Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Chicken, Carrot, & Chickpea Tagine - Kdra Style
A kdra is a type of Moroccan tagine flavored with that region’s strong, preserved butter smen. Described by early British visitors to the region as “foul-smelling” and “rancid,” smen has found a more open-minded fan base in modern times. Paula Wolfert gives 2 recipes for making smen in her exhaustive tome on Moroccan cuisine Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco – a text I highly recommend for anyone in search of “real” Moroccan food and not just the glamorized, homogenized version we find so often in the States today.
In one recipe, Wolfert washes her butter in a salted oregano tincture before fermenting it for 30 days, but she notes that other preparations call for cinnamon, ground coriander seed, and pickling spices. Wolfert also describes the particularly pungent smens of more rural areas – the Berbers clarify and cook their butter, salt it, and bury it in earthen jugs sunk into the ground for a year. She says the finished product tastes “something like Gorgonzola cheese.”
I haven’t ever made smen, but I can’t help incorporating the rest of the traditional kdra flavor profile into my tagine rotation here in New York. With a little saffron and lemon juice and lots of black pepper and braised onions, this kdra-inspired tagine is a gently sweet and gloriously sunny way to show off our late summer chickpeas and carrots.
The Phillips Farms carrots are heavenly right now: well-grown and decadently colored below their leafy green tops, but not at all leathery or starchy yet. I only had to peel the larger ones before pairing them with raisins and ginger – a combination as popular in Europe and North America as it is in northern Africa. This braise comforts and soothes without taking on the sticky richness of winter. I brown the chicken here, which is not strictly traditional, but I prefer the color and flavor that the extra step allows. Also, you may omit the butter if you wish – it’s not completely authentic without the smen anyway, and so I tend to only include the butter on special occasions. Serve with warmed or grilled flatbread.
extra virgin olive oil
8 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
2 medium onions, halved and sliced into thin half moons
6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
½ cup thinly sliced scallion bulbs (reserve the green leaves for another use)
1 heaping tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus extra
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground ginger
1 stick cinnamon
I pinch saffron
3 cups fresh or canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed if canned
4 cups good chicken or vegetable stock
4 tbsp unsalted butter or smen (optional)
1 ½ lbs fresh carrots (assorted colors if available), quartered lengthwise and sliced into sticks
¼ cup black raisins
big handful fresh parsley, chopped
juice of ½ lemon
Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Season both sides generously with salt. Heat a large, heavy pot over high heat and add a glug of olive oil. When the oil ripples, brown the chicken, skin side down first, until deeply golden. Work in batches so that the pot is never crowded, and add more oil as needed. Reserve on a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium and replenish the oil in the pot. Add the slices onions and sprinkle with more salt. Sweat, stirring often, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic cloves and slices scallions and stir for another couple of minutes.
Stir in the black pepper, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon stick. Crumble in the saffron and add the chickpeas. Nestle the chicken pieces and any juices from their plate into the onion spice mixture and pour over the stock. Add the butter if using. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a very gentle simmer. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring all the way to the bottom once or twice.
Stir in the carrots and raisins. Cover and simmer for another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the lemon juice and most of the parsley. Check the seasoning with more salt and pepper and serve hot sprinkled with a little more parsley.