Chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemon

Paula Wolfert called this dish “one of the great combinations of Moroccan cookery”, and its hard to argue with her.  Its a very satisfying dish indeed, especially when made with the legs of older, free-range farm chickens, full of flavor.  And be sure to use lemons you have preserved yourself (see my recipe for preserved lemons here). This is also the perfect dish to cook in an earthenware tagine dish.  The very slow cooking, combined with the tagine’s ability to circulate the steaming juices, yields chicken that is completely tender and almost silken in its wonderful moist texture.

Credit where due, this recipe is based on the one Wolfert gives in her book “Couscous and other good food from Morrocco”.


Chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemon


  • 4 large chicken legs
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and germ removed
  • 2 T grated fresh ginger
  • 1 T fine sea salt
  • 1/2 t ground black pepper
  • 1 preserved lemon
  • 4 T olive oil
  • 1/2 T ground cumin
  • 1/2 T ground turmeric
  • 1/2 T sweet paprika
  • 1/8 t cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup onion, peeled and grated  using a cheese grater
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 1/2 cup green olives, like picholines
  • 2 1/2 cups water


Serves 4, offer steamed cous cous as a side dish


1. Cut the chicken legs into two pieces by separating the drumstick and thigh at the joint.
2. Separate the preserved lemon into 4 quarters and remove the seeds.  Scrape the meat from the rinds.  Cut the rind into thin strips the short way and set aside for later.  Chop the meat and save for the chicken marinate.

3. In a mortar or food processor, crush the garlic cloves with the salt until a paste.  Add the grated fresh ginger, black pepper, meat of the preserved lemon, oil, cumin, turmeric, paprika and cayenne.  Work to a paste.
4. Rub the chicken pieces all over with the spice paste, both on the meat side and skin side. Put in an earthenware dish, cover tightly and leave overnight.

Chicken pieces rubbed with the spice marinade and left overnight
5. Next day, heat 1/4 cup olive oil in the tagine over medium heat. Add the chicken pieces skin side down and sear off well.  Turn the pieces, add any remaining marinade, the grated onion and the water. Pick the cilantro leaves and add to the tagine. Stir all to combine well.

6. Bring the chicken stew to a boil, reduce the heat to the lowest simmer, cover with the tagine lid and leave to simmer until the chicken is tender. Depending on the age of the bird, this should take 45 minutes to 1.5 hours.
7. Remove the lid from the tagine, add the diced preserved lemon and olives. Continue cooking for about 15 minutes uncovered, so that the sauce is reduced to a spoon-able consistency.  Check the seasoning and correct as necessary with salt and pepper.  Served immediately with steamed cous cous.
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