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Mar 3, 2009
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Wine With . . . Moroccan Chicken

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas       

 

Last Christmas our brother-in-law, the artist Charles Segal, gave everyone in the family  jars of homemade preserved lemons.  We thought it was a wonderful gift, both thoughtful and delicious.  After letting the lemons 'pickle' in their salt and juices for 30 days (as per the written instructions that Charles had provided), we put the jar in the refrigerator until a few days ago, when we decided to try one of the recipes that he also included with the gift.  The resulting dish tasted both seductive and soothing, spicy and yet mellow.  Preserved lemons, an essential component in the cuisine of Morocco, provided an intense citrus backdrop to the rich amalgam of spices typically found in North African fare.

 

Even without the lemons this dish would still be delicious; but it would lack the depth of flavor and the subtle briny tang the citrus provides.  Likewise, you can probably forgo Harissa, but this typical Middle Eastern and North African condiment does add further delectable layers of spicy intrigue to the dish. (Harissa is very simple to make in a food processor, but it's also inexpensive and fairly easy to find in the 'exotic foods' section of many grocery stores.)

 

We were delighted to discover that the Moroccan Chicken adapted surprisingly well to a variety of different styles of wine.  We were joined in the tasting by Wine Review Online's editor, Michael Franz, who, as you know from reading his thought-provoking blogs and reviews, has strong opinions when it comes to wine (and to most other things, for that matter).  All three of us had predicted at the outset that crisp, cool white wines might show best with all the spice and piquancy in the dish--a theory that, for Michael, was confirmed in the actual tasting.  The other two of us, though, thought that both red and white wines were remarkably good with the chicken, so we are recommending our favorites in both colors.  

 

MOROCCAN CHICKEN

 

We served the chicken with couscous tossed with a tablespoon of Harissa* and ¼ cup of lemon juice.   We passed a bowl of extra Harissa at the table.

 

4 servings

8 large chicken thighs, bone in (skin removed if you prefer)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil (such as canola or peanut), divided use

Salt and pepper to taste

1 medium onion cut into thin slices

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 preserved lemon, skin only (discard the flesh), cut into narrow julienne strips

½ teaspoon ground cloves (or 3 whole cloves)

2 tablespoons Harissa*

¼ teaspoon saffron

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cumin

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon turmeric

3 teaspoons ground sumac (optional)-available from specialty spice companies)

½ cup chicken or vegetable stock

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put the chicken thighs on a large baking sheet with sides (or other oven-proof pan large enough to hold them).  Toss them with 2 tablespoons of the oil, coating each side thoroughly, and arrange them skin side down in a single layer.  Season with salt and pepper and roast them for about 7 minutes, then turn each thigh over and continue roasting for another 10 minutes or so, until they are lightly brown.  Transfer the thighs to a bowl and set aside. 

Spread the onion and garlic out on the baking sheet and roast for about 5-8 minutes, or until the onions have softened. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the onion mixture to a tagine (Moroccan cooking vessel), Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid (you can also use a crock-pot).  Discard the fat left in the baking sheet.  Stir in the strips of lemon, the Harissa, and all the spices except 1 teaspoon of sumac into the onion mix.  Add the stock.  Arrange the chicken thighs over the top of the onions and baste them with some of the liquid.  Sprinkle the remaining sumac (if using) over the chicken.  Cover the pot and simmer for an hour, resisting the temptation to remove the lid while the chicken is cooking.

 

*HARISSA

3-4 dried ancho chilies (available in many supermarkets and Latin food stores)     

3-4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons water

Stem and de-seed the chilies.  Tear them into rough pieces, place them in a jar, and cover with hot water.  Let them soak for about an hour, then drain and pat them dry.  Transfer them to a food processor and add garlic, spices and salt.   Blend until the mixture is a coarse paste; then add olive oil and water and blend until smooth. 

 

If you have any food and wine pairings that you think are outstanding, or if you've encountered any glaring mismatches, we'd love to hear from you.  Drop us a line at winewith@winereviewonline.com

 

 

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

 

Catena, Mendoza (Argentina) Chardonnay 2007

(Imported by Billington Wines)

 

  $20

 

Whether red or white, we found that the successful wines with this dish all had fairly full bodies, with forward fruit flavors.  By contrast, secondary subtlety tended to get lost amidst the spice and citrus flavors from the food.  This richly-fruited Chardonnay is a fine example of an opulent New World style, and it tasted delicious with Moroccan chicken.

 

  

 

Château de la Tuilerie, Costières de Nîmes (France) Syrah/ Grenache 2006

(Imported by DSWE)

 

 

 

  $14

 

This is a delicious southern French red, full of cherry and plum fruit set against a savory, herbal background.  Precisely because the backdrop is so noticeable, the wine meshed well with the dish, its earthy flavors echoing the harissa.

 

 

 

Jean-Paul Paquet, Saint-Véran (Burgundy, France) 'Domaine de Fussiacus' 2007

(Imported by Elite Wines Imports)

 

 

 $21

 

A richer, fuller Saint-Véran than is typical for this appellation, this wine satisfied in much the same way as the Catena Chardonnay, though its fruit proved less forward and its acidity was more noticeable.  Enjoyed on its own, the wine offers a level of complexity that one misses when it is paired with this dish.  Nonetheless, sipping it with the spicy chicken made for a very refreshing experience. 

 

 

 

Bodegas Navarro López, Valdepenas (Spain) Tempranillo Crianza 'Old Vines' 2004

(Imported by Quintessential LLC)

 

  $12

 

The value in our favorites with this dish, this is a soft, succulent Tempranillo whose charm comes almost entirely from its up-front fruit flavors.  Because its tannins prove pliant, it in no sense grated with this dish.

 

 


 

 

Ochagavia, Valle de Casablanca (Chile) Chardonnay 'Gran Reserva' 2007

(Imported by Carolina Wine Brands USA)

 

 $18

 

 

A very bright, vivacious Chardonnay, marked as much by crispness as lush flavors, this wine, much like the Saint-Véran satisfied because it refreshed the palate, making us eager for another bite-and another sip.