We had to start this recipe several weeks ago. Actually, we could have started it Monday last, but life got in the way. This recipe is a dish by Moroccan cooking guru Paula Wolfert of chicken, preserved lemon, olives, fennel, and a melange of improbable spices. The ingredients came together to form an amazing dish that can only be described as "unctuous."
First, preserve a mess o' Meyer lemons.
Preserved Moroccan-Style Lemons
This recipe is from Gourmet magazine.
Preserved lemons are perhaps most at home in Moroccan dishes, but we love their complex, bright flavor and aroma in all kinds of soups, stews, and salads. We’ve adapted Mediterranean-food authority Paul Wolfert’s quick method and made it even faster by blanching the lemons first. If you manage to find Meyer lemons, this is a great way to capture their unforgettable taste and perfume.
[Note: We did use Meyer lemons, but they are smaller than others, so adjust number up to make ~3 lb. Salt half and juice half.]
10 to 12 lemons (2 1/2 to 3 lb)
2/3 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
A 4- to 6-cup jar with a tight-fitting lid
Blanch 6 lemons (or 1/2 of the lemons if using smallish Meyer lemons) in boiling water 5 minutes, then drain. Cut each lemon into 8 wedges and discard seeds. Toss with kosher salt in a bowl, then firmly pack with salt into jar.
Squeeze lemon juice from remaining lemons to measure 1 cup. Add enough juice to cover lemons in jar, and screw on lid. Let stand at room temperature, shaking jar gently once a day for 5 days. After 5 days, add olive oil to lemons and chill, covered.
COOKS’ NOTE: Lemons keep, chilled, 1 year.
Once you have preserved lemons in the fridge, you can make:
Paula Wolfert's Chicken with Preserved Lemon, Olives, and Fennel
4 large chicken breasts (original calls for thighs and drumsticks...ymmv)
2 T. coarse salt
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
8 oz. onions, sliced
1 tsp. crushed garlic
12 pieces preserved lemons (see recipe above), roughly 1.5 lemons, pulp removed and rinsed
1 pinch saffron threads, crushed, lightly toasted, mixed with 1/2 cup hot water and allowed to steep for 10 minutes
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. green anise seed
2 lbs. small fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into thin lengthwise slices
18 green-ripe olives or red olives
Some fronds reserved from the fennel, for garnish
1 T. chopped parsley, for garnish
Trim the chicken of excess fat. Put in plastic container, sprinkle with 2 T. sea or kosher salt, cover with 1 quart water, and let soak for 2 hours. Drain and pat dry.
Heat the oil in a large ovenproof skillet. Add the chicken skin side down and fry, without turning, until golden. (If using boneless, skinless chicken breasts, brown lightly on both sides.) Transfer the chicken to a side dish. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook over medium heat until tender.
While onions are softening, lightly toast anise seeds and ginger in small pan. Set aside.
To the onions and garlic, add the preserved lemon, the saffron water, ginger and anise seed and stir once. Return the chicken to the pan and bring to a boil, then cover, lower the heat, and cook for 25 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325° F.
Turn each piece of chicken over and bring the cooking juices to a boil. Add the fennel and olives, cover and place in the oven to cook for 25-30 minutes.
Taste the sauce and correct the seasoning. Serve hot, sprinkled with the fennel fronds and parsley.
We steamed about 10 oz. of spinach as a side, then had lemon cake for dessert. Yum. Really yum. We have enough left over for Tuesday night's dinner.