Chicken and apricot tagine
Tagine is the name of a traditional Berber cooking vessel and type of stew that was developed for low-water, outdoor cooking in the deserts of North Africa. There are all kinds of tagine recipes using meat, poultry and fish, but this is one of my favorites. Chicken, dried apricots, onions and a bevy of aromatic spices are slow-cooked in the two-part clay vessel. The result is a fork-tender stew, with both savory and sweet notes. A comforting winter's meal that is nothing short of delicious!
Tagine cooking vessel
Tagines are fun stove-to-table cooking vessels that add a bit of exotic drama to the meal. A traditional tagine can be purchased from about $35 to $60 for a large one. Newer versions are made by Le Creuset and Emile Henry that can withstand high heat. If you don't have a tagine, you can use a Dutch oven. There are specific methods for seasoning, cooking with and cleaning a tagine. See my post for details on the care and handling of your tagine.
Heat limits of a tagine
A traditional tagine can be used to cook directly on a stovetop (low to medium heat at the very highest) or in a moderate oven (325 degrees maximum.) You may want to use a heat diffuser to protect your tagine from direct stovetop heat.
At the cost of washing a second pot, I like to brown the chicken on a high heat in a large skillet and then transfer the browned chicken to the tagine to slow cook with the onions and dried fruit. You can brown the chicken directly in the tagine, but you will need to work in batches and at lower heat.
Do not subject your tagine to rapid changes in temperature. It is best to start in a cold oven and let the tagine heat up with the oven. Like wise, do not put a hot tagine into cold water. I am on my second tagine, because my first one cracked.
This dish gets its complex flavor from cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, garlic, red onions, dried apricots, honey, cilantro and parsley. These ingredients, however, are more than just flavor powerhouses. They all have been studied for their anti-inflammatory properties and have long traditions in traditional medicine for their health benefits. Isn't it nice when something so delicious is also so good for you?
You can make this dish with any part of the chicken your prefer. I like to use chicken thighs because they are moist and flavorful. I have used both bone-in, skin-on thighs as well as boneless, skinless thighs and both turn out well. I think bone-in with skin results in a moister, more flavorful dish, but you will need to discard a lot of fat that is rendered in the browning process.
Turkish vs. California dried apricots
Most tagine recipes call for Turkish apricots. While this may be more authentic, I prefer to use tart California apricots, as I think the Turkish apricots are too sweet and the California apricots create a nice sweet-sour balance.
An important tip on preparing chicken
If you wash raw chicken before you cook it to prevent salmonella poisoning, read this post to find out why this is not a good idea.
- 1 t cinnamon
- 1 t ground ginger
- ½ t turmeric
- ½ t ground black pepper
- 1 t salt
- 3 T olive oil, divided
- 2.5 pounds boneless, chicken thighs (7-8 thighs)
- 1 medium red onion, cut into ½" wedges
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small handful cilantro
- 1 small handful parsley
- 8" kitchen string or small piece of cheese cloth
- 1.5 cups water
- 2 T honey
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ½ cup California apricots (you can be generous with the apricots. A few extra won't hurt.)
- ⅓ cup whole blanched or slivered almonds
- Mix spices and 2 T olive oil together in a large bowl. Add chicken and toss with your hands to thouroughly coat chicken in spice mixture.
- In a tagine or a skillet, add 1 T olive oil and brown chicken thighs skin-side down. Flip when golden brown, about 5-6 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken and allow to rest on a plate.
- Heat 1 T of olive oil in the tagine over medium to medium low heat and saute the onions for about 15 minutes until soft, stirring frequently. Add minced garlic and saute another 3 minutes or so.
- Tie 5 sprigs of both parsley and cilantro up in a bundle with kitchen string. Or alternatively, tie the herbs up with a bit of cheesecloth. Put the chicken into the tagine, skin side up along with and any juices that have collected in the plate. Add ½ cup of water and herb packet to the pot. Increase heat to medium until broth begins to simmer, turn down to low, cover tagine and simmer for 30 minutes.
- While chicken is cooking, put honey, cinnamon stick and 1 cup of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook gently until apricots are soft and the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce. Remove cinnamon stick.
- Open the tagine, stir the chicken to prevent burning and add the apricots and sauce to the chicken and continue to cook for another 10 to 15 minutes on low heat. When tagine is done the chicken should be fork-tender and the apricots, onions and juices should form a nice sauce.
- Remove the tagine from the stove, chop the remaining parsley and cilantro and sprinkle the chicken with the herbs and toasted almonds. Put the tagine on a trivet in the middle of the table and serve with couscous, quinoa, rice or a crusty bread.