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Oct 2, 2012
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WINE WITH… MOROCCAN CHICKEN WITH DRIED FRUIT

There are surely as many different recipes for Moroccan-style chicken as there are individual cooks who love the vibrant flavors of poultry infused with mouth-watering spices. At “Wine With” we offered a very different version of the dish a few years ago, one that rocked with the heat of harissa and the funky dynamism of preserved lemon. But when we recently tasted our friend Sylvia’s variation on the theme we immediately begged for the recipe. Her’s is a gratifyingly rich and sumptuous dish, highlighted by the compact sweetness of dried fruits and the magnetic appeal of North African spices.

To maximize its wine pairing potential we did tweak the original recipe somewhat by reducing some of the sweetness in it. In addition to trimming the overall amount of dried fruit we also eliminated the final step that called for sprinkling the dish with about ½ cup brown sugar and baking it, uncovered, in a 350° oven until the chicken is done. Without this step we lost the original burnished mahogany color and luscious, almost syrupy texture, but the tradeoff was a bright, robust dish ripe for enjoyment with a range of different sorts of wine.

Moroccan Chicken with Dried Fruit
Serves 6

We used skinless, boneless chicken thighs and breasts, but you could use all thighs or all breasts, or whichever pieces you prefer. Bone-in parts, with or without skin, work just fine too, or you can use a whole chicken cut in pieces.

Serve the chicken with plain or pearled couscous.

About 2 ½ pounds chicken thighs, breasts, or a combination
4-6 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon salt (or more, to taste)
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or ½ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon peel
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup dried figs
½ cup white wine
1 cup pitted Kalamata or other Mediterranean style black and/or green olives
1 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Arrange the chicken pieces in a bowl large enough to hold them without overcrowding (if using large breasts, cut them in half). Combine the garlic, spices, lemon peel, vinegar, oil, and brown sugar, and stir the mixture into the chicken making sure that all pieces are coated. Stir in the dried fruits. Cover the dish and refrigerate it for several hours, overnight if possible.

When ready to cook the chicken, add the wine. Bake, covered, in a 350° oven, or simmer on top of the stove for about 15 minutes; then stir in the olives. Continue simmering, uncovered, for another 20-30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through (add more wine or some chicken broth if necessary). Sprinkle with the toasted almonds before serving.

* * *

We were unsure what types of wine to try with this version of Moroccan chicken, but our tasting indicated that while some whites will work, reds tend to make for a better match. No matter the color, though, the key seems to be to avoid overtly oaky wines. The taste of vanilla-laden charred wood simply clashes with the sweetness of the fruit, and a wine with a notably viscous texture will make whatever wine you try seem unpleasantly gummy. Here are five relatively low-priced ones that tickled our fancy. Do pay more attention to our descriptions of them, however, than to the choice of grape variety, which by itself won’t prove all that helpful.


Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

James Oatley Tic Tok, Adelaide Hills (Australia) Pinot Grigion2010

(Imported by Robert Oatley Vineyards)

$14

Much fuller in body than most Pinot Grigios, this wine exhibits crisp, almost tart, citrus-driven flavors, providing an appealing contrast to the richness of the dish.

Mulderbosch, Coastal Region (South Africa) Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2011

(Imported by Cape Classics)

$13

Perhaps because made with Cabernet, this fairly dark-colored rosé is a touch heavier on the palate than most pink or salmon-colored wines. That heft allows it to assert its personality even when paired with a dish as multi-flavored as this one.

.

Padrillos, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec 2011

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$12

Soft and supple, with plum fruit flavors that echo the dried fruit in the dish, this Malbec showed just the right texture to match seamlessly with the dish. It was one of the two or three favorites of the thirteen wines we tried.

Ravenswood, Lodi (California) Zinfandel “Old Vine” 2009

$20

This match was a bit controversial. A couple of the tasters thought it a bit heavy for this particular dish, while others found it very appealing. Not as briary or brawny as many Zins, it has smooth tannins, something that those who loved it pointed to when explaining why they thought the match so successful.

Talbott “Logan,” Santa Lucia Highlands (California) Pinot Noir “Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Estate Grown,” 2010

$25

A beautifully made Pinot, silky on the palate with bright dried cherry fruit flavors enhanced by a background of savory spice, thus echoing and enhancing the dish.