Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons

Moroccan chicken tagine recipe in a red bowl

The Spruce Eats / 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 tagine gets tons of flavor from preserved lemons, olives, and onions. It can be cooked on the stovetop in an authentic tagine or roasted in a baking pan in the oven, depending on 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.

What Exactly Is a Tagine?

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: the cone shape returns moisture to the base of the tagine, creating a moist and flavorful dish. 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 (this recipe uses the stovetop method).

Ingredients You'll Need to Make This Tagine

This recipe includes a number of traditional Moroccan ingredients. Here's a rundown of the ones that might be less familiar if you don't cook Moroccan food often.

  • Preserved lemons: Lemons preserved in salt add brightness to this dish and you really can't replicate their pickled flavor with lemon juice or zest. You can easily make preserved lemons at home, or you can buy them at well stocked grocery stores, as well as at specialty shops and online.
  • Smen: Smen is a preserved butter that has a somewhat cheesy flavor. It's optional for this recipe, but helps give the tagine its authentic flavor. It's easy to make at home, although it has to sit for at least a month. You can also buy it in specialty stores and online—Zamouri Spices is one source.
  • Ras el hanout: While no two versions of the Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout are exactly the same, it typically includes cardamom, nutmeg, anise, mace, cinnamon, ginger, various peppers, and turmeric. This recipe calls for a homemade ras el hanout, but you can also experiment with the blends available from various brands.

Tips for Making this Tagine

  • Familiarize yourself with your equipment: If you've never cooked in a tagine before (or if it's been awhile), be sure to read through the manufacturer's instructions and see this guide about how to cook in a Moroccan tagine.
  • Cut up a whole chicken: Give people the option of light or dark meat by starting with a whole chicken for this recipe. For either the tagine or the baking pan 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.
  • Marinate overnight: You'll get more flavor if you start marinating the chicken with the Moroccan spices the night before you want to cook the tagine.
  • Mind the salt: Since the olives, lemons, and smen in this recipe are salty, don't be too liberal with the added salt in this dish—1/2 teaspoon or less.
  • Use a heat diffuser: If you're cooking this dish in a tagine on the stovetop, it's important to use a heat diffuser to so the ceramic doesn't crack and break.
  • Be flexible about cooking times: The cooking times may vary depending on the size of your chicken. Use the cooking times in the recipe as a guideline and check the internal temperature of the chicken with an instant read thermometer. Cook the chicken until the thermometer registers between 165 and 175 F in the thickest part of the chicken.

How to Serve This Tagine

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 fry recipe or heat up packaged fries. Serving rice on the side also helps you soak up the tasty juices. 


Click Play to See This Moroccan Chicken Tagine Come Together

"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


  • 1 to 2 preserved lemons, quartered and seeds removed

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces, skin removed, back discarded or reserved for another use (or an equivalent mix of chicken parts)

  • 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 ground 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, red, or mixed)

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

Steps to Make It

Marinate the Chicken

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for the best Moroccan chicken tagine recipe gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

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

    Flesh removed from preserved lemons and chopped finely

    The Spruce Eats / 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.

    Lemon added to bowl along with the chicken, onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, ginger, pepper, turmeric, and salt

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

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

    Chicken in a bowl with seasonings and covered with plastic wrap

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Cooking in a Tagine

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

    Olive oil added to the bottom of tagine

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Arrange the marinated chicken in the tagine, skin side up, and distribute the onions all around.

    Chicken and onions in the tagine

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

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

    Olives and preserved lemon rind added to tagine

    The Spruce Eats / 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 peeking. 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.

    Water added to tagine and then covered

    The Spruce Eats / 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).

    Chicken cooking in the tagine undisturbed

    The Spruce Eats / 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, resting

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Cooking in the Oven

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

    Olive oil coating the bottom of a large baking dish

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

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

    Sliced onions and garlic from the marinade added to baking dish

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  3. Then place the marinated chicken on top.

    Chicken on top of the garlic mixture

    The Spruce Eats / 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 lemon rind added to chicken tagine for the oven

    The Spruce Eats / 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 tagine in the oven

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

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

    Chicken tagine in the oven, cooked

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

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

    Moroccan chicken tagine in the oven, resting

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck