Moroccan Chicken Rfissa - Trid with Chicken, Lentils and Fenugreek

chicken and lentil rfissa
Moroccan Rfissa. Lucyin/Wikimedia Commons
  • 3 hrs 30 mins
  • Prep: 60 mins,
  • Cook: 2 hrs 30 mins
  • Yield: Serves 4 to 6
Ratings (11)

There may be nothing elegant about pouring hot meat and broth over a plateful of bread, yet around the world such humble fare is regarded as savory, satisfying comfort food at its best. In Iraq you'll find chicken and chickpeas served this way, in the UAE lamb and vegetables, and in Italy, a number of soups are ladled over bread.

Morocco, too, has its own mouthwatering version – rfissa medhoussa or trid, a wonderfully savory chicken, onion and lentil dish that's served on a bed of shredded trid pastry, msemen, meloui or even day old bread. The blend of Ras El Hanout, fenugreek seeds (helba in Arabic), saffron and other spices makes a truly unique and delicious dish. As such, it's traditionally served on the third day following the birth of a child or for other special occasions. Of course, it can be offered at other times as well, and it's a favorite to offer at casual company dinners.

Organic, free range chicken (djaj beldi) are preferred for this dish; regular chickens may be used instead. You'll find the stew itself easy to make, while the traditional bed of trid or msemen is more time-consuming to prepare. Although that can be done concurrent with the stewing of the chicken, you may find it preferable to make the msemen a day or more in advance; once shredded, it can be frozen until needed and then reheated by steaming in a couscoussier.

Cooking time is for a free range chicken; reduce the time by half if using a regular chicken. If serving four people, make one batch of the Msemen Recipe. If serving six, make 1 1/2 batches.

Also try a variation of this dish: Bormache - Meknes Style Rfissa.

What You'll Need

  • 1 chicken (quartered or left whole)
  • 2 to 3 large onions (thinly sliced)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 2 teaspoons Ras El Hanout
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads (heated gently and then crumbled)
  • For the Lentils:
  • 1/2 cup lentils (uncooked)
  • 2 tablespoons fenugreek seeds (soaked overnight and drained)
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads (heated gently and then crumbled)
  • 1 small bunch cilantro (finely chopped)
  • 1 small bunch parsley (finely chopped)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon smen (Moroccan preserved butter)
  • For the Msemen or Trid:
  • 1 to 1 1/2 batches msemen (or trid, cooked)

How to Make It

Ahead of Time

  1. To reduce their pungency and soften them, soak the fenugreek seeds in water for at least several hours, but overnight if possible. When ready to use, drain. Although they are normally stewed directly in the broth, you may want to tie the soaked lentils in cheesecloth, which allow you to offer them on the side in the event someone at the table doesn't care for them.
  2. If you'll be cooking a regular chicken, you may also want to soak your lentils for a few hours, as it will help them to cook faster if using a regular chicken.
  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, mix the chicken with the onions, olive oil, salt, pepper, ginger, turmeric and Ras El Hanout spices. Stir to coat the chicken well, cover, and set aside to marinate for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Make and shred the msemen or trid pastry into bite-size pieces – note that it's easiest to shred the msemen while they're hot – OR plan to make the msemen while the chicken and lentils are simmering on the stove.

Cook the Chicken and Lentils

  1. Place the chicken on the stove over medium heat and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, for about 15 to 20 minutes, until a rich sauce has formed.
  2. Follow one of these methods, depending on the type of chicken you're cooking: If using a free range chicken: Add the drained fenugreek seeds, saffron, parsley, cilantro and 4 to 5 cups of water. Cover and simmer over medium-low to medium heat for about one hour. Add the lentils and continue cooking, covered, for another hour or longer, until the chicken and lentils are quite tender. Add water during the cooking if necessary to ensure that rich, ample broth is left in the pot. If using a regular, factory-raised chicken: Add the drained lentils, drained fenugreek seeds, saffron, parsley, cilantro and 3 to 4 cups of water. Cover and simmer over medium-low to medium heat for about one hour, or until the lentils are tender and the chicken is well-cooked. (Remove the chicken if the lentils do not yet test done; it can be returned to the pot to reheat once the lentils have finished cooking.) There should be ample, rich broth in the pot; if there's not, add a little water, taking care not to dilute the seasoning.
  1. Taste the broth and adjust seasoning. Add the teaspoon of smen, swirling the pot to mix it into the broth.
  2. If desired, remove the chicken from the pot and place it under a broiler for a few minutes to brown and crisp the skin.

Serve the Chicken Rfissa

  1. Shortly before serving time, heat a little water in the base of a couscoussier. Place the shredded msemen in the steamer basket over the water and steam for about 10 minutes, until tender and heated through.
  2. Arrange the msemen on a large serving dish. Add the chicken to the bed of msemen and distribute most of the broth, onions and lentils over the chicken and msemen. Reserve a bowlful or two of broth to offer on the side. 
  3. If you tied the fenugreek in cheesecloth, you can also offer the fenugreek in a bowl on the side.
  4. Moroccan tradition is to gather around this single large dish, with each person eating from his own side of the plate by hand or with a spoon.