The Highlife for Lowlifes Guide to Cooking: Chicken Tagine

The Highlife for Lowlifes Guide to Cooking: Chicken Tagine

We really live in an amazing city when it comes to food & cooking, most of us take this completely for granted. If you ask anyone who has moved away from Rochester what they miss most, they will, whatever their circumstances, invariably say: Wegmans.

As amazing as Wegmans might be compared to all other grocery stores in the world, it is not the only unique resource available to us when sourcing quality ingredients. The Rochester Public Market is ranked one of the best markets in the whole country, for example. The culinary value of the RPM alone sets us apart from most other cities, but we also have a treasure trove of Asian, Indian and European specialty stores scattered all over the city. These places are a wonderland of exotic foods and ingredients, usually at VERY affordable prices.

Some of my personal favorites are:

India House Food & Imports
999 S. Clinton Avenue
Rochester, NY 14620

Asian Food Market

1885 Brighton Henrietta Town Line Rd

Rochester, NY 14623
(585) 292-9888

International Food Market

376 Jefferson Road,

Rochester, NY 14623

(585) 270-4004

Alpha European Grocery & Deli

2840 W. Ridge Road

(585) 324-3888

305 E. Ridge Road

(585) 221-5888

These are just a few of the dozens of specialty stores in this town you can explore. We also have a first class natural food market in Lorries Natural Foods (900 Jefferson Rd, Rochester, NY 14623(585) 424-2323), and its counterpart the Abundance Co Op. (62 Marshall St, Rochester, NY 14607 (585) 454-2667). As well as excellent spice shops in Niblack Foods (900 Jefferson Rd, Building 6 in Rochester NY 14623) and Stewart’s Spices (754 Clinton Ave South Rochester, NY 14620).

Even with all these great resources there are times you might come across a truly hard to find ingredient or piece of equipment, that’s when things get really special and the internet becomes useful for things other than social networking, free pirated music and pornography. Between and Ebay you can find just about any oddball ingredient or cooking tool you could every need. You can point and click your way to the exotic meal of your dreams, experiment with virtually any ingredient the culinary world has to offer and cook with 100% traditional equipment directly from the country of origin. Any recipe is a possibility if you’re willing to do the legwork, every meal can be an adventure and everything is right at our fingertips.

In this time and place it’s all wide open, and the possibilities are endless…

Moroccan Chicken Tagine

I have been making Moroccan food at home since the fall of 2012. That year I was booked to do a somewhat high profile 3 day personal appearance at a local convention, which was a tremendous amount of work to prepare for and promote before the event and of course the 3 day event itself, so when it was all said and done I decided to give myself a little gift for the effort and ordered a Tagine (traditional tempered clay cooking pot) direct from Tangiers (via Ebay) and a great cookbook by Ghillie Basan called “Tagines & Couscous”.

I had been fascinated by the exotic mystery of Moroccan food for quite some time and as far as I know (and I could be wrong) there are no Moroccan restaurants in Rochester. I felt compelled to try to learn about Moroccan food by cooking it myself and in the past year I have learned a lot, it has become one of my absolute favorite cultural cuisines to explore.

Of all the different recipes I have tried Chicken Tagine is my favorite and apparently the rest of the world agrees because other than couscous, chicken tagine seems to be Morocco’s most beloved culinary export. I have made this dish a number of different ways, trying a dozen or so different permutations of several different recipes and kind of combined and refined them into something that’s my own.

You don’t NEED a traditional tempered cooking tagine to make this dish, though if you want one they run about $35. Keep in mind the tagine is a specialty piece of equipment, its only real use is to make Moroccan one pot dishes, if you are strapped for cash a better investment might be a large sauté pan with a lid as it has a more universal cooking application. This meal can be cooked in a Tagine, a sauté pan w/lid, a regular pot w/lid, a Dutch oven w/lid or even a crockpot.

Its fairly simple to make, slow to cook and absolutely fantastic if you do it right. The flavors in this dish are simultaneously very familiar and totally exotic. Separately the flavors of the chicken tagines ingredients are common place, but together they combine in such a unique way you will be surprised and transported far away from the world you know.

