Chicken Tagine with Olives, Prunes, and Preserved Lemons

Last night’s chicken tagine was a big hit, so I’ve written it down. I synthesized this from two or three recipes online: a NYT one containing no fruit, one from TV3 in New Zealand that doesn’t include olives or a dry rub phase, and one from the noshery that uses fresh lemons. If you’re not familiar with moroccan preserved lemons, they’re a salt ferment of the whole fruit. They’re easy to make at home but take a week or two, so plan ahead… or, find a local middle eastern market and ask (they’ll be delighted); or try a substitution — difficult, but maybe equal parts lemon zest, salt, and white vinegar? or perhaps, marmalade and capers? Anyway, on with the recipe.


  • 4 chicken thighs, skin on bone in for maximum flavor, but boneless skinless is OK too

Mix, rub on the chicken, and refrigerate 1-3 hours:

  • 1/4 t saffron
  • 1 t ground dried or 1 T grated fresh ginger
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 t ground coriander seed
  • 1 t sweet paprika
  • 1/2 t ground cumin seed
  • 1/2 t salt

Caramelize on medium low in a heavy lidded skillet:

  • 2 onions, sliced thin longitudinally
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 t salt

Many recipes will tell you this takes 15 minutes, but really there’s no way to do that unless you use high heat, nearly burning the outsides of the pieces while the insides remain practically raw. For best flavor you want these to be caramel jam all the way through. For that, you need at least 45 minutes: stirring occasionally at first, then more frequently as they go a bit amber to prevent them sticking to the bottom of the pan. Last night ours took almost 90 minutes, but that’s partly because we were prepping 4 other dishes at the same time.

While the onions are going, you can prep stuff into bowls.

Bowl A:

  • 3-5 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped

Bowl B:

  • 1/2 c olives, kalamata, cracked green, or a mix, pitted and chopped
  • 3 small or 1 large preserved lemon, pulp & membranes removed, in strips
  • 1 c prunes, dried apricots, or a mix, roughly chopped

Bowl/Pitcher C:

  • 1 c chicken broth
  • 1 T honey

When the onions look pretty good, add a bit more oil if it looks dry and sweat the garlic with a pinch of salt. Then scrape all the alliums back into bowl A.

Add a bit more oil, turn up the heat and brown the chicken on both sides, then remove.

Deglaze briefly with a  bit of C, just to unstick the delightful bits.

Cover the bottom of the pan in the caramelized onions, add the chicken (darkest side up), then scatter B on top, and pour in C. If the liquid doesn’t come halfway up the chicken, add more.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer 1.5 hours, gently flipping chicken over and checking the liquid level every half hour or so. You could totally do this part in the oven (325-350F), if your skillets are ovenproof.

This can hold, simmering, almost indefinitely, and just gets more awesome. You can reduce the liquid to a syrupy sauce before serving if you like, or not.

Good over some sort of pilaf. Last night we did quinoa cooked with minced red bell pepper, cinnamon, and zante currants.