Moroccan Chicken

As I sit here with a cool little nose pressed to my ankle, I'm deciding how to improve a particular recipe.  It's one of my favorites because of the exquisite combination of flavors.  I can't remember the name of the cookbook where I found it so I can't credit the cookbook, but it's goooood!

I first had this dish made with duck in a little restaurant on the Left Bank in Paris a number of years ago.  The restaurant was started in the 1800’s.  When you entered you had to go through the kitchen to get to the dining room.  Everyone was ordering this signature dish, duck with green olives.  So of course that was what was ordered and I was delighted with it.  Now, finding a way to replicate it upon returning home was another story.  At least until I was in the sale section of a book store and came upon a cookbook all about olives!

The recipe I found which replicated the taste almost perfectly (right down to the lemony gravy)was called "Moroccan Chicken with Cracked Green Olives".  Problem is, it calls for a whole chicken (or duck) which you are then to brown all over in a Dutch oven.  Maybe it's just me, but I have no luck getting a whole chicken browned that way.  One of the grocery stores here had chicken leg quarters on sale for .99/lb. which I decided to try.  One catch, you had to buy the "value pak" which gave me 6 quarters.  I figured being all dark meat, it would more closely resemble duck than my previous attempt using chicken breasts.  Although it was still delicious with white meat.

Like the crazy woman I am, I decided to cook all 6!  Do you know how long it takes to brown that much in a 6 qt. Dutch oven?  Forever.  You can't just put all 6 in because they'll steam vs. browning.  So two by two they were browned.  It was at this juncture that I came to the conclusion that I need a new, bigger Dutch oven.  Despite the olive oil, the skin of the chicken stuck like glue to the pan, so browning didn't really occur since when lifted to turn the legs over, all the skin stuck to the bottom of the pan and I was left with a skinless un-brown leg.  But I continued, scraping the skin off the bottom and tossing it, and went on to the next pair.  About an hour and 20 minutes later, all the chicken was cooked and I went on with the next step.  Okay, well maybe chicken quarters isn't the way to go, but it turned out delicious despite the lengthy cooking time!

Moroccan Chicken with Cracked Green Olives
2 cups (about ¾ lb.) small pimento stuffed green olives or cracked and
   pitted green olives
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 ½ to 4-pound chicken or duck, whole
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, ground
1 large pinch saffron threads, crushed with your fingers
2 ½ cups light chicken stock
Lettuce, red leaf or curly endive (optional)
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon, grated

Boil olives in water for 15 minutes.  Drain, cover with water again and boil the olives for 15 more  minutes (this process makes them less bitter and salty).  Set aside.

In a large casserole, with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, brown the chicken well on all sides.  Remove from the casserole and drain the fat from the pot.  Salt and pepper the chicken to taste.  In the same pot, sauté the ginger, garlic, cumin, and saffron in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil for 1 minute, and then add the chicken stock and stir.  Return the chicken to the pot, cover, and cook for 12 minutes on one side.  Then turn the chicken and cook, covered, for 12 minutes on the other side.  The chicken should be just done.  If it is not, cook for a few more minutes, and test again.  Remove the chicken from the liquid and put it in a serving dish on a bed of lettuce (or not).  Add the lemon juice to the liquid in the casserole and reduce until the sauce is slightly thickened (you might need to add 1 T. cornstarch or arrowroot, in a little cold water to thicken).  Add the olives just long enough to heat them.  With a slotted spoon, distribute the olives over the chicken.  Serve the gravy along side at the table.  Garnish the chicken with the grated lemon zest.
I usually serve this with Basmati rice to soak up the delicious gravy.

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