This dish is one of my favorites among the many, many utterly tasty things that Brinn has formulated over the years. It is an outgrowth of her long fascination with Moroccan food and tagine cooking in particular. She typically serves these succulent, slow-cooked, chili and pomegranate coated chicken thighs with savory, oven roasted root vegetables and loaves of fresh street bread for dipping. The photo to the left shows the chicken alongside another favorite; eggplant with charmoula. Garnishing with some olives and feta never hurts.
If you are unfamiliar with tagine cooking, you might want to consider changing that. Tagines are two-part clay pots made famous by the Berbers in North Africa. These clay pots were designed to be used over charcoal or open flame and function as something between a steam roaster and a portable oven. They regulate the moisture of a dish and allow for long cooking times while managing to preserve really clean flavors. Around the house, we use the side burner of our barbecue or single burner butane stoves as a heat source. More details on tagine suppliers and how to use these really amazing pots next week, as it is a subject worthy of some detail, especially since there will be a lot of tagine recipes posted here in the future.
To prepare this particular tagine, you will need to plan ahead (modestly) and marinade the chicken at least 30 minute, but preferably overnight. Since cooking with a tagine is very much a slow roasting process, start cooking about 2 hours before you want to eat.
Start by heating your tagine over medium (gas) heat. I always use a cast iron diffuser because I am somewhat paranoid about shocking and cracking the clay bottom. Put enough oil in to cover the bottom and, once it has had time to heat up, layer in the onions and garlic. They should sizzle a little bit. Delay moving forward until they do.
Arrange the chicken in the tagine and add the marinade. It is a good idea to have the marinade be at least room temperature and preferably warmer when adding it; that way you don’t shock the clay and crack it (notice a trend here?). Put the top on, reduce the heat to medium low, and let things ride for about 45 minutes.
One of the anchors for this dish is the reduction sauce. It is a sticky-tart gravy that will coat your chickens with goodness during the final stages of cooking. You will come to see it as your friend and it makes or breaks this dish. Fortunately, this part is hard to screw up. To make the reduction sauce, combine the ingredients in a sauce pan and boil the hell out of them over medium high heat. As you do this, you will be adding excess fluid from the tagine after it has cooked for about 45 minutes. Keep reducing the sauce so that it resembles a thin, slightly viscous syrup. You are shooting for a sauce that is about 1/2 of the volume with which you started.
During about the last 1/2 hour, start glazing the chicken in the tagine by ladling the reduction sauce over it every 10 minutes or so. It should soak into the surface of the chicken at first and, in later additions, start to coat the exterior.
One of the great things about this dish, and most tagines, is the flexibility of the “end time”. As long as the chicken is coated with sauce to your satisfaction and has cooked about an hour and a half or longer, you are good to go. It is difficult to overcook the chicken and the heat retained in the clay of the tagine will keep the dish warm while you set the table around it. Simply move the tagine to the table and place it on a wooden or otherwise heat resistant trivit. Get the rest of the meal together (bread, rice pilaf, steamed vegetable, broiled roots) and dig in. It is especially nice to have some bread that you can gouge through the juicy bits in the bottom of the tagine. I find this is an efficient way to shovel nice tasty chicken grease into my face. Yum! When the ripping, shoveling, and chomping is done, I doubt any at the table will be unsatisfied.
- 2 lbs. chicken thighs (bone in)
- 1 Red onion (medium to large)
- 5 to 10 cloves garlic, sliced
- [for Marinade]
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 cubes saffron water
- ½ cup pomegranate juice
- 1 Tbs. Ras el Hanout
- ½ cup Chicken stock
- [For Reduction]
- ¼ cup sweet chili sauce (such as Mae Ploy)
- ¼ cup white vinegar
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup pomegranate juice
- dash soy sauce
- lime juice to taste
- Rub chicken with oil. Mix marinade ingredients and marinade chicken for at least 30 minutes. Chicken will hold in marinade at least overnight.
- Place tagine and a heat diffuser (we use cast iron) on gas burner on medium heat and add olive oil to coat bottom. When oil has begun to heat (about 5 to 10 minutes), layer in onion and garlic and arrange chicken across tagine base. Add marinade to tagine and reduce heat to medium low. The chicken will cook for between 1½ and 2 hours.
- Once you have the chicken cooking in the tagine, prepare the reduction sauce. Add all ingredients to a medium saucepan and reduce over medium high heat until sauce has reached about ½ of its original volume. This will take a while.
- After the chicken has cooked for about 45 minutes, begin removing fluid from the tagine base and incorporating it into the reduction sauce. Do this at 15 minute intervals, each time leaving less than ½ inch of fluid in the tagine.
- During the last ½ hour of cooking or if the chicken appears to be drying, baste the reduction sauce over the top of the chicken and continue cooking.
- This dish is done somewhere between 1½ and 2 hours after it enters the tagine. The chicken will be quite tender and lightly glazed with the sauce.
- Serve by placing the tagine on a wooden trivet or cutting board. Surplus reduction sauce can also be served as extra sauce for the chicken or whatever rice or sides you are serving.