The best thing I got for Christmas last year was Paula Wolfert‘s cookbook “The Food of Morocco.” I quickly grew to love Moroccan cooking when I visited there in March 2011 – so many of the great recipes are completely dairy free and this is also true of the recipes in this cookbook. I wasted no time in trying out the Moroccan-style recipes, and my favorite very quickly became “Chicken with Dried Apricots and Pine Nuts.” However, her recipe, done in a tagine, takes a few hours to complete, and I found myself wanting to adapt the recipe so that I wouldn’t have to spend half my day on it. This is what I came up with. My recipe still takes a couple of hours, but if you prepare the spices ahead of time, you won’t have to start this dish in mid-afternoon in order to have it ready by supper-time.
OK, the spices, or I should say spice mixtures. There are two that you will need to prepare for this dish, La Kama and saffron water. Let’s start with the second.
Bring a small skillet to a warm but not hot temperature. Spread about 1/2 a teaspoon of saffron threads over the skillet and let them get toasted for a couple of minutes. Then crush them to a powder between your fingers, and mix them with a cup of hot water in a sealable container. This recipe just uses two tablespoons, but this is a concoction that can be used in all kinds of dishes (most of the dishes in Wolfert’s cookbook use it), and kept in the refrigerator, it will last for at least a couple of weeks.
I know that saffron is expensive and you may balk at using a whole small package of saffron (about 10 dollars-worth) for just one dish. But as I said, it keeps, and you can use it for all kinds of dishes – marinating just about anything, fish, chicken, pork, lamb, etc. And when you shake up your container of saffron water and you see that lovely glistening orange-y color, you’re going to get excited that this is going into your dish!
La Kama spice mixture
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 pinch of grated nutmeg
I keep my La Kama in an old spice jar (which used to contain turmeric).
OK, now we’re ready to cook.
This recipe is good for about 2-3 whole chicken legs, or 4 thighs, or about 2 lbs worth of a combination of legs and thighs. Rinse your chicken, being careful to loosen the skin. Pat it dry and put it on a plate for a minute.
Put 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds in a mortar and pestle, and grind it down until it is a fine paste. Put this into a mixing bowl, and mix with it:
2 tbsp saffron water
1 tbsp La Kama
1 tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 tsp sugar
Now take your chicken and douse it with the marinade, one piece at a time, making sure they are all completely coated, even under the skin. Put the chicken back on your plate, pour any remaining marinade over the chicken and let it marinade for 15 to 30 minutes.
While the chicken is marinading, take a large saute pan (with a lid – I use an All-Clad 3 quart saute pan, which is perfect). Put 1/4 cup of water and 2 tbsp of olive oil in the skillet, and lay the slices of half a red onion in there as well. Put the stove on low to medium under this and let it cook for about 10 minutes. If it really starts to boil hard, turn the temperature down a bit.
When the onions are cooking nicely, put your chicken in skin-side up, add another 1/4 cup of water, raise the temperature to medium if it’s not already there, put the lid on, and let it cook for 10-15 minutes (10 for a smaller amount of chicken, 15 for a larger amount).
Meanwhile, chop 20 dried apricots into quarters. After 10-15 minutes, turn the chicken skin-side down and sprinkle the apricot pieces all around. Put the lid back on and let cook for another 15 minutes. Check the chicken for an internal temperature of 170 degrees (the safe temperature is 165, but it’s not a bad idea to make sure the chicken is thoroughly cooked).
If you like, you can take the lid off, turn on your broiler, and put the dish under the broiler for a minute or two to get it browned a bit. I always omit this step.
Sprinkle 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts over the dish and serve over rice or couscous. I prefer rice – RiceSelect Texmati, to be exact – the nuttiness of the basmati goes nicely with the dish.
One note about the pine nuts. Anyone who has ever used pine nuts knows that they are notoriously easy to burn when toasting. I like to use Trader Joe’s toasted pine nuts, so I don’t have to bother with that step. On this particular time, I accidentally forgot the pine nuts! But it still tasted magnificent without them.