I am a firm believer that there are a number of ways in which the world can definitively be divided into two types of people:
- People who can touch their toes and those who can’t.
- People who are fundamentally dishonest and those who aren’t.
- Starfish sleepers and corpse sleepers.
- And people who love hot chilli and those who don’t.
And like starfish and corpse sleepers who inevitably end up married to one another (ask around – you’ll see I’m right!), more often than not a chilli-lover and a chilli-hater end up married to each other.
Seeing as I am of the opinion that Nando’s lemon and herb chicken is a little on the spicy side, obviously I had to go and marry a man who once downed a double tot glass of half Tabasco and half tequila for a laugh. The line between stupid and hard-core narrows daily!
Years of marriage have kind of conditioned me to believe that everyone except me loves hot food, so when I cook I tend to assume that if I can take the heat then it should be fine for everyone else too. But as Samuel L Jackson said, assume makes an ass out of you and me. So when I made a spicy chicken tagine as the second course of a recent Valentine’s Day lunch (to follow the halloumi with zaa’tar and red pepper coulis), I tasted it and dubbed it hot but not unbearable… but some of my guests thought I was trying to incinerate them. Live and learn!
This recipe is adapted from one by Jean-Christophe Novelli. I replaced the poussin with chicken pieces, fiddled with some of the spice quantities and added some touches of my own, like preserved lemons. The dried apricots I used were diced, but next time I would use whole or halved dried apricots – otherwise their sweetness gets lost. NB – there is a LOT of spice in this recipe!! if you like things not-so-spicy, I would reduce the cayenne pepper by half but if you like spice, this dish is perfectly balanced between sweetness and heat. In the interests of full disclosure, I made mine not in a traditional tagine but in my trusty 5 litre Corningware casserole dish. I served it on fluffy couscous and accompanied by a simple salad of flat-leaf parsley, cherry tomatoes and diced cucumber. And a cool bowl of yoghurt on the side for spice-phobes!
- about 1kg chicken pieces (I used a mix of drumsticks and thighs)
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1.5 Tbsp ground turmeric
- 1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 3 Tbsp argan oil (I used rapeseed)
- 3 large onions, finely diced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 200ml tomato juice
- 1x400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 100g dried apricots, halved
- 75g raisins or sultanas
- 1 preserved lemon, chopped
- 100 g blanched flaked almonds
- 1 tsp strands saffron, soaked in cold water
- 450ml chicken stock
- 2 Tbsp runny honey
- Place the cayenne pepper, black pepper, paprika, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon in a small bowl and mix to combine. Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl and toss together with half of the spice mix. Cover with cling film and leave overnight in the fridge.
- Preheat the oven to 150C.
- Heat 1.5 Tbsp each of the olive oil and argan oil in a large heavy frying pan. Add the onions and the remaining spice mix and cook over a low heat for 10 minutes until the onions are soft but not coloured. Add the garlic for the final 3 minutes.
- Scoop the onion mix out of the pan and into an large (5 litre) ovenproof casserole dish or Dutch oven.
- Heat the remaining oil in the onions pan and when it is really hot place the chicken pieces skin side down in the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes (use a splatter screen - it's going to sizzle and spit!). Turn over and cook for another 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and place in the casserole dish.
- Pour 200ml tomato juice into the pan and stir well, scraping up all the bits on the bottom. Add the chopped tomatoes, apricots, preserved lemon, raisins, flaked almonds, saffron, stock and honey and when heated through, pour the contents of the pan into the casserole dish.
- Cover with a tightly fitting lid and cook in the oven for 45 minutes or until the chicken is tender.
- Serve on cous cous.