Returning from vacation is never easy, your pleasant idyll abruptly replaced by the frenetic repetition of daily life. Yet for myself there is one consolation. I have my kitchen again. The first Sunday after returning from Australia I spent ensconced in this room, cooking and baking with renewed vigor, quietly content once again to be amongst bubbling pots and the perfume of a gently blooming sourdough.
The change from balmy Australian skies to leaden Seattle rain was jarring; the Texan and I found ourselves shivering beneath layers of clothing and huddling by the radiator whenever possible. We needed a hearty meal, something to wake up the senses, warm our bones, and recall us both to warmer climes. I decided to go Moroccan.
This recipe is a riff off a chicken tagine from Paula Wolfert, an authority on Moroccan cuisine. Instead of chopping the chicken up and laboriously cooking it in the tradition manner, I simply rubbed it with a mixture of Moroccan spices, let it sit for while, and then roasted it whole, with sliced onions and a lavish coat of olive oil. During the last 15 minutes I added prunes that had been simmered with cinnamon.
Later I drew the chicken from the oven, haloed by the scent of cumin and ginger, its skin burnished orange the color of autumn leaves. The sauce was rich and sweet with cinnamon and prunes. Cradled by couscous and garnished with crispy fried almonds, it makes a supremely satisfying meal for a weather-beaten day.
Moroccan roast chicken with prunes & almonds
1 chicken, left whole
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground cinnamon, preferably Ceylon
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more
2 yellow onions, halved and sliced lengthwise
12 oz pitted prunes
1 cinnamon stick, preferably Ceylon
⅔ cup blanched almonds, fried until golden in olive oil
Note: it is even better with fried, salted Spanish Marcona almonds!
Clean chicken and pat dry. Combine all spices with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small bowl and mix to form a paste. Rub this all over chicken, inside and out; let stand at room temperature for an hour.
Meanwhile, place prunes and cinnamon stick in a small sauce pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then lower to a simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 425F. Tie chicken’s legs loosely together and place in a large roasting pan. Scatter onion slices around, drizzling them with a little olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes, lower oven to 375F, and continue cooking for 45 minutes, basting with the juices every 15 minutes. Drain prunes, discarding cinnamon stick, and add to roasting pan with the onions. Roast for another 15 minutes or so until chicken is done and juices run clear when pierced with a knife between leg and thigh. Cover and allow to rest while you make the couscous. Sprinkle with the fried almonds and serve with bitter greens or carrots.