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.

Serves 4

extra virgin olive oil
8 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
2 medium onions, halved and sliced into thin half moons
kosher salt
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.


Jan said...

Fascinating Amanda! I know what you mean about Moroccan food here too. Good to learn more about it and the book sounds great.

foodette said...

Those carrots look amazing - and the dish looks divine!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jan, thank you! There's so much more to Moroccan food than olives and preserved lemons - though I love those too! I think we tend to take "Moroccan" ingredients and put them together in our own way, but I like to try and understand which ingredients they'd really pair with each other and why. Enjoy the tagine and the book!

Foodette, Thanks so much! They were truly splendid carrots, weren't they? In their late adolescence, it seemed to me.

farmgirl said...

Oh this looks and sounds fantastic! All my favorite ingredients, too. I think this recipe might just move me beyond raw carrots and chickpeas straight from the can! (You know, the appetizers before the pesto main course.) : ) I'm so addicted to both.

Those carrots are gorgeous. I sadly haven't had any luck with carrots in the garden, but thankfully organic carrots are easy to find--and, in my opinion, one of the best bargains around. Thanks for another beautiful recipe.

marisa said...

mmmmmm...do you serve over couscous?

Joanne Rendell said...

yum. chicken, chickpeas, and carrots. my three favorite "C"s! i'm going to make this...no, seriously, I am.

Cynthia said...

I have no tangine but I am going to try making this dish one day with the recipe you have here.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Farmgirl, carrots and chickpeas before the pesto? Sounds pretty high fallutin' to me! Courses of pervert are pretty upmarket in my book ; )
So glad you like the recipe, and I hope you enjoy it!

Marisa, actually, this particular tagine is traditionally served with flat bread for scooping rather than over couscous, but you should feel free to serve a bowl of couscous on the side. I mean, you should do whatever sounds good to you anyway, because that's what this is all about - I just mean if you want to keep things authentic!

Jo Jo, My jaw just hit the floor. If this really happens, I will have to take you for special rosé and chips to celebrate ; )

Cynthia, a tagine is absolutely not necessary here! Please don't hold back because of that. In fact, you can't brown the chicken in the tagine, so I prefer using a stew pot anyway. I just serve it in little tagines sometimes when I'm trying to be fancy!

Lucy said...

Carrot, raisins and ginger.

Oh, my.

Must go and pull out the Wolfert book. I'm ashamed to say that I haven't even opened it. Smen sounds like a very fabulous thing!

Mercedes said...

Thank you so much for writing about smen! It is pronounced seh-men, and I think a lot of people transliterate it smen so they don't have to spell it semen. In the Levant we usually say samneh, and the word just means fat.

Indeed, it does have horribly rancid smell, but one that turns into something wonderful. I've always said there are 2 secrets to Arab cooking 1) liberal use of lemon juice in everything and 2) samneh. When I first started learning Arab dishes, I would go home and try to replicate the dishes I learned, but they never quite had the right oomph. It was only when I started using samneh instead of butter that I finally got it. I definitely think samneh has a lot of umami, which makes it rancid smelling when raw, but also delicious.

As for procuring it, I don't think I know any modern cook who makes their own, just go to the store and buy some! Samneh is quite similar to ghee, and most home cooks use samneh and ghee interchangably.
In ny, you can buy samneh at Kalustyans or Dowel foods on Ave A or just about any Middle Eastern store or Pakistani deli. Or just use ghee.

The tagine looks fabulous, Paula Wolfert is unbeatable when it comes to Moroccan recipes in English.

Also, I meant to comment earlier on the post on your creme de cassis and how happy I was that it came out well, but I've already said too much and will stop hogging your comments section.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Lucy, thank you! It's a fairly old fashioned book, and so it doesn't really catch ones attention sandwiched between so many others. I ought to look at ot much more myself! But when I need to know if something's authentic or where a tradition stems from, it's the most trustworthy Morrocan cookery book I've found. Paula Wolfert's a genius anyway though, you know?
I hope to try smen one day soon myself!

Mercedes, never worry about hogging my comments section! It's always lovely to hear from you, and it's great to learn some more about smen (or samneh)!
Your comment on the lemon juice is comforting to me - it's something I always seem to intuitively want to add on my own!
I was sure that smen, like ghee, is often bought rather than made these days, but I hadn't been able to find a source - and I've been looking for a few years now! So thanks for the tip.
Paula Wolfert's a great resource for any cook, and this particular text is so meticulous and inspiring. The kdra I made is something inspired by a dish friends from the region prepare, and it's such a treat for me!
Thanks for your help with the cassis too, Mercedes!

Anh said...

OMG, this is sooooo good! I love tagine, and this recipe rocks!

Shauna said...

This looks fantastic! And those carrots. That's the archetype of carrots.

lovely work.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Anh, thank you! I love tagine too, and this one's a little different, which is fun. Enjoy!

Shauna, thanks! They were particularly spectacular carrots, weren't they? They flavor was great too. It's just the best time of year for them around here.

Patricia Scarpin said...

I love learning about new dishes here, Amanda!
And those carrots look fantastic - I'd have a couple of them without even cooking them!

Wendy said...

Aren't tagines such a lovely shape? I keep meaning to buy one but haven't quite got round to it yet.. Yours is gorgeous. :)
Love that you've used chicken thighs. It's my favourite part of the bird (definitely the tastiest) but find people often turn their noses up at it. Why is that I wonder?

Figs Olives Wine said...

Patricia, I did before I even started cooking! I just knew they were at their peak, and I didn't want to miss it!

Wendy, I absolutely agree! Their shape is utterly exotic and inspirational. But, you know, I tend to use them only for serving. I like to brown most of the meat I use in tagines, and a traditional clay one can't go over direct heat. I think people tend to favor white meat because it's so much more simply flavored - less fat, less color, etc. Sure a breast might be technically healthier, but I eat less of the darker meat, because I find it more satisfying!

Jen said...

Have you ever tasted the smen? It sounds interesting, but probably unsettling, Paula Wolfert or no. The dish looks absolutely beautiful.

tribecachef said...

I'm pleased to find the recommendations for where to buy smen above. I think I'll try the kdra with the traditional dose of the butter out of scientific interest. Great post!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jen, thank you! I've never knowingly tasted smen - though it's probably been used in restaurants I've had kdras at. I imagine it adds a savory pungency to the whole thing. Mercedes recommended some places to buy smen in New York above, and I'm looking forward to trying it out!

Tribecachef, thank you! I look forward to trying it too. Let me know your thoughts once you do.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Sounds like a great great cookbook! I really love Moroccan food and this sounds really like an important book to have!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jenn, it's the best! She is absolutely vigilant about authenticity and cultural accuracy. Hope you enjoy the book as much as I have.

Annemarie said...

That sounds really fantastic - I love moroccan food but have never been adventurous enough to make it at home (I think lack of tagine has held me back, mentally). Maybe minus the homemade smen, now is the time...

Figs Olives Wine said...

Annemarie, you musn't let the lack of tagine hinder you! Any heavy stew pot will do, and they are just as good done on the stove top as in the oven. I hope you enjoy, and do let me know!

HoosierGirl said...

This is without doubt one of if not the most beautiful, elegant food blog I have encountered.

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