Saturday, May 29, 2010

Maryam's Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives

Here's the recipe...
3-4 pound chicken, in 8 pieces -- including the neck and what innards you can tolerate
1 lemon

(Maryam says there's a tagine that's made only with offal -- but what's the most delicious-sounding term here?! Giblets? Sweetmeats? Anyway, she says it is amazing -- I have never seen it on any menu here.)

2 cups green olives, pitted, drained

Handful of cilantro, minced
Handful of parsley, minced
1/2 a preserved lemon (recipe to follow), seeds removed, rough-diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 scant teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 cloves of garlic (for a 3 pound chicken), minced
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch saffron threads

Here's an issue: into the fresh herb and spice marinade Maryam emptied a little sachet (maybe a teaspoon) of orange powder, a saffron-based powdered food coloring. I was thinking that to achieve both the taste and the color of saffron, you could steep the pinch of saffron threads in a little boiling water -- then add to the cooking chicken (see below, Putting it all together)... haven't yet tried this method.

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large red onion, diced
scant 1/2 cup, maybe less, sunflower oil

Water to cover the chicken for poaching (the term "poach" is probably not the correct one -- but the chicken really cooks in this last step)

Wash the chicken pieces vigorously under warm running water; stack them in a bowl.

Meanwhile, into a bowl big enough to take the chicken pieces, squeeze all the juice and pulp out of one lemon. Add maybe a tablespoon of salt, perhaps less. Add a couple cups of water, stir up, then add the chicken. Let sit to brine while you prepare the fresh herb and spice marinade.
Rinse and drain the olives; set them in a pot with water enough to cover; bring to a boil, turn down a bit, then let them simmer vigorously until most of the water has boiled away. You're left with not-so-salty, al-dente, super-tasty olives. They hold up surprisingly well under such treatment.

Fresh herb and spice marinade
In a small bowl, mix together the minced preserved lemon, minced herbs, salt, pepper, garlic and spices. (Note the spot of bright orange -- this is the powdered saffron food dye; see issue above.)Add the olive oil, mix again, taste, then correct for salt.

Remove chicken from brine and rub marinade vigorously all over each piece of chicken -- under skin, into the nooks and crannies. Set aside.
Putting it all together
Add the diced onion to a stock pot -- Maryam's method pictured here and noted below --then layer the slathered chicken on top, glug-glug the sunflower oil over all and set on a high fire for for 2 minutes, turning often.

Turn heat down a bit, keep cooking the chicken and onions together for another 15 minutes. Turn every now and again. Marry the onions and the oil and the slathered chicken!

Now add a couple cupfuls of water, enough to put the water level just under the top layer of chicken pieces. Cook for about 20-25 minutes, or until chicken is tender. In the last 5 minutes, drain the olives (whatever of the liquid is left -- should not be much), add them to the mix so they can hang with everybody and heat through.
Transfer either to a real tagine or a dish, then serve with rounds of bread -- traditionally the way to eat it -- no forks, please, just clean fingers and hungry appreciative bellies.
On the tagine -- the actual terra cotta pot itself
I was surprised to learn that one legit method for cooking tagine is to make it in a stock pot, as Maryam did -- and serve it in the tagine. Heat your the tagine itself on the burner (top and bottom both) maybe 5 minutes, add the finished tagine; put on the conical lid, then serve, removing the lid with a flourish and a whoosh of aromatic steam.

A word on Maryam's Methods
No cutting board! Except for the fresh herbs. Garlic and onion both she held in her left hand and used the paring knife with her right, fingers flying, bits dropping into the bowl or stock pot, respectively.

Homemade Preserved Lemons
Cross-hatch a pile of lemons (two perpendicular cuts on the same end of a lemon, about 1/2 way into the fruit) -- as many lemons as will fit snugly into a large jar. Stuff salt and salt and salt into each cross-hatched lemon, then stuff them all, well packed all around with salt, into the jar. Cover and seal tightly. Put in a cool dark place FOR A YEAR.

Shop talk

I'm sifting through loads of photos from the last ten months, looking at curves of water and shore, sky and mountain, or blurred figures hurrying through the frame -- not many faces except those of loved ones. I keep thinking about that photographer’s phrase -- "unearned intimacy": the camera is the way in -- it forges a path for you that's particular, not false, but defined by that tool. I've got all sorts of discomforts surrounding just this thing. My cousin sent me a link to the travel blog of a professional photographer ( who recently buzzed through Morocco. Beautiful faces, lovely lines. I'm pondering the ways in which, because of my French, I've kept Darija, Moroccan Arabic, at bay (listen to that way of putting it). In what ways, precisely because of language, have I locked myself out? It seems, with less than three weeks to go before we leave, there’s a lot I wish I had done.

