Moroccan Tagine: Chicken with Preserved Lemons

The tagine is both the dish and the food you make in the dish.  it is a stew, and there are many different recipes.  One of my favorites is the chicken with preserved lemons.  It has earthy flavors like green olives, lots of garlic, and a highly aromatic collection of spices.  tagine - 12

When I was in Morocco I tasted several tagines, lamb, seafood, dried beef, and they were all excellent.  This one, however, has always been my favorite.  I didn’t try to buy a tagine there because they are made of clay and I doubted I could get it back home intact.

When I got home however, I immediately ordered one online.  Watch out, because many of them are ornate and beautiful, but only suitable for serving at the table, not for cooking.  The key word when shopping online is “cookable”.  The cookable ones will have, among other qualities, a hole at the top of the conical lid to let steam escape.

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The keys to saving your clay tagine from cracking:  cook over a moderate flame, use a heat diffuser, and soak your tagine in water for an hour before using.

Descriptions will usually tell you if they’re safe for a stovetop, and to what temperature in the oven.  I invested in an inexpensive heat diffuser for good measure.  This is a screen that goes between the base of the tagine and the flame to even out the heat.

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The heat diffuser is a low cost device to even out the flame beneath your tagine and help prevent cracking.

Another way to prevent your clay tagine from cracking is to soak it for an hour before cooking.  I will admit I was nervous having never used a clay pot on the stove top before but soon enough my brand new vessel was taking on the brown coating of a used pot and the chicken was becoming GBD (golden brown and delicious)!

If you’re worried about your tagine cracking, you can always do the high heat browning in a skillet and transfer to the tagine for the low heat braising.  Keep in mind, you can make this recipe with any braiser or dutch oven, but the tagine makes for a lovely presentation at the table!


The first step is to collect your spice blend.  I assembled mine in a stainless steel bowl and it looked like an artist’s palette.

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The spice blend is:

  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp saffron, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp each salt & pepper

Additionally you will need:

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  • 1 chicken, cut into pieces (I like to cut the breast meat into bite-size pieces)
  • olive oil
  • 2-3 onions, sliced thin
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8-10 Greek olives, pitted and sliced
  • 8-10 green olives, pitted and sliced
  • 1 preserved lemon, quartered and sliced length-wise
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • fresh lemon juice
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • fresh parsley
  • cous cous
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If you made my preserved lemon recipe, now’s your chance to use them!


Mix all the items in the spice mix and rub them all over the chicken pieces.  Put the chicken in the refrigerator to marinate for 4-8 hours.

Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the tagine and brown the chicken on all sides.  Be sure to get the skin nice and crispy.  Once browned (it may take 2 or 3 batches, don’t overcrowd the pan) remove the chicken to a plate lined with paper towels.tagine - 10

lower the heat to med-low and cook the onions until beginning to brown, and then another 5 minutes.  Add the cinnamon stick, and layer the chicken over the onions.  If you cut the breast meat into bite-sized pieces, put those in first, and the layer the leg sections over them.

Add the olives, both black and green, the preserved lemons, chicken stock, and fresh lemon juice.  Use a half lemon if it’s a large one, or a whole small one.tagine - 11

Put the conical cover over the tagine and turn the heat to low.  If you’re using a traditional pot with a lid, leave the lid a little off-center to allow some steam to escape.  Let it braise for 30 minutes, remove the cover and let simmer for another 10 minutes if there’s a lot of liquid.

Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and serve with cous cous at the table right from the tagine.

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Next post will be the final one in the Morocco series, “The Casbah”, then it’s on to Portugal!

Bon appetit!



  1. I am so hungry. When I’m home in October, let’s have a Morrocan feast. I have several tagine recipes I used to make so all we need is a few bottles of wine and we are set!

  2. Looks and sounds delicious. Do you know if this style of cooking is done throughout the Middle East? When I was in the Jordanian desert last year I had a chicken dish that was cooked in a clay pot underground. Like your recipe it was cooked with all the ingredients at once, vegetables spices and rice. Have you heard of this?

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