A fuss-free recipe for Moroccan chicken tray bake

English chef and food writer Thomasina Miers' colourful Moroccan chicken tray bake with turmeric, apricots, honey and pistachio. Miers is also the founder of the Wahaca group of Mexican restaurants in the United Kingdom.
English chef and food writer Thomasina Miers' colourful Moroccan chicken tray bake with turmeric, apricots, honey and pistachio. Miers is also the founder of the Wahaca group of Mexican restaurants in the United Kingdom. PHOTO: LOUISE HAGGER FOR THE GUARDIAN

LONDON (THE GUARDIAN) - Imagine yourself sitting in a sun-soaked, dappled courtyard filled with lemon trees, an intricate mosaic underfoot. Whether or not you are able to go abroad this summer, one way to evoke a real sense of somewhere else is through its food.

So this week, I bring you Morocco, by means of a heady mix of aromas, tastes and textures. If you think the recipe looks too much from the length of its list of ingredients, think again: it is no more than a simple job of assembling a few aromatic spices, slathering them all over some chicken legs and sticking the lot in an oven to bake.

This is one for romantics who, while they may not have a tagine (a traditional Moroccan clay cooking pot with a conical lid), still want to feel as if they’re having lunch on the Formica table of some north African souk, complete with hot black mint tea.

Moroccan chicken tray bake with turmeric, apricots, honey and pistachio

The turmeric and apricots give this a wonderful colour, and the cooking creates a sea of sauce that’s made for soaking into couscous, preserved-lemon-flecked or otherwise, with which I’d be inclined to serve it. My only other accompaniments would be a big bowl of steamed spinach (perhaps dressed in good olive oil and lemon juice) and a smaller one of natural yoghurt (maybe sprinkled with paprika), plus, some traditional music coming through the speakers to complete the picture. 

The spice mix in the recipe can be put to many other uses: you can make a sumptuous vegetarian tagine of sweet potato and chickpeas using the same fennel, pistachio, turmeric and apricot mix. Or try the spices with lamb, or lentils, or even sprinkled over flatbreads with just melted butter for accompaniment. Shred leftover chicken into a green salad with a yoghurt and tahini dressing for an unusual and exotic salad, sprinkled with pine nuts.

Ingredients

1 tsp cumin seeds
1½ tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 Tbs paprika
½ Tbs turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbs ground ginger
2 Tbs runny honey
3 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp salt
4 chicken legs
6 apricots, stoned and halved
1 whole lemon, cut into eighths
2 small fennel bulbs, each trimmed and cut into 8 wedges
3 plum tomatoes, quartered
8 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
30ml red wine vinegar
2 Tbs water
50g pistachios, roughly chopped
1 small bunch of coriander, leaves picked

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C.

2. Put the cumin, coriander seeds and peppercorns in a mortar and grind very fine. Transfer to a large bowl, add the other spices (paprika, turmeric, ground cinnamon, and ground ginger) and stir in the honey, two tablespoons of oil and two teaspoons of salt.

3. Once everything is well-mixed, cut a few slashes into the chicken legs, add them to the bowl and rub the sticky mixture all over and into the chicken until all the legs are nicely coated. Set aside.

4. Scatter the apricots, lemon wedges, fennel, tomatoes and garlic over the base of a large baking dish that will easily accommodate the chicken in a single layer. Then, sit the chicken legs on top, making sure there is a little space between them.

5. Drizzle over any remaining marinade and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the red wine vinegar and two tablespoons of water, then roast for 45 minutes.

6. Carefully remove from the oven, scatter the pistachios all over the top, and return the dish to the oven for a final 10 minutes.

7. Check that the chicken is cooked by inserting a skewer into the thickest part of the leg near the bone: if the juices run clear, it is ready.

8. Remove from the oven, cover the dish with foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Use that time to prepare some couscous or other side dishes to serve with it.

9. When you are ready to eat, rip over the coriander leaves and serve with a good dollop of yoghurt.

Serves four