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Paula Wolferts Chicken Smothered with Tomato Jam Served with Maquoudas

Chicken Smothered with Tomato Jam Served with Maquoudas

 Like most of us I am a savvy media user although I must admit to not spending nearly as much time with these accounts as my colleagues. It was on Facebook that I discovered Paula Wolferts Moroccan Cooking Group which at last count has over 2,500 members. She posts to it half a dozen times a day, making it one of the liveliest food discussions on Facebook.

A few months ago Paula mentioned she had a new recipe for her chicken with tomato jam that would be in her latest cookbook The Food of Morocco. I was intrigued, e-mailed her and asked her for the recipe which she graciously sent to me. It is for this reason that wonderfully warm, spicy aromas are wafting from my kitchen and I am dreaming of Morocco, mosaic tiles, tajines, couscous and drinking mint tea.

There are few countries in the world with a cuisine as colourful as Morocco’s. The vibrant fusion of bright yellow saffron, lush green parsley, juicy red tomatoes, terracotta earthenware and cooking vessels painted in every shade of azure and aquamarine make any Moroccan dish a feast for the eyes before you have even tasted a mouthful.But despite its visual complexity, Moroccan food is surprisingly easy to prepare.

 When I think of Moroccan food what first comes to mind is cooking in a tagine.The traditional tagine pot is a glazed or unglazed heavy clay pot used in north Africa, especially in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Lybia. It consists of a base unit which is a flat, circular dish with low sides, and a tall, cone-shaped top with a knob on the top that is used as a handle. This top is designed to circulate steam back to the bottom of the pot and into the cooking food.  Paula, a champion of clay-pot cooking, says, “The clay just gives [the food] some­thing that you don’t get from metal. You sense a closer con­nection to the earth. And isn’t that what we’re looking for in what we eat?”

Paula Wolfert, a self-proclaimed beatnik, today is a resident of Sonoma wine country close to one of my favourite cities San Francisco.  Paula first became interested in the cooking of other countries when she lived in Morocco in the 1960s. Ten years later she had written her first book, Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco, which was published in 1973. Over the last 38 years, Paula has written eight seminal cookbooks, all considered classics. Most of her books explore a region, such as The Cooking of Southwest France, which offers her authentic, three-day recipe for cassoulet; her Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking, focuses on a method. Paula has challenged us all from chefs to home cooks to be better. And it’s worked. Her latest cookbook The Foods of Morrocco came out this year.

I trust that those who celebrate had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We certainly have so much to be thankful for these days. One of the simple pleasures is navigating the blogging community and participating where we can. Our group has now reached the halfway point with #25 on the list of Gourmet Live’s 50 Women Game Changers. I feel we should break out the latex free balloons and fireworks for this milestone!!!!!! The past few months have flown by as we experiment with dishes from each of the 50 influential women on “the list.” We began this journey back in June, can you believe it. Time really does fly!!!!!!!!!! Whether you agree or disagree with the authors chosen fifty and their order it has been an enjoyable and creative outlet to cook from the masters and those we admire. There are even a few bloggers on the list. We have checked out books from the library, borrowed cookbooks from friends, surfed the Internet and browsed our own cookbook collections seeking that one recipe that will highlight that weeks outstanding woman. This group is led by my favourite well-travelled blogger Mary of One Perfect Bite who invited bloggers to travel along on a culinary journey throughout the year. If you would like to join in contact Mary.

Paula Wolfert our 25th Game Changer has been studying Moroccan food for almost 50 years. Couscous, preserved lemons, and duck confit are standards on local menus today, but that was not the case 30 years ago. She has introduced a generation of chefs and home cooks to a way of cooking that has come to define how we eat. For years, I’ve revered Paula as being the person who introduced me to Moroccan cuisine the way that Julia Child introduced me to French cuisine.

When I think of a Moroccan chicken tagine I somehow feel that there should be preserved lemons and olives in there somewhere, but this recipe from Paula Wolfert is a heady mix of fresh garden tomatoes, cinnamon and honey. Unfortunately I do not possess a tagine but I have been gifted a traditional clay pot from Portugal. I am here to tell you you could easily prepare this dish in a conventional pot, or even a saucepan, as long as it has a lid. But for that little bit of Moroccan magic a tajine pot excels in both flavour and presentation. How lovely to place your beautifully shaped and wonderfully coloured pot on the table filled with aromatic dishes. It reeks of exoticism and Morocco. After just over an hour of slow simmering with occasional stirring, the tagine-inspired dish was ready and I had reached my favourite part of the cooking process…eating.

