One of the most renowned and popular dishes in Morocco, Djej Makalli combines two staple ingredients of Moroccan cuisine: Preserved lemons and olives. The chicken is marinated in flavorful spices then slow-simmered in a sauce that will make your taste buds sing.
Moroccan food is considered to be one of the most diversified cuisines in the world, its country having interacted with and embraced many other nations and cultural influences over the centuries. One of Morocco’s top priorities has been to protect and preserve its diverse legacy and culture. Moroccan cuisine is primarily Berber-Moorish, but is also influenced by Europe and the Mediterranean in some of its techniques and flavors, evidenced by today’s featured dish. Moroccan food is known for its vibrant flavors and this Moroccan Chicken is a perfect example: Garlic, ginger, cumin, turmeric, preserved lemon, olives, cilantro, parsley…these are a few of the ingredients that combine to produce a truly unforgettable meal. But the undisputed star of the show is the preserved lemon. Preserved lemons are lemons on steroids. They add intensity of flavor without the sourness of fresh lemons. They completely transform any dish in which they’re used. There is no substitute.
“Click” Preserved Lemons to see my article on what they are, how they’re used, and how to make them (easy, easy, easy!)
Traditionally this chicken dish would be cooked in a special North African pot called a Tagine. It’s formed entirely of a heavy clay, which is often painted or glazed, such as mine, pictured below. It’s fairly shallow and consists of a base where the food is placed and a large cone/dome-shaped lid that is designed to promote the return of all condensation to the bottom. With the cover removed, the base can be taken to the table for serving.
For the recipe in the picture below, CLICK HERE.
But fear not, you don’t need a tagine to get heavenly results. This Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives will become an instant family favorite. My 2 and 4 year old kids both loved it and my husband couldn’t wait to take the leftovers with him to work the next day.
Bottom line: This dish is a must. Whether you’re already adventurous and love world cuisine, would like to become more familiar with world cuisine, or just plain appreciate good food, this dish is for you. Make it. You’ll be very happy you did. The layers of flavor in this dish are amazing! Just don’t forget to make those preserved lemons first – they’re a must.
Let’s get started!
You can use 4 whole chicken breasts if you like. I prefer to use two and cut them in half lengthwise to make smaller fillets. This dish can also be made with bone-in chicken pieces (traditionally you would use a whole chicken and cut it up into pieces). Whichever route you take, all roads lead to culinary heaven.
Combine all the marinade ingredients.
Place the chicken in a zip-lock bag and pour the marinade over it. Swish it around to ensure the chicken is all coated. Let it marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight to achieve maximum flavor.
Very finely dice the onion and chop the cilantro and parsley.
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the onions until soft and transparent, 5-7 minutes.
Add the chicken and cook just until white, about 2 minutes on each side. (In Morocco, traditionally the chicken is not fried first but just briefly cooked until white and then slow simmered in the sauce.)
Add the broth and any remaining marinade from the zip-lock bag. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, turning the chicken over once after 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, get one preserved lemon and discard the pulp. Thoroughly rinse the peels to get rid of the excess salt.
Finely chop the preserved lemon peel.
Add the preserved lemon, chopped cilantro and parsley, and olives to the chicken. Stir to incorporate them into the sauce. Return to a simmer, cover, and simmer for another 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and add salt to taste.
- 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut in half lengthwise to make 4 fillets (you can use 4 chicken breasts if you prefer a larger serving, you can also use bone-in chicken pieces if you prefer)
- For the marinade:
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed and finely minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger
- ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ¾ cup chicken broth
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 preserved lemon, pulp discarded, peels thoroughly rinsed and finely chopped
- ½ cup pitted or whole Kalamata olives, rinsed
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- To make the marinade, combine the olive oil, garlic, ginger, cumin, turmeric, salt and pepper. Place the chicken in a zip-lock bag and pour the marinade over. Swish around to ensure the chicken is thoroughly coated. Let marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight for maximum flavor.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Cook the onions until soft and translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the chicken and cook just until it turns white, about 2 minutes on each side. Add the broth and any remaining marinade from the zip-lock bag. Bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, turning the chicken over once after 10 minutes.
- Add the preserved lemon, parsley, cilantro and olives, stir to incorporate into the sauce, cover and simmer for another 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and add salt to taste. Serve immediately with a leafy green salad, couscous or bread.