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The Chef in Charlotte: Moroccan Chicken

I always love exploring the various cuisines of the world, but know relatively little about African culinary traditions. I have, however, come to know a particular dish from North Africa––chicken prepared in the style of Moroccan cuisine.

Traditionally, the Maghreb cuisines utilize a tajine for these sorts of dishes, which is an earthen clay dish in which things are slow cooked and served, and usually with bread. Tajines aren't exactly ubiquitous in the States, even though you can definitely get them, so when making North African cuisines, you'll need to approximate the cooking procedure of the tajine if you don't have access to one. Slow cookers are a great way to do this, and I've used this method before, but my handy-dandy Instant Pot seemed perfect for this particular night, and I found a good recipe online.

Chicken thighs are probably my favorite cut of chicken, as many of you know, so I added some to my Crowd Cow order and thawed them out a couple days ahead of time. Critical to Moroccan cuisine is the combination of spices. I went down to my local branch of bulk spice vendor Savory Spice and picked up one of their Moroccan blends (cinammon, turmeric, cumin, paprika, etc.) for this dish. I love keeping the skin on the chicken thighs, but it's important if you do to season under the skin as well as on the skin, so that the meat itself also gets the flavor of the seasoning.

Couscous is the classic grain to serve with this dish, but for the sake of minimizing wheat-based carbs, I decided on quinoa for this dish. Tajine dishes tend to emphasize savory and sour combinations, so dried fruit is a critical component. Raisins, apricots, cherries, dates, etc. are all acceptable, and I added dried cherries to this recipe for the tang. Other things you can add include nuts, olives, and chickpeas! I didn't have nuts, but added some chickpeas to this dish alongside the cherries.

Of course, onion, garlic, and ginger are also critical components! I set the Instant Pot to low sauté and seared the seasoned chicken briefly with olive oil on both sides to let it brown a bit. I took the chicken out and sautéed the garlic, onions, and ginger in the Instant Pot for a bit until the onions were fragrant and translucent.

I then added the quinoa, cherries, chickpeas, and some wonderful chicken stock (from Kitchen Basics, my favorite) to the pot, along with some more of the spice mix, salt, and the chicken thighs. I then set the Instant Pot to the pressure cook poultry setting, letting it cook for 12 minutes and quick-releasing the pressure.

I then set the thighs under the broiler for a few minutes, which makes the chicken skin nice and crispy. A bit of cilantro sprinkled over a bed of the quinoa with the chicken atop makes for a delicious, flavorful, easy, and healthy dinner, with minimal cleanup thanks to the Instant Pot! I even had a second serving left over for a lunch later this week.

Wine to cook by: Assyrtiko is one of favorite niche white varietals. Grown on the Greek island of Santorini on volcanic slopes graced by the winds of the sea, assyrtiko is a vibrant, mineral-driven, and even saline varietal that produces wine of remarkable complexity and mouthwatering drinkability. This one, from Greek Wine Cellars, the only assyrtiko I could find at Total Wine, was good, but not nearly as special as the Sigalas assyrtiko that has come to define the export market of the varietal in the U.S. Paired beautifully with the complex flavors of the chicken, but would also be good with light, Mediterranean seafood dishes!

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