The proper name is Chicken Tajine, but Ditalini has always called it Rotten Chicken, and that’s what kids and company ask for when they want a special dinner. We call it that because it’s prepared with preserved lemons, which soften the meat to the point where the chicken literally falls apart when cooked. Which is how it’s supposed to be; it’s a Moroccan dish meant to be served with couscous and eaten with the fingers.
Ditalini learned the basic recipe years ago from a friend, and I’m going to lay it out just as it’s written: ancient and stained (well, okay, I can’t duplicate that), geared to serve twelve (six chickens in all). Ditalini normally serves six with two chickens; last night we served three with one chicken and there’s some left over. You’ll have to size the recipe down depending on the number of chickens you plan to cook, as we do.
Note: you should use a tajine pot for cooking but a heavy enameled covered pot does well too. Serve with couscous if you prefer; we like it with saffron rice and boiled carrots.
Prepare & blend 6-8 garlic cloves, onions, ½ cup parsley, 1 ½ tsp saffron. 1/8 tsp cumin, ½ tsp pepper, enough olive oil to make paste – do not add salt. Rub mixture inside & outside chickens.
Brown chickens in 2 tbsp butter or olive oil drizzled in bottom of heavy cooking pot. Add preserved lemons (approx 1-1 ½ lemons per chicken) and a little water. Cover pot and cook in moderate oven (350 deg) approx 1 ½ hrs.
If eaten w/fingers take out at least ½ hr before serving.
Critical information is missing, so here are some additional notes from Ditalini:
Use a blender to prepare the garlic/onion/saffron coating.
Thoroughly rinse the salt off the preserved lemons before adding them to the chicken
After the chicken is cooked, discard the lemons
As the chicken cooks it produces a tasty broth. Before serving, extract the broth from the pot with a baster (avoiding the grease on top) and serve broth in individual bowls for dipping. We serve the chicken with crusty rolls, dipping both chicken and rolls in the broth.
Reference the photos (click to enlarge):
Ditalini’s preserved lemons
Ready for oven
First photo shows Ditalini’s ever-present jar of preserved lemons
Second photo shows the browned chicken with preserved lemons (there are two more wedges inside the cavity), just prior to covering and placing in oven
Third photo shows the baked chicken (you can see how it’s already falling off the bone) and Ditalini extracting broth from the pot
Fourth photo: ready to eat, with saffron rice, carrots, bread, and broth for dipping
This really is a spectacular meal and company will rave about it. The chicken is tender, tangy, and incredibly tasty. Starting a month ahead sounds like a bit of work, but it really isn’t. As you can see from the photo, Ditalini prepares a large enough jar of preserved lemons to make this dish two or three times; the lemons will keep for about six months.