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, increased the 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 decrease the cayenne pepper to 1 tsp but if you like spice, this dish is perfectly balanced between sweetness and heat. In the interests of full disclosure, I made this in two Le Creuset Dutch ovens – I do not own some mutant giant tagine dish that can take such a huge amount of food. 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!
- 2kg chicken pieces (I used drumsticks and thighs)
- 2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 5 tsp ground black pepper
- 4 Tbsp paprika
- 4 Tbsp ground ginger
- 3 Tbsp turmeric
- 5 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- 6 Tbsp olive oil
- 6 Tbsp argan oil (I used sunflower)
- 6 large onions, finely diced
- 9 cloves garlic, minced
- 500ml tomato juice
- 3x400g tinned chopped tomatoes
- 300g dried apricots, halved
- 150g raisins or sultanas
- 2 preserved lemons, chopped
- 200 g blanched flaked almonds
- 2 tsp strands saffron, soaked in cold water
- 1 litre chicken stock
- 3 Tbsp clear 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 3 Tbsp each of the olive oil and argan oil in a large casserole dish that can be used on the stove top or in the oven. 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.
- Heat the remaining oil in a heavy griddle 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 250ml tomato juice into the griddle pan and stir well, scraping up all the bits on the bottom, then pour the contents of the pan into the casserole dish.
- Add the remaining tomato juice, chopped tomatoes, apricots, preserved lemon, raisins, flaked almonds, saffron, stock and honey to the casserole dish. Bring to the boil, cover with a tightly fitting lid and cook in the oven for 30-45 minutes or until the chicken is tender.