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Chicken Tagine with Apricots, Raisins, and Almonds

Updated February 23, 2016
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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.

When a chicken is “quartered,” it is actually cut up into more than four pieces. In addition to the two half-breasts and two thighs with the drumsticks attached, there is also the back and the two wings. Thus the chicken is really cut into seven pieces instead of four. The back contains so little meat that it’s best used for making broth or cut in half or thirds and added to the sauté pan with the rest of the chicken to keep the bottom of the pan covered (to prevent it from burning in those areas left uncovered) or to augment the flavor of an eventual soup. The wings, while meatier, can be used in the same way. In most soup recipes calling for quartered chicken, I recommend removing the meat from the bone after the chicken has cooked to make the soup easier to eat. However, in some cases, you may want to leave the chicken on the bone and cut the quartered chicken into smaller pieces to make sure every serving of soup has a piece of chicken in it. You can convert four pieces into six simply by cutting the drumsticks away from the rest of the thighs and you can cut the half-breasts in half again so that you end up with eight pieces in addition to the wings and back.

To quarter a chicken, pull any large chunks of fat out of the inside of the chicken (I discard them but they can be rendered and used as cooking fat). Turn the chicken breastside down and pull away a wing. Cut the wing oft where it joins the body. Repeat with the second wing. Fold the wing tips under the thickest part of the wing, forming a kind of triangle, so the wings hold their shape during cooking. Turn the chicken over and pull one of the thighs forward. Cut into the loose skin between the thigh and breast, cutting toward the thigh (so enough skin is left to cover the breast) and then slide the knife down to the joint where the thigh joins the back. Fold the thigh back away from the chicken and snap the ball out of the joint, dislocating the thigh. Slide the knife—I use a medium chef’s knife—along the back, following its contours so you leave any meat attached to the thigh instead of the back, and detach the thigh from the back. Repeat with the second thigh. Cut the back away from the double breast by holding the chicken on end so the larger opening is facing upward. With a large chef’s knife, cut through the rib cage all the way down to the bottom and open up the chicken, separating the back from the breast. Cut the back away from the double breast. Cut the double breast in half by resting it, skin side down, on a cutting board and forcing a knife into the bone in the middle of the two halves. Pull the knife toward you while pressing down. Turn the breast around and repeat in the other direction to separate the two halves. You should now have two thighs (with drumsticks), the back, two wings, and two half-breasts.

Makes4 main-course servings

CostModerate

Moderate

Total Timeunder 2 hours

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Courseappetizer, main course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free

Equipmentblender

Mealdinner, lunch

Taste and Texturefruity, garlicky, hot & spicy, meaty, nutty, savory, spiced

Type of Dishchicken soup

Ingredients

  • 1 4-pound chicken, quartered, (see Notes)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 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
  • Harissa

Instructions

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.

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