Moroccan Chicken Smothered in Olives

We're back in residence at the Circle B Kitchen West, enjoying gorgeously sunny 72-degree weather and doing fall as only the California Central Coast can do.  To be honest, it was a little difficult to leave the fall weather that was beginning to turn the cottonwoods and maples those lovely yellows, reds and oranges that color our life there this time of year.  But for the next few weeks we'll be quite content to squish our toes in the sand and enjoy the bounty of late-summer produce still in abundance here.  It goes without saying that there will be also be plenty of uber-fresh seafood to be grilled.

I can find no easy segue into talking to you about this beautiful moroccan chicken dish that I made several times before we left home, except to say that when I was thinking about posting it this week, it dawned on me how incredible it would be with fresh sea bass or swordfish or halibut or lingcod.  Even tilapia or red snapper.  It was amazingly delicious with chicken but now I'm all about making it with some of the local fish here. 

I've become so enamored of the beautiful flavors of Moroccan cuisine, which tends toward fragrant herbs and spices which play against pungent preserved lemons, spicy peppers, and in this dish, lots of briny olives.  It might be hard to get your hands on authentic Moroccan olives, which are most often oil-cured and quite salty, so use whatever olives you love, a nice mix of black and green, as long as they're not your garden variety black olives from the can.  Those won't really do at all.  I used some meaty kalamatas and some herb-marinated Sicilian green olives. 

This recipe comes to us from the good folks at the NY Times, and surprisingly, it needed quite a bit of help to fulfill its destiny as a luscious Moroccan dish.  I was happy to set things to right and have explained just how I did that in the recipe headnote.  And I promise to let you know how this fares as a fish dish very soon.  In the meantime, here's the recipe....

Moroccan Chicken Smothered in Olives


Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe adapted from NY Times Cooking

There were many complaints in the comments section of the Times about the sauce for this dish being too watery and rather flavorless.  This is my version in which I reduced the amount of chicken broth and to that added yogurt and Harissa paste which is a deliciously spicy Moroccan red pepper paste.  I also added some traditional Moroccan spices such as cinnamon, cloves and coriander.  The resulting sauce was gorgeously flavorful with the perfect consistency. Harissa comes in both spicy and mild versions.  I like to use the mild version so that I can add more without things getting overly spicy.  

Serves 4

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 large or 2 small onions, peeled, halved and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
¾ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon Harissa paste (or more if using mild Harissa)
1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
11 ounces pitted green olives in brine, drained (I used a combination of kalamatas and Manzanillas)
Serve over couscous

In a small bowl, combine the ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, coriander, salt and the cloves.  Stir to blend well and set aside.

In a large-ish saute pan or skillet, saute onion slices in 2 tablespoons olive oil till soft and cooked down by about half (about 10-15 minutes).  Add the garlic and the spices.  Saute for a couple of minutes or until the spices are fragrant, and then add the chicken.  Turn to coat with the spices.  Add 3/4 cup of the chicken broth.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, turning once.  

Combine the remaining 1 cup chicken broth with the harissa and yogurt and add to the pan.  Stir to incorporate and add more broth, if too thick or more yogurt if too thin.  Taste for salt and spice.  Scatter the olives over the sauce and then simmer partially covered for 10 minutes.  

To serve, sprinkle with a little more cilantro and serve over couscous.  We also like to serve it with a little dollop of yogurt on the side.