Tagine de poulet aux petits pois

Spicy Moroccan chicken with fresh peas

This easy and deeply flavorful dish has been adapted from the Moroccan original to be made with chicken instead of pigeon for the simple reason that pigeon (squab) has become hard to find. But if you feel like experimenting, you can substitute guinea fowl, Cornish game hen or … pigeon, adjusting the roasting time accordingly for smaller birds.

The recipe is made in three stages: marinating and roasting the poultry, shelling and cooking the peas, and finally combining them. You will need to get started well before suppertime because the poultry has to marinate for at least an hour.

For best results, start with fresh peas in the pod (but as they are not always in season, frozen peas may be used as well). The peas may be cooked in either chicken broth or water. If you don’t have broth on hand, you can make it while the chicken is marinating.

As for the chicken, there are two options — a whole chicken cut into pieces or chicken legs only, which I prefer. For hearty eaters choose whole legs (thigh plus drumstick), while just the thighs (hauts de cuisse) will suffice for lighter appetites.

The quantities below will serve 4 people.

1 chicken cut into pieces or 4 chicken thighs
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. freshly ground coriander seeds
1 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper
1-1/4 pound (600 g) fresh peas in the pod or about 2 cups (9 ounces/250 g) shelled peas
1 medium onion, red or blond
1-1/2 cup homemade chicken broth or water
fresh cilantro for garnish

Start by marinating the chicken. Check the chicken pieces and remove any extra fat.

In a large bowl, mix the lemon juice with 3 tbsp. olive oil. Add the garlic, cumin, ground coriander, 1/2 tsp. salt and pepper. Stir to blend. Add the chicken pieces and stir to coat evenly. Marinate at room temperature for one hour, or for up to 24 hours in the fridge.

While the chicken is marinating, shell the peas. Finely mince the onion.

When ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 210 C (400 F, gasmark 7).

Use 1 tbsp. olive oil to coat the bottom and sides of a roasting pan. Distribute the chicken pieces in the pan, skin side up. Roast for 40 minutes.

While the chicken is roasting, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil to sizzling in a large pot. Add the onions and sauté, stirring, until they start to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add the peas, the broth or water and 1/2 tsp. salt. Bring to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, for 15 minutes.

When the chicken comes out of the oven, nestle the pieces among the peas. Pour the roasting juices into the pot. Reheat gently for about 5 minutes.

Serve piping hot in shallow bowls, over couscous if desired. Decorate with snipped cilantro leaves. Serves 4.

Note: The tagine (Moroccan stew) may be served on its own or over steamed couscous, preceded perhaps by a Moroccan carrot salad, herbal tomato salad, chickpea salad and/or eggplant caviar. For dessert you could serve fresh seasonal fruit, a walnut-almond-orange cake or sliced oranges with star anise. A smooth red or crisp rosé would go well.

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