Moroccan Chicken With Eggplant Tomato Jam
Morocco has become a bit of an obsession lately. Maybe it’s cooking from Paula Wolfert’s book, The Food of Morocco, or maybe my trip to Turkey just whet my appetite for that part of the world, but now I’m planning a trip to Morocco in the fall.
Paula Wolfort’s book is fantastic and I even had the good fortune to hear her speak in person and have her sign my book a few months ago. Most of the recipes in the book are fairly straightforward, and while I wouldn’t say “simple” they aren’t that complicated. Wolfort strives for authenticity in her ingredients and recipes and while I’m all for that, sometimes “authentic” can get in its own way.
What do I mean by that? At times striving for authenticity can prevent people from even cooking at all. If it’s presented in a way which seems too complicated, or if you don’t have the tools or exotic ingredients, then it just may stop you from trying it in the first place. For example, I once read a recipe for pesto which said in order to do it the right way (read; authentic) one must use a heavy stone mortar and pestle to crush the garlic and basil leaves. That’s all well and good if you have a large stone mortar and pestle (I don’t) or the time to stand there and pound basil (ditto). If I didn’t know I could make perfectly decent pesto in a Cuisinart, I wouldn’t even bother.
I always like to give recipes the benefit of the doubt. If I’m not using a recipe just for the concept or inspiration, then I try and follow it as much as possible, as written, because I assume that the author has a reason to do things the way they do. I’ve made this recipe multiple times now and the first time I followed it to the letter. It took me almost all day to make the dish, plus a few other sides, for a dinner party and at the end, I was exhausted. I found myself wondering if there wasn’t an easier way to cook this with an outcome that’s not diminished or less “authentic”. Some of the methods may indeed be authentic to a Moroccan home cook, but not practical for me. Frankly, if I have to read the instructions 5 or 6 times to figure it out, then it’s too complicated. And as I’ve stated many times before, I want cooking to be fun and not to be intimidating. There’s a time and place for complicated recipes, but not when you just want to get dinner on the table.
The plan was to adjust the recipe and some of the ingredients to make it easier to execute and hopefully taste just as good as the original. I’m not taking “semi-homemade” here (there are no pre-made packaged ingredients). I’m talking about combining a few steps in the cooking process and substituting canned (home-canned or commercial) peeled and seeded tomatoes for fresh which have to be peeled and seeded. While I can certainly do this myself, if I don’t have tomatoes fresh from my garden, I’m not going to bother. I also don’t own a tagine, so I made this in a heavy cast iron enamelware dutch oven (similar to this Le Creuset). Would it taste different if cooked in a tagine? Maybe, but it tasted pretty damn fine coming out of the pot. The original recipe called for peeling the strips of skin off the eggplant, slicing it, draining it and frying it. Then mashing it. Too many steps and too much fat, so I’ve altered that too among other things. Basically, I’ve reorganized the steps of the recipe to make it work better for me and to simplify the process so that it can be done in about 2 hours instead of 4.
This is comfort food and encompasses many of my favorite flavors which are abundant in summer; tomatoes and eggplant. Serve it with cous cous and a Moroccan beet salad on the side and you’ll have a great meal.
What do you think? Can the quest for authenticity get in its own way? Do you adapt recipes to fit your cooking style or always stick to the script?
PS-If any of you have been to Morocco and have any recommendations/tips, let me know. As of right now we’re looking at going to Marrakesh, Essouira, and Fez, among other places.
Moroccan Chicken with Eggplant Tomato Jam
Adapted from Paula Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco
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2 lbs chicken thighs on the bone, skin on
2 lbs chicken breasts, on the bone, skin on
1 large globe eggplant (1.75-2lbs)
1 Tbsp +1 tsp kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1/2 bunch fresh parsley, chopped fine
5 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 pinch ground cayenne pepper
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 can tomatoes (28 oz), peeled, seeded, and diced
1 1/2 cups + 3 Tbsp hot water
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp vinegar
1.25 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp saffron water*
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, peeled and grated (or finely minced)
Many of the ingredients are used in several different steps. I’ve combined them so you know how much you need in total, but please read the amounts in the steps carefully.
*Saffron Water=1 oz hot water, 1 pinch saffron. Let steep until cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Step 1: Cut the eggplant into rounds, sprinkle generously with kosher salt (about 1 Tbsp) and either lay on a baking sheet on paper towels with a bit of weight on top or in a colander with weight to allow to drain.
Start preparing the chicken while the eggplant is draining.
After about 40 minutes, rinse the salt off, pat dry and cut into 2″ chunks. The eggplant will be cooked in Step 5, while the chicken is in the oven.
Step 2: Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Trim off any excess fat from the skin and cut the chicken breasts in half so they are about the same size as the thighs.
Step 3: In a large bowl, combine 2 cloves of smashed and minced garlic, 1 tsp kosher salt, the ground ginger, the saffron water and black pepper. Slowly whisk in the 2 Tbsp of olive oil and 3 Tbsp hot water. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl and toss to coat and combine.
Step 4: Place the chicken in a large dutch oven, heavy bottomed pot with oven safe lid, or Moroccan style tagine pot. Cook on the stove top over low heat for about 10 minutes. Add the grated (or minced) onion, along with 1 cup of hot water, 2 Tbsp chopped parsley and bring to a simmer. Turn the pieces of chicken over in the sauce, cover the pot and place in the oven and cook for about an hour.
Note; I was surprised to learn there’s not a lot of browning of meats in Moroccan cooking. Cooking in a tagine is a slow, moist process, not unline a slowcooker/crock pot or even modern sous vide methods. So the chicken is not browned here in the pot, but it is cooked until it just falls off the bone.