You will need:

Chicken (bone in, like thighs/legs)

Olive Oil

Unsalted Butter

Green Olives (in oil)

Couscous (best sourced at International Food Market)

1 Yellow Onion

3 Cloves Garlic

1 inch piece of fresh Ginger (powdered can be substituted)

Large bunch of fresh curly leaf parsley

Large bunch of fresh cilantro (coriander)

Bunch of fresh chives

1 lemon

Saffron Threads (best sourced at India House Food & Import)



Thyme (fresh or dried)

Preserved Lemons* (optional)


*Preserved Lemons are easy to make yourself but take about a month to cure. You can find them in the international section of some Wegmans locations, but a jar of 2 lemons runs about $10. They add a wonderfully unique taste and texture, but overall the recipe is not compromised by their absence.


Overnight Marinade:

You have to plan ahead when making this meal as it requires an overnight marinade.

Start by thoroughly washing the parsley, cilantro and chives, coarsely chop the herbs (stems and all but NOT any attached roots) and place them in a large metal bowl. Peel then grate the onion and ginger into the bowl, making sure all the “juice” from the onion goes into the mix. Peel then crush the garlic into the bowl, then add the juice from 1 fresh lemon. Add the spices starting with a small amount of turmeric, slightly more cumin along with salt and pepper (hold off on the saffron and thyme). Add a generous amount of olive oil and mix with a spoon until all the herbs etc. are evenly folded together.

Put half of the marinade mixture in a flat walled dish or container (large enough to hold all your chicken) dust the chicken on both sides with salt & pepper and place it on top of the herb mixture skin side up. Sprinkle in some saffron threads then top the chicken with the other half of the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

*Note: I have also had amazing results with this marinade on mixed seafood (Squid, Octopus, Firm ocean fish etc.) The method is exactly the same as with chicken overall, all you need do is substitute for seafood.


Now that the hard part is done all you have to do is slow cook the chicken. About 3 hours before you plan to eat heat up your pot/pan/tagine on a VERY low heat with a bit of olive oil and a pad of butter, place the chicken even and flat in your pot/pan/tagine and spoon in all the herb mixture and any juice over the top of the chicken and cover tightly with a lid and cook low/slow for an hour and a half. After the first hour and a half flip with chicken skin side down, add the green olives, thyme and preserved lemons, cover and cook an additional hour and a half until falling off the bone done.


About 10 min before you want to serve the chicken prepare the couscous by measuring out the desired amount of dry couscous and boiling the correct amount of water (usually its about a 1 : 1.5 ratio, one cup dry couscous to one and a half cups boiling water etc.) Put your dry couscous in a pan or container with a cover (or decorative “serving” tagine) with a large pad of unsalted butter, pour in the boiling water while stirring the couscous, cover and let stand for 5 min, fluff before serving.

You can plate the chicken next to the couscous or alternatively plate the chicken on top of a bed of couscous, either way making sure to include the cooked herbs, olives and juices from the chicken over the top of both.

Optional Side Dish:

A great optional side dish for this is a simple stewed Moroccan spinach. It simply requires 1 crushed clove garlic, 1 minced red onion, 1 orange (juiced), a large bunch of chopped fresh baby spinach, olive oil, pine nuts, salt/pepper and some of Niblack Foods “Moroccan Seasoning”. In a pot/pan heat the olive oil on a medium heat and sauté the garlic and onion until colored, deglaze the pan with the orange juice, put in the chopped spinach and cover/steam until wilted, add salt/pepper and the “Moroccan Seasoning” to taste and top with toasted pine nuts.

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J.Nevadomski (also known as Juda) is an accomplished musician and artist from Rochester. He has recorded with musicians from all over the world for his project “The Fragile Path” (which he heads and produces) and is a veteran artist who’s paintings have been featured in galleries, newspapers and exhibitions throughout the Rochester area. In 2012 he was the “artist guest of honor” at RocCon: Rochester’s Anime, Sci-Fi and comic book convention. He lives in the NOTA area of Rochester, keeps a yearly urban vegetable garden and regularly cooks and hosts dinner parties for friends and colleagues.