Moroccan chicken thighs are spiced with ras el hanout and braised in a sauce of tomato, saffron, chicken livers, and garlic. Served on a bed of vermicelli and sprinkled with almonds, it’s a simpler riff on a celebratory Moroccan feast.
This really is the ultimate home-cooked food. And I learned it from the best—Naima and her friend Hasna, a Saharaoui from a Saharan tribe in the deep south of Morocco. This wonderfully tender chicken is served with vermicelli noodles, a saffron-fragrant sauce, and loads of almonds.–John Gregory-Smith
Moroccan Chicken Thighs ~ Seffa
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 (about 2 pounds) chicken thighs skin on and bone in
- 1 (9 oz) red onion finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves crushed and peeled
- 5 ounces chicken livers finely chopped
- 1 (5 oz) tomato finely chopped
- 2 cups store-bought or homemade chicken stock warmed
- A pinch of saffron threads
- 2 tablespoons tomato purée
- 2 teaspoons ras el hanout
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Sea salt
- 2 tablespoons (1 oz) butter
- 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves finely chopped
- 10 ounces vermicelli noodles
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- A pinch ground cinnamon
- In a Dutch oven over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the oil. Pat the chicken thighs dry. Working in batches if necessary, add the chicken thighs, skin-side down, and cook, turning occasionally, until browned all over, 12 to 13 minutes. Move the chicken thighs to a plate.
- Add the onion to the Dutch oven and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the garlic, livers, and tomato to the onion and cook until the garlic is fragrant, 1 to 3 minutes.
- In a measuring cup, whisk together the warm chicken stock and saffron. Let it rest for a few minutes to infuse. The saffron will bleed its deep orange color into the stock.
- Pour the saffron and stock into the Dutch oven and add the tomato purée, ras el hanout, ginger, pepper, and a small pinch of salt. Mix well and bring to a boil. Return the chicken thighs to the Dutch oven, skin-side up, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer gently until the chicken is cooked and tender, 45 to 60 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil.
- Move the chicken to a plate. Add the butter to the sauce in the Dutch oven and mix well. Turn up the heat and let the sauce bubble gently until it’s reduced by half, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste and, if desired, season with salt. Return the chicken to the Dutch oven, add most of the parsley, and mix well.
- Cook the noodles according to the instructions. Drain and return the noodles to the pot. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and toss.
- Divvy the noodles among 4 shallow bowls or plates. Top each mound of noodles with some of the chicken thighs and spoon over some of the juices. Garnish with the remaining parsley, almonds, and a light dusting of cinnamon. Serve immediately with any remaining juices passed on the side in a bowl.
*What is ras el hanout?The Moroccan spice mixture, ras el hanout, is an earthy, warming spice blend that can be made with up to 50 spices. Literally translated, it means "head of the shop" and was originally used to showcase a merchant's best spices. It can be replaced with garam masala, baharat, or Lebanese 7 spice, if you happen to have any of those on hand instead.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
The ingredients in this recipe were so far outside of my comfort zone that I was intrigued and had to give it a try. It was absolutely worth it. Flavourful, warm, spicy.
My butcher only had whole chicken legs available, so I used both the thigh and drum and I split them apart. My one knock against this recipe is the huge mess caused by browning the chicken. I dried my chicken first, but it still made a huge spattering mess so next time I'd dredge it in flour first.
I'm not a huge fan of the texture of liver, but it's still worth including it in this dish because it makes such a beautiful sauce. If you're anything like me, I'd highly recommend taking the time to either really finely chop or puree the chicken liver; I think I'd have enjoyed it even more if the texture had been finer.
I made my own ras el hanout and I loved that it was made up of all the spices I already had in my pantry—I would never think to put them together myself. The vermicelli was a delicious accompaniment, however, this dish could easily be served with rice or couscous. This one is a keeper.
Lately, I've really been drawn to the flavors of North African cuisines---with numerous food publications and newly released cookbooks on the subject, I'm trying to stock my pantry with the regional spices and ingredients for recipes just like this one—saffron threads, ras el hanout, warm ground spices like turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon—that can be used on their own or in combination with each other for spectacular results.
I was drawn to making this recipe for seffa because of its combination of tender chicken thighs, sliced almonds, and a surprise ingredient of chicken livers all cooked slowly in a tomato and chicken stock base. The sauce becomes luxurious and thick thanks to the addition of the minced chicken livers and the last-minute addition of butter enriched the entire dish.
The chicken thighs were nicely cooked seeing that they were first seared to crisp and brown up their skin and they were fall-off-the-bone tender after the hour of slow cooking over low heat. Because the overall dish is rich and luxurious, I loved that it’s served over thin, delicate noodles instead of thicker ones. The noodles are lovely with the sauce and the cooked chicken alike.
I added 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the red onion as it cooked along with another pinch of salt later and then I added another 1/2 teaspoon when I tasted the finished sauce. I really think the parsley adds freshness and much-needed pop of color to the sauce and, in turn, the entire dish.
My only suggestion would be to maybe think about adding in some raisins or golden raisins as I have seen in other seffa recipes? I think a nice sweet touch would work well here.
Originally published April 28, 2021