The Lake District was beautiful and sunny on Friday evening, sitting in the quiet of the valley watching the deer with their new bambi's was a lovely end to the week. It did rain pretty much continuously from then on in, but it was still a lovely weekend. It stopped long enough to light the bbq for supper, but also managed to soak us thoroughly while out for a walk. The mist was rolling down the hills dramatically as we left but even in bad weather it is still such a beautiful and relaxing place.
So it may be August, British Summer Time, in case you had forgotten, but I think this rainy windy day calls for something a little bit warming... I have mentioned Claudia Roden before, her book Arabesque is never far from hand in my kitchen. A taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon, full of spice and flavour. My favourite section is full of Moroccon tagines, spiced with ginger and cinnamon, sweet with honey and perfumed with saffron...
Claudia uses a whole jointed chicken for her version of this tagine, but as I was only cooking for two I used boned chicken thighs. I find chicken thighs much tastier than breast meat, and for longer cooking times like this tagine, thigh meat is much less likely to dry out.
Start with 150g of shallots or baby onions. Pour hot water over them, in a bowl, and leave for five minutes to blanch. This makes removing the skin whilst keeping the onions or shallots whole much easier. While they are bobbing around in hot water finely chop a small onion and then cook slowly in a tablespoons of olive oil. Cook until soft, for about 5 minutes, and then add half a teaspoon of ginger, half a teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of saffron. Continue to cook the onion and spices for a few minutes longer.
Chop about 300g of boned and skinned chicken thighs into bite size pieces, perhaps a bit more if you're really hungry. Add the chicken to the pan with the onions and spices, and when it is sealed all over add 150ml of water, the blanched onions with their skins removed and a pinch of salt and pepper. Leave the tagine to cook, on a medium heat, uncovered for about 20 minutes.
While the tagine is cooking you can prepare the couscous. It needs to be in a pan that can go in the oven. Use 100g per person, pour it into the pan and add the same amount of salted water to the couscous, cover and leave for 10 minutes. I used 200g of couscous to 200ml of boiling water with a teaspoon of salt in it. Fluff up the couscous after it has absorbed all of the water, it may have become quite a hard mass, but just break it apart with a fork until it is light and fluffy. Add a glug of olive oil and work it all through the couscous with your hands, getting lots of air into it as you do. Finally put the dish into a pre heated oven at 200°C for 15 minutes. Before serving stir a knob of butter through the piping hot couscous and fluff it up again. Claudia uses 20g of butter, but I think you can get away with a lot less, but just to your own tastes.
To finish the final stage of the tagine remove the chicken pieces from the sauce and set them aside, leave the onions in the pan to continue to soften. The sauce now needs to reduce and thicken up a bit. Add 2 tablespoons of honey and lots more black pepper, you need quite a lot to balance the sweetness of the honey. Just keep tasting it until it suits your taste. Turn the heat up a little and allow the sauce to bubble away and reduce by about half. Finally return the chicken to the pan to heat through for a few minutes.
Fill a bowl with a large scoop of buttery couscous and top with the chicken, sauce and onions. I sprinkled the top with some toasted sesame seeds, you could also use some toasted almonds roughly chopped. The gingery, cinnamon spice is lovely with sweet honey, spicy black pepper and soft onions. It is making me want to cook it again just writing this, I might have to wait until tomorrow...