I asked a friend of Abderrahman’s if I could take a cooking lesson from her—which turned out to be more of a delicious demonstration than a hands-on participatory adventure (and I subsequently lost all the photos I took—but I will post the recipe anyway). Maryam is lovely.

An American friend, who came for the lesson, had to take off right before the tagine was ready (chicken with preserved lemon and green olives), and Paul left for a much-anticipated football match between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich. So it was the three of us—Maryam, no-nap Hazel, and me—sitting down at table. Breezy, doors open, late hot light streaming in. The tagine, of course, is amazing.

Maryam tells me that she’s one of five sisters—she herself is 36, right in the middle of the five; her youngest, at 17, is still at home. Her mother has been sick. She supports the three of them. She makes 2400 Dirhams a month -- that’s about $300 -- cooking full time at a riad in the Medina. She’s been there four years. The Frenchwoman who owns the riad has refused her a raise and says Maryam can go find another job; the proprietère can hire someone else in the blink of an eye. Maryam says she has a friend in France, a woman like herself, who cooks for a family there and makes so much more money in comparison. That wouldn’t take much.

I know you can read about lives like Maryam’s in the section of your guidebook labeled Economy or Women or Post-Colonial Culture. But it’s different when you eat a meal with someone in your own home and converse across the same space you share with your family. Hazel and I were in the Medina this week and met Maryam at Abderrahman’s shop. She had a work story. Last night the guardian broke an 8000 Dirham fountain. The proprietère would not hear Maryam’s protestations otherwise—and was threatening to dock her salary. This is the same guardian who broke a plate, made others take the fall, and only later, after Maryam had paid for it, fessed up to the proprietère. Anyway. Abderrahman, with his typical grin (aimed at both of us -- Hazel was busy eating olives and finishing her tea), said that sometimes when Maryam stops in for a glass of tea, he says to her just breathe, do not talk, calm yourself, clear your thoughts.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Maison de la Photographie

We visited the Maison de la Photographie in the Medina yesterday -- hot Sunday outing spent moving through cool white rooms and then taking in the view from the extraordinarily scenic terrace on top.

The space is fairly spare, as you'd imagine it would be; the photos take primacy -- striking, beautiful. Like the Musée de Marrakech with its fabrics and carvings, daggers and tilework, the Maison captures the bygone, achieves a stillness amidst the passing of people and time outside its doors.

A tiny "Shell Oil" sign caught my eye in one large-format image from Tangier, 1926. Nick Spicer, writing recently on the Al Jazeera website, called BP and its fellow oil barons modern-day Ahabs, in search of oil at any cost. The environment, of course, continues to pay. Those tiny grainy letters, small but distinct, also reminded me of a toss-away scene in Sabrina (out on Long Island Sound) when Audrey Hepburn asks Humphrey Bogart if he's ever been to Paris -- he replies, "Only for a night on the way to Baghdad for an oil deal." I'm sure he didn't say oil deal, but he did say Baghdad. How many Americans know our own (often exploitative) history when it comes to deals gone down?

The Maison also houses the first color print in Morocco, Georges Chevalier - Groupe d'enfants a Safi, Autochrome, 1926:

And others. This one, of a boy (not sure if it was taken in Marrakech), also hangs in the Musée de Marrakech a few winding streets away. He has a certain regard, a gentle tilt to his head, his body leans in just such a way. A looping scroll of stonework fixes itself above him. You wonder what he thought about that day or the days that followed (how many were there?), or what language his thoughts took shape within.

Here's a view of thirsty girl and balcony gallery beyond

Continuing up, we passed the doorway to a tiny kitchen

then took a steep little set of spiral steps to the terrace

and cold drinks

Across the way is the graveyard of all lanterns (says my friend)

and in the distance La Koutoubia -- blurred and framed by some heat-struck oleander

Lovely day.

The Maison has an outpost in the Ourika valley -- here's the link to both sites:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Crescent moon

There's a hot wind blowing steadily tonight. Crescent moon, beautiful, hangs in the west. Hazel is wailing from her room. It's way beyond bedtime. She wrestles with an unruly pillow and laments, "Oh, man! It's not working!" She quiets.

Then Paul says to me, "Kaluha and cream?" Grown up ice cream is good. Sweet dreams.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Still thinking about Holland

On the day we left Amsterdam we visited a place called Keukenhof (literally "kitchen garden" -- ) -- glorious color at its peak, everything a little windblown from rain the night before. Hazel, all things considered -- including the three and a half weeks of travel, held up pretty well.