Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives

olive chicken

Last year I had an abundance of juicy, fragrant Meyer lemons that I preserved with salt. Fermenting lemons is a traditional Moroccan practice, and I had tantalizing visions of my future full of lemony cooking projects as I pounded each lemon half with salt into a jar.

Those lemons sat in the fridge for nearly a year. The shame!

And so I began my search for the perfect recipe with which to try them out. Moroccan. Chicken. Roasted. Savory. Layers of flavors. Olives, preserved lemons, saffron, garlic, paprika…done.

I tentatively fished a few soft pieces of lemon deliciousness out of the jar. Why I was tentative, I have no idea. Because the sensory experience was not quite what I expected. The lemons were soft, and not bitter or sour as I would have expected. They were briny and lemony and complex. The perfect addition to roasted poultry and olives.

preserved lemons

You could substitute fresh regular or Meyer lemons for this dish, but be sure to add a little extra salt if you do so. You also have flexibility with olive choice. We take our olives seriously here. My 3 year old goes through an entire jar of Kalamatas weekly. So I raided the olive bar at the market. I settled on four kinds of olives in varying color for visual interest: Kalamatas, a bright green variety, a green-brown one with a gorgeous pink center, and a black salt-cured olive. Overboard. Seriously. But seriously delicious. I have no regrets. But if your family only likes Kalamatas or a green variety green, then just use that type. And if you don’t feel like slicing the olives, just half them or coarsely chop them with your chef knife – much less fuss, but all the flavor!

You can serve this dish with couscous, potatoes, or any other starch you choose. I sliced a couple of russet potatoes into wedges, about 8 per potato, and nestled them in with the chicken to cook.

I served this dish with a side of roasted vegetables tossed with a Moroccan spice blend. Stay tuned for the recipe next week!

Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives
Adapted from the NY Times
Yield: 8 portions
Time: 45 minutes hands-on, 4 hours total

1 medium roasting chicken, ~4 lbs, broken down into 6-8 pieces, giblets removed, OR ~3 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces
6 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, broken up with a mortar and pestle or the back of a knife
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced into thin strips
1 cinnamon stick
10 Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
10 green olives, pitted and sliced
10 cured black olives, sliced
1.5 large or 3 small preserved lemons, cut into thin strips, any seeds removed and juice preserved (make your own, recipe here for a last minute version; or find them at Sur la Table)
1 C chicken broth or water
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

1. Break down your chicken into 8 pieces, if using a whole bird, and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl that will fit the chicken pieces, mix the garlic, saffron, ginger, paprika, cumin, about 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Add the chicken to the bowl, and rub the spices into the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for about 3 hours to marinate.
3. In a dutch oven or heavy bottomed skillet, add olive oil and allow to warm. Place marinated chicken in the oil and brown on all sides. Remove chicken onto a plate and set aside.
4. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add onions to the dutch oven and cook, stirring occasionally, to allow them to become translucent and slightly browned.
5. Arrange chicken pieces on to of onions in the pan. Add the cinnamon stick, olives, preserved lemon, over the chicken. Pour broth and lemon juice into the pot.
6. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until chicken is done, at 165ºF on a meat thermometer.

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