Moroccan Meal Part I

I can't help buying Vogue Entertaining + Travel. It's such eye candy and it combines two of my favorite things, food and travel, all done in its very Vogue-ish way. This is the first time I have tried cooking anything from there though. This meal was inspired by an article in the August/September 2005 issue about about Claudia Roden (cookbook author) and her daughter Nadia. The article talked about the art they create and (of course) the food they make together. All the talk and pictures of them cooking amongst Nadia's paintings in their homey kitchen made me ache to try a couple of the dishes. I decided on the Chicken with Caramelized Baby Onions and Pears (pictured above), and the Roast Capsicums and Chickpeas with Fresh Goat's Cheese. I changed some of the proportions and ingredients based on what was available to me and because, well, I like doing that :-)

Chicken with Caramelized Baby Onions and Pears

- 4 small or 2 large firm beurre bosc pears (I used 4 small pears)
- 40 grams unsalted butter
- sunflower oil (I didn't have any so I just used canola oil)
- 500 grams eschalots or baby onions (I used 250 grams of our native onions, cut the quantity in half because our little native onions here are much stronger)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 large chicken, jointed (I used 5 leg&thigh pieces...because I like dark meat better)
- sea salt and pepper to taste (I just used rock salt)
- a good pinch of saffron threads
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger (now, I don't know if this meant powedered or fresh so I just ground up some fresh ginger)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1-2 tablespoons clear honey (didn't have any "clear" honey, so I used chesnut honey)
- 100 grams blanched almonds (toasted), for serving (this is optional but I love nuts in food so I included it)

Here's what you do:

- Quarter and core pears (but don't peel) then sautee in butter and oil until lightly colored. Set this aside for now.
- Prepare the baby onions: Blanch them (5 minutes in boiling water) and peel. Fry them in a little oil, tossing them around until brown and caramelized all over. Set aside.
- In a heavy based pan or casserole, wide enough to hold all the chicken pieces in one layer (I just used the widest pot we had, the pieces could barely fit in one layer so I had to juggle them around a bit) fry the chopped onions in 3-4 tablespoons of the oil until soft. Add the chicken pieces and season them. Brown on all sides.
- Now add around 1 cup of water and stir in the saffron, ginger, and cinnamon. Cook, covered, at low heat for around 10-15 minutes (at this point, if you used pieces from a whole chicken, you should check if the breasts are cooked and remove from pot, returning them at the very end).
- Add the pears (if they are still firm, if not add them at the end) and caramelized onions and continue cooking, covered, until chicken is very tender, turning occasionally (add a little water if it looks like it's drying up).
- Remove chicken from pot and set aside. Stir in honey and check seasoning. Add the honey little by little to your taste. Reduce the sauce until it looks thick and sticky. Return chicken to pan to heat through. At this point you can add the pears, if you didn't add them earlier, and the chicken breasts, if you used them.
- Before serving sprinkle with the toasted blanched almonds.

I love these dishes that have fruits and nuts in them (with certain exceptions) and I was quite excited to try this one. On the whole it was good, but could be greater. It was tagged as "one of the classics of Moroccan cooking" and it definitely had a distinct Moroccan taste. The chicken was wonderfully tender. The pears were a great component, soft and sweet, and subtly infused with the flavors of the dish...and a very good partner for the chicken. However, the flavor was a tad weak. Perhaps I should have went for all 500 grams of baby onions (to hell with our native onionettes' fire!), or maybe upped the ginger (the cinnamon taste was definitely present, pleasant and not overpowering, so the cinnamon proportion was just right). Or maybe season the chicken with more salt and pepper. I liked it though so I'll try this again for sure, tweaking the seasoning a bit more.

Note: The chestnut honey did leave its mark on the flavor of the dish. You could taste mild traces of it. I thought it went very well with the overall taste but I'll try using clear honey next time and observe the difference.

Recipe and notes for the Roast Capsicums and Chickpeas with Fresh Goat's Cheese to be posted shortly. This was actually the big winner of the meal. My brother, who isn't much into veggie dishes or anything that could be called a salad, couldn't get enough of it! Stay tuned...