Several weeks ago, I saw a recipe for preserved lemons (another goodie from Jerusalem: A Cookbook… I seriously need to get that cookbook already!), and decided it would be a fun thing to try. I had a huge bag of lemons, so it seemed the perfect opportunity. I salted the lemons, shoved them in a jar, waited a week, then added more lemon juice and olive oil, and then waited some more. You know what? Turns out I don’t like waiting. I had to hide them out of sight because they were driving me crazy from curiosity and impatience.
But now, their day has come. When I found this recipe, I thought, “Yes, preserved lemons, it’s time.” Having never had a preserved lemon before, I didn’t know what to expect. As I was preparing this dish, I took a small bite of one on its own. And then I took another little bite. And another. Kind of addictive. The lemons still have their characteristic tartness, but it’s somehow balanced, if not tempered, but the salty brine they’ve sat in. The small bit of red pepper lends them a tiny bit of heat. In a word, they’re awesome.
But the lemons aren’t the whole story of this dish, there is plenty of other yummy, interesting stuff going on- olives and raisins and spices and garlic- oh my! If that sounds like way too much for you, take heart; somehow they all take on a bit of the flavor of the others and wind up all tasting so perfect that you’ll wonder why YOU never thought of putting olives and raisins together. The spice mix, while it may seem heavy on the ginger, winds up being just right, without making this dish too strongly flavored or spicy. Most of the flavor really comes from the lemon, olives, and raisins, and of course, from the chicken itself. The juices from the baking chicken combine to create puddles of the most flavorful, buttery-sweet tasting sauce, and the raisins soak it up until they are bursting with it. The olives let go of some of their salt and soak up the sweet sauce a bit, too, which sounds weird, but is actually pretty heavenly. And the lemons… oh, the lemons. The ones that have fallen to the bottom of the dish get soaked in the chicken juices, while the ones on top not only soak up the juices, but also get perfectly browned little bits at the edges, and become kind of chewy and concentrated. I know it might not be for everyone… but those lemons, they were one of my favorite parts. Everything good about the preserved lemons just gets concentrated.
However, don’t be discouraged if you don’t have any preserved lemons lying around. This is totally worth making with fresh lemons, too; it will be almost as entirely as delicious as it is with preserved lemons.
- 2-3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (I used leg quarters, with thighs attached.)
- salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
- pinch of saffron (optional)
- 1/4 cup water
- 4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
- 3/4 cup raisins
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 large preserved lemon, sliced thin (or fresh lemon would work, too)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a small bowl, combine ginger, sugar, cayenne, and saffron. Set aside.
Season chicken generously with salt and pepper, then place them in a roasting pan, skin side up. Pour the water into the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the garlic, olives, and raisins over the top and tuck in the cinnamon stick in the middle of the pan. Sprinkle the spice mixture over everything, followed by the sliced lemons. Finally, drizzle the olive oil over everything. Cover the roasting pan with foil.
Roast the chicken in the preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours, removing the foil after the first 30-45 minutes. After you remove the foil, you can baste the chicken with its juices a bit, but it's not entirely necessary. The chicken is done when the juices run clear if you cut into it.
To serve, transfer both chicken pieces and all the juices from the pan onto a serving dish, and sprinkle the fresh parsley over the top of the chicken.
This goes perfectly with hot basmati rice, or even better, couscous.