Martha Stewart Living (March 2014)
Long story short, we needed a potluck dish.
Long story slightly less short: Our friends Tolsun and Katie recently moved back to DC from Philadelphia, where they'd lived for the past few years. They actually moved just a couple blocks away from us, so we wanted to get together with them for a "Welcome Back to Washington" dinner. We suggested a night; they suggested a potluck; we were sold!
But what to make? We'd flagged some recipes that we wanted to try, but nothing really seemed right. We needed something we could make in advance, carry over to Tolsun and Katie's house, and reheat.
We turned, as we often do in times of crisis, to Martha.
Basically it seemed like a nice potluck option without being too, you know, potluck-y.
The prep is really basic: Brown the chicken, sauté some aromatics, add some broth, add the chicken back in, simmer. Et voila! Tagine! (Actually, of course, for this to be an authentic "tagine," it should be cooked in a tagine clay oven. But this recipe doesn't call for that, and anyway we're fresh out of tagine clay ovens at our house.)
We ended up with very mixed feelings on this.
Let's start with the good. This is indeed a great potluck dish. It's super easy to make ahead. It transports well and reheats on the stove top very nicely.
Also, we liked the basic flavor profile of the dish. The ginger and cinnamon and saffron are exotic, and the apricots and olives play together really well. And the chicken is spot-on -- tender and moist.
So what didn't we love? Well, it was just surprisingly bland. With all these different spices -- plus the apricot and olive and almond combo -- we were expecting something pretty wow. But it just seemed really underseasoned for our tastes. How can you put so many different, interesting spices into a dish and end up with something so middle-of-the-road?
Oh! One thing we totally have to own up to: We did not use harissa as a condiment, which the recipe suggests serving on the side, along with couscous. But we tried two grocery stores (places that normally stock harissa), and they were both out. So clearly that would have added some more flavor.
We were split on the almonds. Zach thought they added a nice texture, but Clay found their boiled-peanut texture off-putting.
Tolsun and Katie served couscous and roasted cauliflower, which were perfect accompaniments. And a homemade choclate raspberry cake, which was delicious.
All in all, we liked but did not love this tagine.
Were we to make it again, we'd double the garlic and ginger and cinnamon and salt and pepper (although we'd probably stick with just the few threads of saffron -- who can afford to use more?!).
We would also double the apricots and the olives -- we liked those a lot and wanted a higher ratio of them in the final dish. And we might accidentally-on-purpose spill a little olive juice in as well.
We would have a huge fight over the almonds, in which Zach would insist on throwing them in, and Clay would object and ask why we can't just serve them on the side, and Zach would say that defeats the whole purpose, and what's your problem with these almonds, you like almonds, and Clay would say yeah, I like almonds but not when they're boiled like this and what's the big deal if we just leave them out...
And anyway, that's a whole other long story.
Notes from Clay and Zach:
Were we to make it again, we'd double the garlic and ginger and cinnamon and salt and pepper. We would also double the apricots and the olives -- we liked those a lot and wanted a higher ratio of them in the final dish. And we might accidentally-on-purpose spill a little olive juice in as well.
Prep: 50 mins | Total time: 1 hour 20 mins
3/4 cup dried apricots, preferably Turkish
2/3 cup fresh orange juice (from 3 to 4 oranges)
1 whole chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds), cut into 10 pieces
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise
5 medium carrots, cut on the bias into 3-inch pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Pinch of saffron threads
3/4 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup green olives, pitted
1/2 cup lightly packed cilantro sprigs
Steamed couscous, preferably whole wheat
In a small saucepan, bring apricots and orange juice to a simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from heat; let cool.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat a braiser pan or deep straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat; add oil and swirl to coat bottom. Cook half of chicken, flipping once, until browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Cook remaining chicken; transfer to plate.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat. Reduce heat to medium; add onion, garlic, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in ginger and cinnamon and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Stir in broth and saffron, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan. Return chicken and accumulated juices to pan. Drain apricots; add to pan with almonds and olives. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until a thermometer inserted in thickest part of chicken breast (without touching bone) reads 165 degrees, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in cilantro. Serve with couscous and harissa.