Moroccan Braised Chicken

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While I was working as a full-time personal chef here in NYC, I had a number of clients whose homes I visited once a week to cook. I prepared a work week’s worth of meals, ranging from soups to salads, protein dishes and grains. Each morning, I trekked to Whole Foods with my uber-stylish granny cart, equipped with a list and a plan: in under 5 hours, I needed to shop, set up, cook, package and label 8 different dishes in my client’s kitchen. It was a bit like a Quickfire Challenge, plus the added pressure of making sure everything would be delicious after a few days in the fridge. Oh, and I usually had 2 client’s in one day, so I would turn around do the same thing in the afternoon.

I loved it.

I know a lot of people take issue with reheating food. How long does it really last? Won’t it go bad? What’s the best way to reheat? Now, hear me out. With a few exceptions (like soups and braises), I admit a lot of meals taste best right after they’re made (think fish, pasta, a perfectly seared steak). But that just upped the ante for me. It became my mission to make the best reheatable meals this side of the Hudson. The key? Take a cue from those delicious 3rd day soups and stews, which are scientifically proven to taste better after a night in the fridge.

This braised Moroccan-inspired chicken became one of my client’s favorites. They loved the exotic flavor, but with the familiarity of chicken, carrots and chickpeas. What they didn’t know was it could be made in one pot, took about 30 minutes and was a largely hands-off process, allowing me time to make the 7 other dishes. The best part? It reheats beautifully on the stove top with a bit of it’s cooking liquid. What? You thought I would say zap it in the microwave? I am a chef, afterall.

 

Moroccan Braised Chicken (Quick Chicken Tagine)

Serves 3-4 (2 thighs/person)

  • 6-8 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs, preferably organic*
  • Grapeseed oil, for searing
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1″ pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3/4 tablespoon ras el hanout
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • About 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots or golden raisins
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (about 1 can, drained)
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • A drizzle of honey (optional)
  • Chopped parsley, for garnish

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Blot the chicken with a paper towel and season liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Sear the chicken for about 3-4 minutes on each side or until golden brown. You aren’t looking to cook the chicken all the way through, just get it nice and brown. Transfer to a large plate or rimmed sheet tray.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and carrot with a big pinch of salt, adding a bit more oil if there is a lot of sticky residue in the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the ras el hanout and stir to coat the vegetables, allowing the spices to toast for about a minute. Add the tomatoes and stir, cooking some of the water out of the tomatoes, for about 2 minutes. Add back the chicken to the pot and cover with the chicken stock (just enough to barely cover most of the chicken). Increase the heat to high to bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until meat is tender and almost falling off the bone.

Carefully remove the chicken from the pot and transfer to a serving platter.  To reduce the sauce, increase to high heat and bring to a rapid boil. This will allow the flavors to concentrate and the sauce to thicken. When the liquid has reduced by about half, add the dried fruit and chickpeas. Simmer for a few more minutes. Add the lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper to taste. You may also add a little honey or a few more pinches of ras el hanout if it needs it.

Serve the sauce and chickpeas over the chicken with a big handful of chopped parsley, and more lemon if you want. Serve with couscous, quinoa or millet.

To reheat: Heat over low in a high-sided skillet or small saucepan with cooking liquid. Do not microwave, chicken will toughen.

*General PSA: please buy happy chickens (happy = organic). Aside from the fact that they more humanely raised than commercial brands, they taste better and are altogether more chicken-y. A bang for your buck if you ask me. Trader Joe’s carries organic chicken, along with Whole Foods and most likely someone at your local farmer’s market. They probably have eggs, too.

Moroccan Carrot Salad with Ras el Hanout

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People often ask me what kind of cook I am. It’s like they’re expecting me to say I am an expert in sushi, or specialize in French macaron-making. The truth is, I don’t claim one particular food or cuisine as mine. I do, however, have certain ingredients and habits I gravitate towards. I strive for everything I make, whether it’s a Bolognese sauce or a taco, to strike a balance between sweet, heat, acid and salt. I also have an infatuation with spices, herbs and other little sprinklings to gild the lily.

Which brings me to this carrot salad. I love shredded salads because I can use my food processor and they allow me to use up the random veggies in my fridge (real talk).I remember a carrot salad I ate during a photo shoot during my college internship. Yes, this was a good 6 years ago now. It had cinnamon in it, raisins and a bit of a kick. I felt so New York City eating that salad. It was also college, so at that point I was subsisting on Barilla Plus with marinara sauce and turkey wraps from Campus Deli. You can imagine why I remember it so vividly.

Now I’m on the other side of the serving table. While I’m still no expert, I do know what I like.

Moroccan Carrot Salad with Ras el Hanout

1 lb. carrots, peeled, trimmed and grated (with a box grater or food processor)
1/4 cup raisins
2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon ras el hanout*
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch cayenne
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
Handful roughly chopped parsley

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the carrots, raisins and scallions. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, ginger, garlic and ras el hanout. Drizzle in the olive oil and whisk. Add cayenne, salt, pepper and a bit more lemon juice/honey/olive oil to taste. Pour over carrot mixture and toss to combine. Sprinkle with parsley.

*Ras el hanout, literally ‘head of the shop’, is a Moroccan spice blend. There are many varieties, but is most likely to include cardamom, clove, cinnamon, chili pepper, coriander, cumin and nutmeg. Look for it at ethnic markets or in the spice section at Whole Foods (Frontier Organic brand). As a basic-pantry alternative, you can use a combination of ground cumin and a bit of cinnamon.

Cindie’s Moroccan Eggplant Ratatouille

 

 

As my vegetarian mentor and fellow red fox, my friend Cindie knows what’s up. We share a love of holidays, televised glee club performances and the occasional glass of pinot. Oh, and did I mention she can cook? This weeks recipe is courtesy of Miss C herself. A fragrant blend of spices doctors up a simple combination of vegetables, beans and rice (or couscous!) This recipe is decidedly Moroccan, thanks to the warm flavors of cinnamon, cumin and chili powder. I’m really groovin’ on cinnamon lately – it’s an unexpected ingredient to everything from vegetables to grains to yogurt.

Ingredients:

1 T. olive oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 c. vegetable stock
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: cooked brown rice or whole wheat couscous

Directions:
Sprinkle chopped eggplant with salt and let drain in a colander for 1 hour. Rinse well under water and dry between paper towels. (You can omit this step if the eggplant seems very firm and fresh – salting will eliminate the occasional bitterness you find in eggplant).

In a large skillet or a saucepan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, chili powder, cumin and cinnamon. Stir well to coat evenly. Cook until the onions have softened (approx. 4-5 minutes).

Add the eggplant, tomatoes and chickpeas, along with the stock. Simmer over medium-low heat, covered, for fifteen-twenty minutes (until the eggplant is tender).  While this is cooking, prepare your rice or couscous according to the package directions.

Uncover and stir. If the stew looks very soup-y, let the liquid bubble away for a few more minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over rice or couscous.

Optional: Garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro.

This recipe serves 3-4 people and tastes even better the next day as the flavors meld together.

Bonus Recipe:

Moroccan Couscous

Cook whole wheat couscous according to package directions, substituting vegetable broth for water. Fold in a pinch of cinnamon, cumin and chili powder. Just before serving, add a handful of raisins (try the golden variety), toasted pine nuts (or almonds) and chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.