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Moroccan Lemon-Olive Tagine

August 3, 2012

We’re currently in Morocco, and both my husband and I have had birthdays down here so far. For his birthday, I made a lemon-olive tagine. The recipe below is almost an exact replica of this recipe, with some added comments and adjustments on my part. This is a long post, and it’s really not that complicated, but it does take a long time to cook so it’s a good idea to prepare this in advance.

These are the official measurements. In reality, I just grated some ginger and sprinkled the ras al hanout over the tagine. I used a bit more smen…probably a tablespoon. And I left the olives out as this was a birthday dinner for my husband, and he hates olives. But the traditional dish is with lemon and olives.

If you’re not actually in Morocco when making the dish, you might have trouble finding the smen (Moroccan preserved butter) or the preserved lemons, which are easy to find in any Moroccan grocery store. Try looking online for alternatives (try using butter instead of smen), or for a recipe on how to preserve the lemons. Apparently it’s not difficult.

The almonds were my own addition. I found some nice slivered almonds at the grocery store that morning, and thought they might be a nice replacement for the olives.


  • 1 whole chicken, skin removed, cut into pieces (I used a package of thighs and a package of legs)
  • 2 large purple onions, chopped
  • one bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • one bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, pressed (see below)
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ras el hanout
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon smen
  • 1 handful green or red olives, or mixed
  • 2 preserved lemons, quartered and seeds removed
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • slivered almonds, about a handful


The recommended way is to remove the flesh from the preserved lemons, and then finely chop them. Add the chopped lemon flesh to a bowl along with the chicken, onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, spices and smen, and mix well. If time allows, let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for several hours or even overnight.

Reality: I didn’t have time to marinate, but I would definitely plan ahead the next time. I would also just quarter each lemon and toss it in. Once it’s cooking, it will add flavor to the tagine, but I didn’t like the little pieces. And the garlic…we’re not good with garlic, and there were consequences to including it in this dish. Next time, I’d just toss in the whole cloves and remove before eating.

I had a big debate on how to place the tagine on the stovetop: with or without diffuser. The tagine I was using was a clay tagine, glazed on the inside, unglazed on the bottom. In the end, I used a pizza pan since I didn’t have a diffuser.

Use a small or medium burner, turning it on low heat to let the tagine (on top of the diffuser/pizza pan/whatever you use) heat up gradually. Add enough of the olive oil to the tagine to coat the bottom. Arrange the seasoned chicken in the tagine and distribute the onions all around. (Since I didn’t season ahead of time, I just arranged the chicken in the bottom, then tossed everything else on top of it).

Add the olives and preserved lemon quarters, and drizzle the remaining olive oil over the chicken. Add the chicken broth to the tagine and cover.

Give the tagine time to reach a simmer. If you don’t hear the tagine simmering within 20 minutes, slightly increase the heat, and then maintain the lowest heat setting required for maintaining a gentle, not rapid, simmer.

Allow the chicken to cook undisturbed for 80 to 90 minutes, and then turn the chicken over. Cover the tagine again, and allow the chicken to finish cooking until very tender (a half hour to a full hour). By the time you are ready to serve this dish, the chicken should be so moist and well cooked that it falls off the bones.

Turn off the heat, and let the tagine cool for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Moroccan tradition is to eat directly from the tagine, using Moroccan bread to scoop up the chicken and sauce. Serves 4

Prep Time: 15-20 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

  1. September 13, 2012 04:07

    Thanks for this recipe! I always wanted to try a tagine once..will surely make this this weekend! also please let me know if there is any other way to get a similar cooking method/taste if i dont find a tagine here?

    • September 13, 2012 06:16

      Thanks for your comment, GoodCook! I have absolutely no idea how to cook a tagine without the actual tagine…as long as you keep it covered to keep the moisture inside, it should come out fine. I’d be more concerned about sourcing the ingredients, especially the preserved lemons. Good luck!

      • September 13, 2012 06:52

        Can a pressure cooker, without the whistle on, work fine?

        • September 13, 2012 08:29

          I probably wouldn’t use a pressure cooker…the secret to the great flavor in this is the long cooking time.

        • Holly Worton permalink*
          April 2, 2014 09:59

          But maybe a slow cooker instead of a pressure cooker. That might work! I’ve been doing a lot of Crock Pot cooking lately, hence my second reply to this old post.

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