When I’m traveling around Manhattan and develop a sudden hunger, I drop into one of my favorite corner restaurants where they serve, along with good hamburgers and salads, delicious North African specialties. While most tagines—traditional North African stews—are long-simmered affairs, usually made with lamb, this version made with chicken is lighter and takes less time to prepare. The secret to its flavor is the juxtaposition of sweet dried fruits, almonds, and gentle spices such as cinnamon and saffron. Another secret to this soup is harissa, one of my favorite of all spicy sauces (you can use it as a condiment for just about any North African soup or stew) passed at the table so guests can use as little or as much as they like. I often make a meal out of this soup, with a bowl of couscous served on the side for guests to spoon into their soup.
- 1 4-pound chicken, quartered, (see Notes)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric or 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh
- 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 5 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup dried apricots cut into ¼-inch dice
- ½ cup white raisins
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads or ¼ teaspoon powdered saffron
- Half of 1 10-ounce box plain couscous
- ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes, until they turn pale brown and smell fragrant
SEASON the chicken parts with salt and pepper and brown them for about 8 minutes on the skin side and 5 minutes on the flesh side, over high heat, in olive oil, in a heavy-bottomed pot just large enough to hold them in a single layer. Transfer to a plate and reserve.
POUR all but 1 tablespoon of fat out of the pan, and stir in the onion and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring every couple of minutes, until the onion turns translucent but doesn’t brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves and stir over medium heat for 1 minute more—until you smell the fragrance of the spices.
Pour over the broth and scrape against the bottom of the pot to dissolve any caramelized juices. Sprinkle over the apricots, raisins, and saffron, and put the chicken back in the pan. Cover the pot and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Simmer the chicken for 15 minutes after the broth has reached the simmer—once the chicken pieces feel firm to the touch, don’t cook them any more.
Take the chicken out of the broth with tongs to let cool. Use a ladle to skim off any fat that has floated to the top of the broth. Turn the heat off under the pot. Take the chicken off the bones in strips and put it in the pot with the broth.
Prepare the couscous according to the directions on the package.
Sprinkle over the almonds and bring the soup back to the simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.
Serve the couscous at the table or put a mound in each bowl of soup. Pass the harissa at the table.
Nutritional information is based on 1/8 teaspoon added salt per serving.
Nutritional information does not include Harissa recipe. For nutritional information on Harissa recipe, please follow the link above.