Monday, June 8, 2009

Chicken with pickled lemons and olives

Serves 4

Right now I'm in love with the taste of lemons which have been pickled in salt. As they lose their bitter edge and sharpness they acquire a special, almost mystical rounded flavour. In all markets and souks in North Africa there are stalls laden with huge piles of soft aromatic lemons, bursting with juice, next to several varieties of olives. The two work so well together with a natural affinity. You can easily find pickled lemons and countless varieties of olives in local delis and supermarkets. For this dish, which is as close to a tagine as anything can be I guess, I prefer to add the lemon towards the end of the recipe but there's no harm in throwing in a little chopped lemon to flavour the sauce during the cooking as well. The flexibility of this recipe is endless, a few extra ingredients such as some mushrooms, chunks of courgette and aubergine or even cherry tomatoes can be thrown in for the last few minutes to give added dimensions to the finished article.

1 large chicken, cut into quarters
3 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, grated or very finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ tsp crushed saffron strands or saffron powder
½ tsp ground ginger
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ large or 3 small pickled lemons, rinsed and cut into thin strips
12-16 fat green or violet olives
a little salt and plenty pepper

Put the chicken pieces in a large, wide saucepan with all the ingredients except the preserved lemons and the olives. Half cover with water and bring just to the boil.

Reduce the heat, then cover the pan and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the chicken is so tender that the flesh can be pulled off the bone easily and the liquid is reduced to a thick sauce.

Turn the chicken pieces over a few times during cooking; adding a little more water if necessary.

Stir the lemon peel and olives into the sauce for the last 15 minutes of cooking. Some people like to add the lemon right at the very end