I decided to make a Moorish themed dinner this Sunday. The Moors controlled most of present day Spain from the 8th–15th centuries. While Moorish cuisine is little different from that of Morocco, the Moors had a great effect on the gastronomy of Spain. They introduced almonds, citrus fruit and rice, as well as the irrigation systems necessary to grow them. However, this period was also pre-contact with the New World, so that some items that are common to today’s Spanish and Moroccan cuisines had not yet been introduced to European diets—no tomatoes or chilies, including paprika and cayenne.
Chicken is always a good choice, but how would a Moorish cook make it. There is very little on the internet on the subject except for a few hints about what they had, or did not have, in terms of spices and ingredients. Looking at both Spanish and Moroccan cuisines I took away things that were unavailable at the time. Using those hints, I created my own Moorish spice mix and selected my ingredients. To go with my chicken I made a Moorish tabbouleh.
Using a tajine is the obvious cooking method, but I do not own a tajine—mainly because I have never found one that calls to me. I plan to use my Romertopf clay pot, which is the closest thing I have to a tajine. The cooking environments inside these vessels are similar—high steam and low moisture loss.
Note: The primary difference between these two pots is that the shape of the tajine lid drains the condensed steam down around the edges of the dish, instead of raining the water down on top of the food.
Karl’s Moorish Chicken Tajine
2 Tbs. Karl’s Moorish Spice Blend
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. fennel seeds
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. turmeric
⅛ tsp. nutmeg
4 whole cloves
Large pinch saffron (40 threads)
4 lb. whole chicken (or 2 ½ lb. skinless boneless breasts and thighs)
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced pole to pole
½ tsp. Kosher salt
10-15 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
Small bunch cilantro, separate uses
1 cup Spanish olives
½ cup blood orange juice
1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
1 Tbs. arrowroot or cornstarch (optional)
¼ cup toasted almonds, slivered
1. Toast the cumin and coriander in a dry pan and place the seeds in a spice grinder.
Note: Do this the morning of your dinner, but better the night before.
2. Add the rest of the spice blend ingredients and process them to a powder.
3. Remove the back of the chicken with kitchen shears and cut the chicken in half down the breast bone.
Tip: Remove any large lumps of fat.
4. Pull the skin away from the breast and legs.
Tip: After you have seasoned the meat you will be pulling the skin back into place.
Note: You do not want to tear the skin and it should remain attached to top and bottom of the breasts and to the ankle of the drum stick.
5. Sprinkle and rub the spice mix over the breast, thighs, and legs.
6. Pull the skin back into place and sprinkle the spice on the outside of the skin.
7. Place the chicken halves in a gallon plastic bag, press the air out and refrigerate for several hours.
Tip: Overnight is better.
8. Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan, over medium high heat.
9. Slice the onion in pole to pole and sauté it with the salt until soft, 4-5 minutes.
Note: I have altered what I actually did here. I put the onions and garlic into the clay pot raw and they were underdone when the chicken was ready. They needed a bit of precooking.
10. Add the cracked garlic and continue sautéing for another two minutes.
11. Pour the onions and garlic into the bottom of the pot.
Note: If you are using a Romertopf clay pot soak it for half an hour before starting.
12. Take the cilantro and in one cut remove most of the leafy tops.
Tip: Put the tops on a bowl of cool water to keep them fresh.
Note: You want about half a cup of the tops, but do not chop them at this time.
13. Mince the cilantro stems very finely and sprinkle them over the onions.
Note: Reserve the tops for later.
14. Scatter half of the olives over the onions and cilantro.
15. Arrange the chicken halves neatly over the onions in the clay pot.
16. Pour the orange juice over the chicken.
Note: Half a cup may seem like too little liquid for a dish like this, but a clay pot has a very tight seal. As the chicken and onions cook, they released more liquid that quickly fills the pot. If you add too much liquid it will overflow the pot and spill all over your oven.
17. Scatter the remaining olives and minced ginger over the chicken.
18. Put the lid on the pot and put it in a cold oven.
19. Set the oven to 450° F and bake for 40 minutes.
20. Use a turkey baster to spread some of the sauce over the chicken, but do not stir the pot.
21. Use the turkey baster to transfer about ¾ of the pot liquor to a small pot.
Note: Boil this liquid to reduce its volume by half.
22. Re-cover the pot and continue baking for 15 minutes.
23. Remove the lid from the clay pot and use the baster to transfer the remaining liquid to the small pot.
Tip: You may add some arrowroot or corn starch mixed with water to thicken the sauce.
Note: Continue reducing this liquid.
24. Return the clay pot to the oven, uncovered, and bake for 10 more minutes to brown the chicken.
25. Drain and lightly chop the cilantro tops.
26. Pour the pan sauce over all and scatter the cilantro and slivered almonds over the chicken just before presenting the clay pot to the table.
Tip: Do not recover the chicken after you have put on the cilantro.
Note: I decided that it was more attractive to use the cilantro to fill the gap between the breasts.
27. Present the chicken in the clay pot.