Moroccan braised chicken with dates and vegetables is a stunning North African-spiced dinner, perfect for entertaining or just a family dinner. Chicken thighs simmered with dates and a host of warming spices makes for a fragrant and filling entrée.
If you have a saucepan, a knife, a mortar and pestle, and a functional stovetop—or even a hot plate—you can toss this dinner together. (And heck, you can always borrow the mortar and pestle from a neighbor.) Remarkably, that’s all it takes for you to lend a warming fragrance and flavor to plain old chicken thighs and veggies–not to mention your entire house. The pan sauce of sorts that results is satisfyingly soupy and stewy, with a consistency that you can tweak to taste, an aroma that’s impossible to forget, and a flavor that’s hauntingly complex for something so simple. One saucepan. And one exceptionally tender, spice-infused bird.–LC Editors
CAN I MAKE A VEGETARIAN VERSION OF MOROCCAN BRAISED CHICKEN?
You absolutely can! It’s still deeply spiced and fragrantly flavorsome–and vegetarian. Just omit the chicken and use vegetable stock. You might want to add a few other vegetables, and then stir in a cup or so of drained, canned chickpeas. You can also use a generous 1/4 cup of dried chickpeas that you’ve soaked overnight and cooked until tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
Braised Moroccan Chicken
- 2-inch cinnamon stick
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- 1 1/4 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons mild olive oil
- 1 medium to large onion thinly sliced into wedges
- 4 fat garlic cloves grated into a paste
- 3/4 teaspoon ginger paste or grated ginger mashed on cutting board
- 3/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 4 small chicken thighs bone-in, skinless, trimmed of all fat
- 2 cups homemade chicken stock, canned chicken broth, or vegetable stock
- Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons store-bought or homemade tomato paste
- 1 small carrot sliced on the diagonal
- 1 small zucchini sliced on the diagonal
- 6 large dates (or other dried fruit such as figs or apricots), quartered lengthwise
- Large handful flat-leaf parsley leaves chopped
- Grind the cinnamon, sesame seeds, and cumin seeds together to make a fine powder—this is a quick job when you use a mortar and pestle although a spice or coffee grinder also works well.
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the onion, and cook gently over medium-ish or medium-high-ish heat until soft and coloring at the edges. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. (If the aromatics look as though they may scorch, carefully add a small splash of water to the pan.) Stir in the ground spices, the caraway seeds, and the paprika and stir to create a spice paste of sorts.
- Add the chicken, stock, salt and pepper, and tomato paste to the pan, turning to coat the chicken, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 18 minutes. Add the carrot, cover the pan again, and cook for about 8 minutes. Add the zucchini, cover, and cook for 6 to 7 minutes, until the chicken and vegetables are both cooked through and tender. Add the dates and stir to coat.
- Adjust the pan sauce to the desired consistency, if necessary, by either adding a splash of water if it seems too thick or allowing the braise to simmer, uncovered, until some of the liquid evaporates if it seems too thin. Stir in the parsley. Spoon the chicken and vegetables and sauce onto individual plates or a single platter and serve at once.
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Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This is one fantastic recipe, filled with the scents and tastes of North African dishes. I made semolina to go with it and to enjoy the sauce the chicken produced. The chicken was amazingly tender and juicy, the spices all blended incredibly well in such a manner that one was not stronger than the other, and it created its own aroma that’s very common to that region’s food.
This is a recipe that can be prepared a little in advance so as not to rush prior to serving dinner. Make it up just prior to adding the vegetables, and then it can be warmed up and the cooking finished.
What a delicious dish for weeknights or for serving to company. The chicken was juicy, and the dish was pretty on the plate with the carrot and zucchini in the sauce. I served white rice to soak up all the yummy sauce. The dates added a beautiful sweetness with the spices.
The dates slightly thickened the juices, and we loved the combination of the Moroccan spices with the chicken. The dish was wonderful and I’ll definitely be serving it again in the near future.
The flavors were spot on for us. We left out the tomato paste, as we have tomato allergies here, and could only find dried diced dates. We served it with couscous, and everyone devoured the dish. Leftovers even made a nice soup for lunch the next day.
Everyone liked it. I served this dish with whole-wheat couscous and a salad. The couscous was good for soaking up some of the sauce. I’d probably remove the chicken earlier and reduce the sauce more. It was a little loose. I’d also probably add more vegetables—double the zucchini and carrots.
I added more dates than the recipe required and added the dates just a little bit before serving. This was perfect. Some dates were leftover in the sauce, and they turned an ugly gray color. So, this part of the recipe shouldn’t be changed (aside from adding more dates).
Originally published August 13, 2012
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
A beautiful, nuanced treatment for chicken thighs. The flavors were complex, the thighs were moist, and the vegetables added bright color for a complete one-dish meal. I used dried figs since I had them on hand, and I appreciated the bit of sweetness that they imparted to the sauce.
I served this over green lentils in order to have as much of the sauce as possible. The spice preparation was a bit labor-intensive, and I think that substituting a good tandoori spice blend (like the one from Dean & Deluca) would yield quite similar results.