I served the chicken smothered in tomato jam with a popular pancake, called maquoudas which are infused with ground cumin, along with a pinch of cayenne and ground turmeric. Of the potato pancakes Paula says, “In winter, these popular pancakes, called maquoudas, often accompany thick soups such as harira, while in summer they’re likely to be served along with skewers of grilled lamb. They’re also cooked and sold on the street in the form of a sandwich, packed between two thin slices of Moroccan bread and smeared with harissa or tomato sauce thinned with water and oil. The flavor of the potato is important. I’m partial to Red Bliss potatoes, but any smooth one such as Yukon Gold will do. My old housekeeper, Fatima, would sometimes fold in small amounts of cooked vegetables from the previous day’s couscous, or even some charmoula-flavored fried sardines, to enhance the flavor. Though most recipes call for vegetable oil, you’ll get a better result using olive oil.”

I think they went perfectly with this aromatic chicken tagine!! Her kids were also right and you felt the urge to ”lick the bottom ot the tagine.”

Mary of One Perfect Bite - Carrot Salad
Val of More Than Burnt Toast - Chicken Smothered with Tomato Jam Served with Maquoudas
Joanne of Eats Well With Others  - Butternut Squash and Potato Pie with Tomato, Mint and Sheep’s Milk Cheese
Taryn of Have Kitchen, Will Feed  - Biblical Breakfast Burrito
Heather of Girlichef  - Poor Mans Bread, Kale and Black Pepper Soup
Miranda of Mangoes and Chutney - Provencal Style Beef
Barbara of Moveable Feasts - Prune and Armagnac Ice Cream
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits - Mediterranean Caviar, (Samfaina).
Veronica of My Catholic Kitchen - Preserved Lemons
Annie  at Most Lovely Things

**Chicken Smothered with Tomato Jam and Served with  Maquoudas**
from The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert
Ecco Press, 2011

  • 6 large, fat chicken thighs, 3 pounds, preferably organic and /or air-chilled
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled
  • Coarse salt (2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons saffron water
  • 1/3 cup grated red onion
  • 2 tablespoons finely crushed cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons thyme or floral liquid honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 1/2 pounds red ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted to golden brown in the oven

1. Rinse the chicken thighs and pat dry, trim away excess fat. Slide fingers under the skin to loosen it from the flesh. In a mortar crush the garlic with 2 teaspoons salt to a paste. Mix with the black pepper, ginger, olive oil and saffron water, and rub under and over the skin of the chicken. Let stand, covered, in the refrigerator overnight.

2. The next day, place the chicken with its marinade, in the tagine set on a heat diffuser. Add the grated onion, cilantro, 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/2 cup water, and mix thoroughly with chicken pieces. Start on a low heat; stir once, cook 20 minutes, and then begin to slowly raise the heat to medium. Cook, uncovered, 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, peel, seed and coarsely chop the tomatoes. Add the tomatoes (with juice) and one-tablespoon tomato magic or tomato paste to the tagine, and continue to cook on medium heat, uncovered. Turn the chicken pieces often in the sauce until very tender, about 20 more minutes. Take chicken out, wrap in foil, or place in covered pan to keep warm and moist.

4. Allow the tomatoes to cook down until all the moisture evaporates, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching about 1 hour. The tomatoes will begin to fry and the sauce will thicken considerably.

5. Add the honey and remaining 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and cook several minutes to bring out their flavors. Reheat chicken parts in the sauce, rolling them around to coat evenly. Transfer the hot tagine to a wooden surface or folded kitchen towel on a serving tray to prevent cracking. Let the tagine stand with its top on for 5 minutes. Remove the cover, scatter the sesame seeds on top, and serve hot or warm directly from the tagine.

Serves 6

**Potato Pancakes (Maquoudas)**

  • 2 pounds Red Bliss or Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin, preferably Moroccan
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Pinch each of cayenne, ground turmeric, and freshly ground black or white pepper, mixed together
  • 2 large eggs, whipped
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • About 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 or 2 lemons, quartered

1. Fill a saucepan with water; bring to a boil. Fasten on a colander or steamer, add the potatoes, cover, and steam for 30 minutes. Cool, peel, and crush the potatoes with a fork.

2. While the potatoes are cooling, mash the garlic, salt, and cumin to a paste in a mortar. Add the cilantro, parsley, and spices and mash to a puree, then stir in half the eggs.

3. When the potatoes are cool, add the spice mixture and blend. Shape into 12 small round cakes (about 1/4 cup each), and flatten into 3-inch rounds.

4. Heat about 4 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a medium skillet until hot. Loosen the remaining whipped egg with 1 teaspoon water. Working in batches, dip the potato cakes into the egg, and then into the flour, and gently slide into the hot olive oil. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve at once, with the lemon quarters.

Serves 6

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