Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Lemon Chicken Stew -- North African Cuisine

The book from which this recipe comes is Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World, by Lilia Zaouali.

ISBN 978-0-520-26174-7
However, it is in the chapter on contemporary North African cuisine.  So while it is not terribly historical, it is from a region I wanted to explore.  And it looked good!

The medieval recipes are translated but unredacted and make for some interesting reading.  One I want to try some time soon is on page 65, "Marinated Olives with Thyme" and one I am dubious about trying is on page 64, "Fish Drowned in Grape Juice."  Yes, you take a live fish and immerse it in grape juice so it will "thrash about and swallow the juice until its body is filled with it."

Getting back to what I did do, I present to you (from page 148)

Lemon Chicken Stew

1 chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds), cut into pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 medium (or three small) potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 small lemons, thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh parsley, leaves only, finely chopped

Moisten the best pieces of the chicken (thighs, wings, and breasts) with a tablespoon of the oil and season them with a pinch of salt, the cinnamon, and half the turmeric and white pepper.

Arrange the potato and onion slices in the bottom of a terrine.  Sprinkle them with salt and the rest of the turmeric and white pepper, and add enough water to cover them completely.  Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil and mix well.  Arrange the chicken pieces on top along with the tomato and lemon slices.

Put the terrine into a preheated medium oven and cook for about 45 minutes, turning the chicken pieces from time to time.  Before serving, sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

My Notes

I used three pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, black pepper instead of white, two potatoes, half of the shown onion, and 1 1/2 of the shown lemons.  The parsley was skipped.

Instead of a terrine I used a round casserole dish.  The recipe did not say to cover the dish, so I didn't.
Filled to the brim and ready to cook
The oven was heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and it took 1 hour and 20 minutes to ensure the meat was cooked through.

I didn't turn the chicken much as the dish was very full and I worried about spilling and splashing.  Just a few times at the end to make sure the meat was cooked thoroughly.

The Verdict

Success!  This was quite good.  The tomatoes and lemons cooked to tender and started melting into the sauce around the meat.  I could taste the lemon juice in the sauce -- it made the sauce "sparkle" in flavor -- and yet the potatoes and onions were still robust enough to make this dish more than just chicken in sauce.

I was glad I sliced the lemons as thinly as I could as they get eaten (rind, white, and pulp) with everything else, adding a nice twist in flavor.  The turmeric makes the sauce an orangey-yellow and that is attractive against the other specks of spices and colors from the tomatoes and lemons.

A beautiful presentation
If I were to do this again, I would put in less water with the vegetables or perhaps use broth instead.  The rounded bottom of the casserole dish fooled me, I think, into putting in more water than I really needed to make a good sauce.  It did taste a little thin on flavor.

I would also use more spices than called for, especially salt.  This says a lot because I don't usually salt my foods.  My guest taster discovered that seasoned salt was a good enhancement and from that, I conclude that increasing the amount of cinnamon and pepper would be the right thing to do.  This could be because of too much water for the sauce but perhaps not.

The stew was perfect served with rice.  I would add a cucumber salad to it next time, too.

Dig down deep to get the onions and potatoes

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