Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemon and Saffron Lemon Cous Cous

Moroccan tagine is one of my favourite solutions to a dinner party. It’s make ahead, easy, cooks itself and always goes down well. The classic combination is a mass of onion cooked to a slop and season with the classic Moroccan spice mix ras al hanout. It’s widely available but the best include rose petals which always make me think of the huge rose gardens of La Mamounia, the grande dame of Marrakech hotels. I once spent a morning in the all-women kitchen watching their deft mise-en-place for individual tagines that meant the stew only had to be heated before it was served. Tagine is one of a clutch of dishes that is named after the vessel it’s cooked in. The real point of the tall, pointy tagine is providing a cold surface where steam condenses and drips back into the food, negating the need for much liquid. My tagines are cooked in a Le Creuset and I like to ensure there will be plenty of liquid because it’s essential to lubricate the cous cous that goes with it. Pitted green olives and salt-preserved lemon are also widely available, the latter rather like Seville oranges; all pips and no body. It’s the cured peel, rendered soft and salty, that is a key flavour of a tagine. I add it to all sorts of other dishes; do experiment, it’s an underexplored star. For the cous cous to go with this tagine for 6, Saffron Lemon Cous Cous you will need 400g cous cous, hydrated in 600ml boiling water with a pinch of saffron, juice of half a lemon and 2 tbsp olive oil. Sift while stirring the cous cous into the liquid mix, leave to stiffen and hydrate, forking up regularly after 10 minutes. It should be dry and tender after about 30, possibly 40 minutes and can then be boxed and kept on hold in the fridge. I make it in advance. Leftovers have legion uses.

Serves 6

Prep: 30 min
Cook: 60 min

4 large onions, approx 750g
20g butter
4 tbsp olive oil
6 large garlic cloves
2 generous pinches of saffron threads
6 tsp ras al hanout Moroccan spice mix
1.5kg chicken thigh fillet
½ (half) chicken stock cube
8 Belazu preserved lemons
2 x 70g Crespo pitted green olives
80g bunch coriander
1 lemon

Peel, halve and finely chop the onions. Melt the butter in the oil to a spacious, heavy-bottomed lidded pan (or tagine) and stir in the chopped onions. Stir occasionally for about 10 minutes until juicy and glassy. Peel, chop and crush the garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt. Sprinkle the saffron over the softening onions stirring as it bleeds colour into the hot juices. Stir in the garlic followed by the ras al hanout, stir-frying for a couple of minutes. Following the lines of the chicken, slice down the unfurled fillets into double bite-size pieces. Fold the chicken through the onions until all the pieces change colour, then add the half stock cube dissolved in 300ml boiling water. Quarter the preserved lemons, scrape away the pips and slice each piece in 3 or 4 strips. Stir peel and olives into the stew. Chop the coriander, slicing the stalks finely. Add the stalk half of the bunch to the pot. Establish a gentle simmer, cover and cook for 45 minutes. Check the chicken is very tender, if not cook on a bit longer. Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Ideally, leave overnight, reheat gently, stirring and just before serving, stir in the remaining coriander. Serve with cous cous giving each serving plenty of liquid.  Rice or green beans and crusty bread are good alternatives to cous cous but cous cous is best.