Moroccan Chicken and Onion Tagine Recipe with Djaj Beldi

chicken in a tagine
Moroccan Chicken Tagine. William Shaw/Photolibrary/Getty Images
  • 3 hrs 20 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins,
  • Cook: 3 hrs 10 mins
  • Yield: Serves 4
Ratings (4)

Chicken tagines such as this are common fare at casual restaurants throughout Morocco and very easy to recreate at home. They're extra delicious when prepared in a clay tagine, which imparts an earthy essence to the finished dish. Free range chickens (called djaj beldi in Morocco) are more highly regarded than factory raised hens but plan ahead as they do take more time to cook.

Although well-seasoned, this particular tagine is not spicy. You can increase the quantity of spices or add a chili pepper or two for a zestier presentation, but try not overshadow the prized flavor of a free range bird. The onions, some of which caramelize during cooking, will add subtle sweetness. A little preserved lemon and olives are optional additions.

Try to cook like the average Moroccan by skipping measuring spoons and simply sprinkling the approximate quantity of spices over the chicken before cooking. Exact measuring isn't critical to this dish. Remove the skin if you like, but I prefer to leave it intact when cooking free-range poultry in a tagine.

Cooking time is for a free range hen. Reduce this time by an hour if using a regular chicken.

What You'll Need

  • 1 chicken (cut into quarters)
  • 2 large onions (sliced)
  • 3 cloves garlic (pressed or finely chopped)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon Ras el Hanout
  • Optional: pinch of saffron threads
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Optional: 1/2 preserved lemon (sliced or cut into quarters)
  • Optional: handful of olives
  • Garnish: parsley or cilantro

How to Make It

This dish is best prepared in a clay or ceramic tagine. Alternatives are to use a Dutch oven or deep skillet with a lid, but there will be some compromise in flavor.

1. Place half of the onion slices and the pressed garlic in the bottom of a tagine. Arrange the chicken, skin-side up, on top of the onions.

2. With your fingers, sprinkle the spices over the chicken. Add the olive oil, allowing some of it to drizzle over the chicken, and then add the water around the chicken.

Arrange the remaining onion rings on top of the chicken.

3. Cover the tagine and place it over medium-low heat; use a diffuser if cooking the tagine on a heat source other than gas. Allow the tagine to heat slowly to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to the lowest temperature necessary to maintain the simmer.

4. Cook the chicken without turning until very tender, up to two hours for a regular chicken or three hours for a free range chicken. Test by seeing if you can easily pinch the meat off the bone.

5. Towards the end of cooking, add the preserved lemon and olives (if using) and check to be sure there is enough liquid to prevent the onions from scorching. Add a bit more water if necessary, keeping in mind that there should be relatively little sauce in the finished tagine; the sauce comprises mostly onions and oils.

6. Garnish with fresh parsley or cilantro, and serve the chicken directly from the tagine with Moroccan bread for scooping everything up.