The tagine is my choice of an unglazed clay pot, especially in winter. Its terracotta top and bottom create the perfect environment for developing slow-cooked flavor.Being a great fan of Morocco, I most often stick to the traditional dishes. Moroccans themselves are quite creative, but the buck stops when it gets too out of the box or out of range for ingredients out of their reach. Last week, I was in the mood for chicken, but not. Neither was I in the mood for red meat, having renounced it for three days. A small discipline, but a fine time to perhaps think out of the box. Some sort of wild fowl, or cornish game hen would do the trick, but they didn’t have anything at my local market. What they did have was a frozen “Poulet Bleu,” a white Canadian variety with blue feet, taken from the French Poulet de Bresse.
“Blue Foot Chicken is characterized by a red comb, white feathers, and steel-blue feet, which give the breed its name. The feet are usually left on for presentation.” No blue feet were present on my frozen bird. Yet, the meat is noticeably darker and richer.
“Blue Foot are typically slaughtered much later than factory farm or free range chicken, being left to grow on their own rather than relying on force-feeding or power feed. Thus they require 12 to 14 weeks to reach market size, rather than the 42 days. No water is absorbed into the meat during the chilling process.” Hmm…making them naturally plump.
The bird came home, along with a container full of dried cherries. My experience in Morocco has taught me that dried fruit and meat go very well together. Trying to deduce what flavors would combine well in this case, I choosing something equally as rich and dense in flavor, but which would lend some acidity.
A tagine almost always inspires Moroccan spices. Not afraid to experiment, I used ginger which I know goes well with any chicken, ras al hanout, because I thought the bird could stand up to it, a pinch of saffron because I was going exotic, and a touch of cinnamon and clove as the mystery ingredients, to add panache and enhance the cherries. The blue footless bird looked amazing in the tagine, marinated in a bit of extra virgin olive oil and spices. I landed a few sprigs of thyme on top just to add an herbal element.
To further gild the lily, I soaked the cherries for about a half an hour in some cabernet franc recommended by my new friend, sommelier Phil Morich, wine manager at Alfalfa’s Market. They were added about half way through the cooking. I also used a splash of the wine as liquid to flavor the dish, something tradition does not advocate. Safe to say this idea is French-Moroccan fusion, of which there is a fair amount.
Almost all tagines cook for at least an hour, more depending on how gentle the fire. Tri-colored quinoa was my accompaniment, along with a spinach salad with thinly sliced red onion, dressed simply with course salt and freshly pressed olive oil.
My friend Virginie took a bite and said, “Oh Peg, it’s a 10.”I was rather pleased.
A culinary adventure, right here at home.
Tagine of Blue Foot Chicken and Dried Cherries
1 Blue Foot chicken
1 large onion
3/4 cup of dried cherries, soaked in wine of choice*
1 T dried ginger
1/2 t ras al hanout (Moroccan blend of spices)
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t clove
a pinch of saffron (soaked in 1/2 cup of water)
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
(read about them, quite interesting)
Slice onions and set aside. Soak cherries in your wine of choice* and set aside. Slice chicken into parts and rub with olive oil and spices, salt and pepper. Put half the onions in the bottom of the tagine. Add the chicken on top and add the other half of the onions on top of the chicken. Add the sprigs of fresh thyme. Bathe the chicken in a splash of wine and add the saffron in it’s water. Cover.
Cook tagine on a gas stove or over coals. When cooking with a clay pot, it’s best to heat the pot slowly.
Start out slow, increasing the temperature until the pot has brought the food to a boil. Turn down to a simmer. Let cook for 20 minutes. Check occasionally to make sure there is enough liquid to create steam and keep the chicken from burning.
Add the cherries and the soaking wine and let cook for another 20 minutes. Test for tenderness.
Dedicated to all of my fellow Moroccan culinary adventurers.