In their January issue, looking back on all the food trends of the past year, Food and Wine Magazine pronounced 2010 the year of the chicken. It’s true that we’ve been cooking quite a bit of bird here too, as of late. But during the holidays, home cooks rarely think of chicken as a viable option for their table’s centerpiece, upgrading to more regal poultry like turkey, of course, and duck and goose.
Though my curiosity has been piqued by signs at the farmers’ market for whole Christmas ducks, I’m not sure I would have any idea what to do with such a thing. As quarter-life cooks, we actually think that chicken is a great way to approach small kitchen holidays. And it didn’t hurt our confidence that this ethos was validated last year by Ina Garten, in her perfect holiday meal.
For Thanksgiving, we suggested you try Alex’s Roasted Chicken instead of the traditional turkey. For Christmas, we’re less apt to find a perfect chicken counterpart to that whole duck. But the good news is, Christmas’s holiday table is more open to interpretation than Thanksgiving’s.
In designing a holiday-friendly chicken centerpiece, it takes but a few interesting ingredients to transform an everyday formula into something special enough for company. On Sunday, Cara used dried fruit to make a regular braised chicken dish into a classy Marbella; last year, Ina stuffed her chicken with goat cheese and sundried tomatoes, turning ordinary breasts into a luxurious entrée; and in my kitchen, I add some green olives and preserved lemons to humble slow-simmering chicken legs, and call it a tagine.
My mother was the one who turned me onto serving Moroccan dishes for special occasions. Over the past few summers, whenever someone came to dinner, she whipped together a simple tomato-based fish tagine. And during fall and winter months, she simply switched out fish for chicken.
There’s nothing wrong with resorting to easy one-pot meals like this one during the holidays. Rather, stews make people feel at home. And even though this one is decidedly less ordinary than American and French classics typically served during winter months, there is still something deliciously familiar about sopping up an aromatic sauce, even if those aromatics came all the way from North Africa in Cara’s suitcase.
From my kitchen, where Moroccan mains make up the perfect holiday chicken dinner, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Chicken Tagine with Fennel, Preserved Lemons, and Green Olives
Makes 4 servings
For the marinade:
1 large shallot
3 garlic cloves
2-inch knob ginger, peeled
1 cup cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup olive oil
For the tagine:
4 whole chicken legs (legs with thighs attached)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered, and cut into thin wedges
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 quart chicken stock or water
2 preserved lemons, pith removed, and zest thinly sliced
½ pound pitted green olives (kalamata)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme (optional)
In a small food processor, puree the ingredients for the marinade. (Or, alternatively, you can mince by hand). Place the chicken in a medium mixing bowl and cover with the marinade. Rub the mixture into all the crevices of the meat, including under the skin, until very well coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Add the onion to the pot and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. Add the chicken back to the pot, along with the fennel, chickpeas, chicken stock, and any remaining marinade. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn back to low and simmer, covered for 45 minutes. Add the preserved lemon, olives, and thyme (if using). Cover and simmer for another 20 minutes, until the chicken is very tender, but not falling apart. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as needed.
To serve, place one chicken leg on each plate and spoon the broth over the top, making sure to get some of the olives, fennel, and chickpeas. Serve alongside couscous and/or crusty bread.