The Best Moroccan Chicken Tagine Recipe

Moroccan Chicken Tagine

The Spruce 

Ratings (65)
  • Total: 2 hrs 45 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins
  • Cook: 2 hrs 30 mins
  • Yield: 4 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
520 Calories
38g Fat
12g Carbs
35g Protein
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

A classic dish, the 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. Either way, you'll enjoy a delicious meal that is sure to please everyone at the dinner table.

The chicken is marinated with Moroccan spices and you'll get more flavor if you start it 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. The time for the oven-roasted chicken is based on the average 3- to 4-pound roaster. With either, check that the internal temperature is between 165 and 175 F.

Pitted olives are recommended for this recipe. If you choose to use olives with pits, warn your diners that they will need to remove their own pits. 

If you like, add the optional ingredients of Ras el Hanout (an aromatic Moroccan spice mixture), smen (a Moroccan preserved butter), and saffron to give it even more flavor. These can be found at specialty stores, online, or you can make the Ras el Hanout, smen, and preserved lemons yourself. Since the olives, lemons, and smen are salty, don't be too liberal with the salt—1/2 teaspoon or less is best.

Ingredients

  • 1 to 2 preserved lemons (quartered and seeds removed)
  • 1 whole chicken (skin removed, cut into pieces)
  • 2 large onions (white or yellow, finely chopped)
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic (finely chopped or pressed)
  • 1 small handful fresh cilantro (chopped)
  • 1 small handful fresh parsley (chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric (or 1/4 teaspoon Moroccan yellow colorant)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or less, to taste)
  • Optional: 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads (crumbled)
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon smen
  • Optional: 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Ras el Hanout
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 handfuls olives (green or red, or mixed)
  • 1/4 cup water (approximately)

Steps to Make It

Marinate the Chicken

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.

Instead of chopping, you can tie the parsley and cilantro together into a bouquet and place it on top of the chicken during cooking.

Remove the flesh from the preserved lemon and chop the flesh finely. Add the lemon 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.

If time allows, let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Cooking in a Tagine

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

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

Add the olives and preserved lemon quarters, and drizzle the remaining olive oil over the chicken.

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.

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).

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

Cooking in the Oven

Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C).

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

Add the sliced onions and garlic from the marinade.

Then place the marinated chicken on top.

Add the olives and lemon on top and drizzle the chicken with the remaining olive oil.

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

Reduce the heat to 350 F (180 C) and continue baking for another 30 minutes or longer. The chicken should be deeply browned, the juices should run clear, and the leg joints should move easily.

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

Serving

Moroccan tradition is to eat directly from the tagine, using Moroccan bread to scoop up the chicken and sauce. If you like, transfer your oven-roasted chicken to a serving platter.

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.