The Best Moroccan Chicken Tagine

The Best Moroccan Chicken Tagine

The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 25 mins
Cook: 90 mins
Marinate and Rest Time: 3 hrs 15 mins
Total: 5 hrs 10 mins
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
424 Calories
29g Fat
8g Carbs
32g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 424
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 29g 38%
Saturated Fat 6g 31%
Cholesterol 101mg 34%
Sodium 521mg 23%
Total Carbohydrate 8g 3%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 32g
Vitamin C 12mg 61%
Calcium 55mg 4%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 372mg 8%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

A classic dish, this Moroccan chicken recipe uses preserved lemons, olives, and onions. It can be cooked in an authentic tagine or roasted in the oven, depending on your preference, and what equipment you have at your disposal. Either way, you'll enjoy a delicious meal that is sure to please everyone at the dinner table.

This recipe includes a number of traditional Moroccan ingredients, such as preserved lemons (which you can make yourself or purchase in specialty shops or online), smen, a kind of preserved butter, and the Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout. Since the olives, lemons, and smen are salty, don't be too liberal with the salt in this recipe—1/2 teaspoon or less. Just taste; you'll know.

To the unfamiliar, tagine can be a little confusing, because it's both the name of the dish, and the vessel in which the dish is cooked. Typically made of clay or ceramic, the tagine is used in northern African cuisine, and it is distinguished by its wide, circular base and a cone-shaped top. The tagine functions like a slow cooker in a sense, and the cone shape functions as a way to return moisture to the base of the tagine, creating a moist and flavorful dish.

Moroccan tradition is to eat directly from the tagine, using Moroccan bread to scoop up the chicken and sauce. Belgian fries (patate frite) often top the chicken, though you can use your favorite French fries. Serving rice on the side also helps you soak up the tasty juices. 

2:10

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"This tagine has a bold, bright flavor infused with preserved lemon, olives, and Middle Eastern spices. Buy chicken pieces to save time. I don't have a tagine, so I roasted the dish in the oven. It was delicious with couscous and roasted cauliflower. I passed lemon wedges and harissa at the table." —Danielle Centoni

A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

  • 1 to 2 preserved lemons, quartered and seeds removed

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces, skin removed, back discarded or reserved for another use

  • 2 large white or yellow onions, finely chopped

  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 small handful fresh cilantro, chopped

  • 1 small handful fresh parsley, chopped

  • 2 teaspoons powdered ginger

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric (or 1/4 teaspoon Moroccan yellow colorant)

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled, optional

  • 1 teaspoon smen, optional

  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ras el hanout, optional

  • 1/3 cup olive oil

  • 2 handfuls pitted olives (green or red, or mixed)

  • 1/4 cup water, approximately, if using a tagine

Steps to Make It

Marinate the Chicken

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    The Best Moroccan Chicken Tagine ingredients

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Remove the flesh from the preserved lemons and chop the flesh finely. Reserve rind for cooking.

    Remove the flesh from the preserved lemons and chop the flesh finely

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  3. Add the lemon flesh to a bowl along with the chicken, onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, ginger, pepper, turmeric, and salt. If using, add the saffron, ras el hanout, and smen. Mix well.

    Add the lemon flesh to a bowl along with the chicken, onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, ginger, pepper, turmeric, and salt

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  4. If time allows, let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Cook in either a tagine or in the oven. (See below for more information on both methods.)

    chicken in a bowl with seasoning, covered with plastic wrap

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Cooking in a Tagine

  1. Add enough of the olive oil to the tagine to coat the bottom.

    olive oil to the tagine

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Arrange the marinated chicken in the tagine, flesh-side down, and distribute the onions all around.

    Arrange the marinated chicken in the tagine

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  3. Add the olives and reserved rind of the preserved lemons, and drizzle the remaining olive oil over the chicken.

    Add the olives and reserved rind of the preserved lemons, and drizzle the remaining olive oil over the chicken

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  4. Add the water to the tagine, cover, and place on a heat diffuser over medium-low heat. Give the tagine time to reach a simmer without peaking. If you don't hear the tagine simmering within 20 minutes, slightly increase the heat, and then use the lowest heat setting required for maintaining a gentle—not rapid—simmer.

    Add the water to the tagine, cover

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  5. Allow the chicken to cook undisturbed for 80 to 90 minutes, and then turn the chicken over so it's flesh-side up. Cover the tagine again, and allow the chicken to finish cooking until very tender (about 45 minutes to 1 hour).

    Allow the chicken to cook in the tagine undisturbed

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  6. Turn off the heat, and let the tagine cool for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy.

    cooked chicken in a Tagine

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Cooking in the Oven

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F/220 C. Add enough of the olive oil to a large baking dish so it coats the bottom.

    Add enough of the olive oil to a large baking dish so it coats the bottom

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Add the sliced onions and garlic from the marinade.

    Add the sliced onions and garlic from the marinade

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  3. Then place the marinated chicken on top.

    chicken on top of the garlic mixture

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  4. Add the olives and reserved rind of the preserved lemons on top and drizzle the chicken with the remaining olive oil.

    Olives and lemons added to chicken tagine for the oven

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  5. Bake the chicken uncovered for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the chicken is light golden brown, basting occasionally.

    baked chicken mixture

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  6. Reduce the heat to 350 F/180 C and continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes or longer. The chicken should be deeply browned and the juices should run clear.

    Basting chicken tagine

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  7. Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy.

    The Best Moroccan Chicken Tagine

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Tips

  • For either method, you can cut a whole chicken into either halves or individual pieces prior to marinating. The pieces may fit better in a tagine; the halves are easier to handle in the oven and can be cut after cooking.
  • You'll get more flavor if you start marinating the chicken with the Moroccan spices the night before.
  • The cooking times may vary depending on the size of your chicken. In the tagine, 2 1/2 hours allows the tagine to be brought to a slow simmer so it doesn't dry out.
  • Check that the internal temperature of the chicken is between 165 and 175 F.


Can I Put My Tagine in the Oven?

Traditionally, tagines sit on a bed of charcoal bricks specifically designed to retain their heat for hours. However, home cooks may find it more practical to put the tagine in a low oven or over low heat on the stovetop instead.