Moroccan Roasted Chicken With Preserved Lemons

DebbiSmirnoff / Getty Images 

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 3 hrs
Total: 3 hrs 20 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
615 Calories
42g Fat
10g Carbs
47g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 615
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 42g 54%
Saturated Fat 8g 41%
Cholesterol 152mg 51%
Sodium 842mg 37%
Total Carbohydrate 10g 4%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 47g
Vitamin C 11mg 56%
Calcium 61mg 5%
Iron 3mg 17%
Potassium 548mg 12%
*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.)

Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives is a classic Moroccan dish. The roasting method calls for marinating whole chickens with a Moroccan spice rub and then slow-roasting the chickens the next day. A savory onion, lemon, and saffron sauce is prepared stove top.

This method is particularly useful for feeding a crowd, as most of the preparation can be done the previous day. Moroccan etiquette is to serve one chicken for every three adults. Increase the recipe proportionally for the number of chickens you plan to make.

Also, try the conventional stove top method and tagine method of preparing this dish.


  • 1 whole chicken

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger

  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric

  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled

  • 1 small clove garlic, finely chopped or pressed

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

For the Sauce:

  • 2 large yellow or white onions

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 1 teaspoon ginger

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

  • 1 stick cinnamon stick, optional

  • 1 teaspoon smen, Moroccan preserved butter, optional

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled

  • 1​ preserved lemon, quartered, seeds removed

  • Handful red or green olives

Steps to Make It

Season the Chicken

  1. Make a spice rub for the chicken from the ginger, turmeric, garlic, cilantro, olive oil, and lemon juice.

  2. Gently lift and loosen the skin of the chicken from the breast and leg meat, leaving the skin intact. Spoon most of the spice mixture under the skin, and rub the spices over the meat, taking care to reach the leg.

  3. Turn the chicken over, and loosen the skin from the back of the chicken. Add the remaining spice rub to the back meat, reaching to the legs if possible.

  4. Salt and pepper the cavity of the chicken, truss the legs and rub a little olive oil on the outside of the chicken. Transfer the chicken to a glass or plastic bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate overnight.

Cook the Onion Sauce

  1. Set aside the saffron. Slice the onions as thinly as possible. Place the onions, garlic, remaining spices, cilantro, oil and smen in a heavy-bottomed shallow stock pot or Dutch oven. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for an hour or until the onions are soft and can easily be mashed with a spoon or vegetable masher. Avoid burning the onions, and add a little oil or water if necessary to prevent the onions from sticking.

  2. Mash the onions and continue cooking, uncovered, until the onions are reduced to a thick blended mass sitting in the oil. How long this takes will depend on how moist the onions were, how thinly you sliced them, and how wide your pot is.

  3. When the onions are a unified mass, stir in the saffron and remove the onions from the heat. At this point, the sauce can be cooled and refrigerated overnight.

Roast the Chicken

  1. Transfer the chicken to an oiled shallow roasting pan, allow the chicken to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven 325 F/160 C.

  2. Roast the chicken uncovered, basting occasionally and rotating the pan halfway through cooking, for 2 to 3 hours, or until the skin is golden brown and the leg can be moved easily in its joint.

  3. Transfer the cooked chicken to a serving plate, or hold warm in the turned off oven.

Finish Making the Sauce

  1. Pour the juices from the roasting pan into the onion sauce mixture, stirring to blend. Add the preserved lemon and olives, 2 or 3 tablespoons of water as needed and simmer the sauce over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until well-blended and the sauce is thick.

  2. Pour the sauce onto the serving platter, spooning a little sauce and olives over the chicken. Garnish the chicken with some of the preserved lemons, and serve immediately with Moroccan bread (khobz) for scooping up the chicken and sauce.