Step 5: Heat a large saute pan or wok and add 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Add the eggplant and cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Tip: Cook eggplant in single layer or in batches. Cook covered to steam. If pan gets too dry, add a splash of water. When the eggplant is very soft, add 1 clove of the minced garlic, 2 Tbsp of the chopped parsley and the paprika. Cook for about 3 minutes, mashing the eggplant with the back of a cooking spoon. Add the cumin, cayenne and cinnamon along with the can of diced peeled tomatoes. Stir to combine. Add 1/2 cup water and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and continuing to mash the eggplant. The mixture should cook down into a thick blended but chunky sauce. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and vinegar.
Step 6: After the tomato eggplant jam is done and the chicken should be cooked. Remove the chicken from the oven. Take the pieces of chicken out of the pot and place on a platter. Cover to keep warm. Reduce the cooking liquid until it’s about 1.5 cups total. Turn off heat. Ladle 1/2 the liquid into the pan with the tomato jam and stir to combine. Put the chicken back in the pot and pour the eggplant tomato mix over the top. Cover and put back in the oven for 10-15 minutes to keep warm/reheat.
Step 7: Make the cous cous. If using instant (I do) this should take no more than 5-7 minutes. If you need longer, turn the heat on the oven down to 200 and you can hold the chicken in there for up to an hour. Do be careful not to let the sauce reduce away too much (add a splash of water if needed).
Step 8: Transfer chicken to platter, smothered with eggplant-tomato jam, and serve with cous cous.
I agree with everything you said. I believe in cooking from scratch, but it still has to be doable, easy, affordable and I don’t have a pantry to have a 100 different ingredients. I want to see people back in the kitchen, but in a new modern way with simplicity, good taste. You’re right. If I see something too exotic, I skip it. Thanks for making an approachable recipe with these good flavors.
Thanks Angela, I know we’re not alone out there. 🙂
I had the good fortune to taste this in the LONG version, and in subesquent versions…absolutely delicous in both ways. I read recipes for inspiration..and as you know rarely, if ever follow them exactly. This recipe from Paula’s book made me want to eat it right away, and although I may not follow each of the orginal steps, or even the reduced steps outlined here, I will always think of the Wolfert book when I eat it!
Thanks for adjusting the recipe and making everything easier for us. Now, I can just follow the recipe to the dot and enjoy every spoonful of this.
I have a very, very simple recipe for Moroccan-style chicken years ago in Cooking Light magazine, and I’ve been using it forever. It’s my staple, ‘party and potluck’ dish. But it does involve coating and browning the chicken. I do want to try this one and compare it.
Morrocon food is great, love the recipe.
Amen! I always hate it when coworkers or friends say that they’re afraid to try a recipe because it’s too intimidating. Find an easier way! Maybe it’ll only be 80% or 90% as good as the “authentic” way, but it’ll still be light years better than anything from a box, can, or frozen package in the store. And usually cheaper and healthier than anything at a restaurant. And how many of us can really tell the difference between the “cheater” method that tastes 90% as good as the “authentic” method? My palate certainly isn’t that refined.
Plus, it’ll make you feel good that you made it, even if it’s not the way someone’s grandmother would have done it. I don’t wash my clothes the way my grandmother did. I don’t sweep the floors the way my grandmother did. And I don’t cook the way she did either. Sometimes, even in food preparation, technology does help.
And my screen name really is Luna, I’m not just picking that to follow Juna, who commented just before I did!
Luna-“it’ll still be light years better than anything from a box, can, or frozen package in the store”-100% agree!
Mary @ Fit and Fed
Sometimes I do what you did– follow the recipe exactly the first time to see what it’s all about and how it comes out when I don’t fiddle with it. If so, the second time I make it it’s fair game to modify. Other times I make the recipe my own way from the start, and sometimes that’s inevitable with the food sensitivities and preferences in the family. The changes you made like using canned tomatoes instead of fresh make sense to me. I might skip salting the eggplant, too, if I had fresh small eggplants and not large bitter ones. Definitely modifying the recipe or taking it as an inspiration beats not making it at all any time.
This looks absolutely incredible! And I DO have a Tagine! I love my tagine and have written many posts about how I use it for other things besides just tagines (roasting chickens, making beef stew, etc). I am definitely going to have to make this!
Looking forward to making this for a dinner party. I was curious how many people your recipe serves?
I would say 6-8, depending on portion size.
I think a big piece of the authenticity thing is that food writers fall in love with the ritual of traditional cooking practices, which is totally understandable! The problem is when it becomes difficult to distinguish what’s there because it’s exciting and what’s there because it’s actually necessary. In a post I write up about mole negro, I spend a while unpacking the fact that Rick Bayless has a degree in cultural anthropology and what that means for the way he writes about traditional food.
I’ve just found your website and this recipe. I have to say, I love to cook traditional and I find myself *complicating* overly simplified recipes for the better flavor that you get. That said, I usually only do this with foods/cultures that I’m very familiar with (french, italian, braising). I saw Wolfert’s book and didn’t buy it as I didn’t figure I’d have the time or budget to work my way through the recipes and try to find more friendly versions myself – so, thank you for this recipe! I have a beautiful eggplant from my CSA box and I’d love to try this tonight. I have everything in my pantry but the chicken.
I do have one question, is there a reason why you wouldn’t use chicken stock in place of the water?
No reason, but there’s so much flavor in the dish, it’s probably just not necessary. If you want to use chicken stock, I’m sure it would be fine.