set aside.

5. Slice 3 - 4 carrots, set aside.

6. Slice 1 cup of Greek green olives.  (I used Spanish because that is what I had on hand)

7. Pour 1 3/4 C chicken broth into measuring cup, set aside.

8. Rinse one whole chicken, remove bag of giblets and pat dry.  Cut off thigh at the hip joint and then separate thigh from the drumstick.  Remove backbone with scissors and discard or keep for broth.  Remove wings and discard or keep for broth.  Take remaining to halves of breast and divide each into half.  You should have four pieces of dark meat and four pieces of white - sprinkle with a generous amount of salt and pepper.  (Using dark meat is essential to building the flavor in the dish - or so ATK says.  I may try this recipe again, and do so with all breast meat and see if that is so.)

9.  Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a dutch oven on med-high heat until it is just smoking - the chicken should immediately sizzle when you add it.  Add the chicken (it will be crammed) and brown on one side.  Turn and brown on the other.

10.  Remove chicken from pot and set aside.  Drain off all of the oil except about a tablespoon's worth, and then add the sliced onions/two slices of lemon peel.  Saute until brown and softened.  If the pot gets too dry and begins to burn, you can add a Tbsp of water or two.  While you are waiting on the onions, remove the skin from all of the chicken pieces, using a paper towel. (discard the skin)

11.  Add the garlic and saute about 30 seconds, then add the spice mixture.

12.  Stir the onion/garlic/spice mixture until the spices bloom and get fragrant (about 30 seconds)

13.  Pour in chicken broth (be careful - the pot is super hot!).  Scrape the bottom to release leftover chicken bits as you stir.

14.  Add 1 Tbsp honey.

15.  Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat to medium and add ONLY the dark meat.  Cook for 5 minutes.

16.  Carefully cover dark meat with the carrots, creating a platform upon which you can place the four white meat pieces.  You are essentially 'steaming' the white meat.  Cover and cook for 10 -15 minutes, until the breast meat measures 160F.

17.  Remove chicken to a plate and tent with foil.

18.  Add the olives and cover and cook for 5 minutes.

19.  Add in the lemon 'paste'

20.  Add 3 Tbsp of lemon juice

21.  Add 1/4 C chopped cilantro and bring mixture to a simmer.

22.  Return the chicken to the pot (including the juice on the plate) and simmer for five minutes until ready to serve.


1.  Toast 3/4 C of sliced almonds in a dry skillet, flipping them around often, until they are a nice golden brown and have a nice, nutty aroma.

2.  Melt 3 Tbsp of unsalted butter in a 2 qt. saucepan.

3. Add 2-3 shallots, sliced thin, and saute until softened.  (about 3 min).

4. Add one clove of minced garlic, cook until fragrant - about 30 seconds.

5.  Add two cups of couscous and stir and toast until couscous has a nice, nutty aroma - about 4-5 minutes.  Be careful - it can go from toasted to burnt in just a few seconds - so stir constantly!

6.  Add 1 C water, 1 C chicken broth and 1 tsp salt.  Stir well and bring to a boil.

7.  Cover and remove from heat.  Let sit for 7 minutes.

8.  Fluff with fork and then add 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest, 2 tsp lemon juice, 1/4 C minced parsley and the toasted almonds.  Toss gently.

Serve the chicken atop a bed of couscous.

(I personally thought the chicken breasts were a little dry and flavorless using this method.  Next time I *might* eliminate the dark meat, and cook the breast meat directly in the sauce)  Otherwise it was a hit.  Even Owen, the pickiest of the kids, had cleaned his plate before I had even finished serving Dean and myself.  I love the complicated mix of flavors and the aroma....oh, the aroma!!  (and wouldn't you know it - I forgot to get an aftershot!)

No comments: