Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chicken & Chick Pea Tagine and Naan Reattempted

Check out this recipe on my new and improved website:
Preserved lemon, cilantro, and yogurt added a trio of accent flavors
to this already savory Tagine.
The tasty charred bubbles on the naan were achieved by a cast iron pan,
since most home cooks don't own tandoor ovens!
When I made Chicken and Salmon Tikka Masala, I had grand plans of making homemade Naan. I knew that I had to let the dough rise for 2-4 hours, so I planned ahead and took all of the ingredients for the dough to school with me. I teach a cooking club after school, so I figured I could sneak in some dough preparation and make it a bonus lesson for the kids. However, yeast is not easy to find in Washington Heights, NYC, so we ended up with delicious but non-homemade Naan from our favorite Indian delivery spot, Indus Express. This week, I attempted the homemade dough again, but this time to serve alongside a Moroccan dish, Chicken and Chick Pea Tagine.

About Tagine
A tagine is actually a cooking vessel used in northern Africa (etymology ties it to the Greek word teganon, which means "frying pan") and the namesake of the stewy entree. Tagines are beautiful, and I am sure that one of these days I'll end up with one. They are made of ceramic or clay and work to retain moisture in food through the tall, conical design of their lid. This traps the moisture, then allows it to cool far from the food and return to the food below. However, not everybody is convinced that the traditional equipment is essential to making a successful and moist tagine. Cook's Illustrated tested multiple models of tagines alongside modern dutch ovens. The vessels that lost the least water were those with the heaviest, tightest-fitting lids rather than the tagines themselves. So whether you are a traditionalist or a use-what-I-have-ist, be sure to cook your Tagine (the food) in a vessel with a tight-fitting, heavy lid.

I used foil to cover the vents on my own lids,
helping preserve the moisture retention that a tagine provides
Choosing the Recipe
My roommate's father is one of our valued family dinner guests. A renowned cook himself, he has wowed all of the roommates with his stories of fishing in Mexico and eating sea urchin straight from the ocean, among other adventurous gastronomic tales. Because my roommate knew that I was looking for a reason to make Naan again, he suggested pairing it with his dad's recipe for Chicken Tagine. He was able to round up the recipe, which I am thrilled to share with you. 

Now, we are all aware that Naan is Indian and there must be a more locally appropriate bread for Morocco. However, despite their origins on separate continents, Naan and the Moroccan bread, khobz (pronounced like a person with a thick French accent saying "robes," with a raspy effect in the initial sound-- technically a uvular fricative, I believe, but this is far too much nerdiness for one set of parentheses) have a lot in common. Both are both fairly flat, eaten with almost all meals, and used as a side dish as well as a utensil. Naan would definitely work, but I wanted authenticity, so I made Khobz too! Who says that two breads is a bad thing?

Memorizing the Recipe
This week, I made Chicken Tagine (and Chick Pea Tagine, for those like me who don't eat chicken), homemade Naan, and homemade Khobz. I memorized the Tagine and the Naan recipes, but not the Khobz.

To commit the Tagine to memory, I had to remember all six of the spices (plus salt and pepper). For this I categorized the colors in the spice blend: 3 browns (cumin, coriander, and cinnamon), 2 reds (cayenne and paprika), and 1 yellow (turmeric). It helped! The steps were simple, since most recipes with onion and garlic involve sweating them early in the process. Since this is a stew, I knew I'd want to get a good brown on the meat before all the liquid came in, so the browning step was logical as well.
3 browns, 2 reds, and 1 yellow: my way of memorizing the spices in Tagine
Memorizing the Naan was a bit more challenging. Baked recipes always are because they are so dependent upon precision; so many white powders are involved; variations occur in timing, temperature, and mixing process; and you can't taste along the way to see how the food is doing. I got by with knowing my dry ingredients (flour, salt, sugar, baking powder) and my liquids (oil, yogurt, and yeasty water), since they all got mixed separately then put together. The measurements, however, required a little cramming.  I think that I will have to make Naan a few more times before it's really engrained in my mind. 
Liquids and dry ingredients, before they came together.
The Verdict
While the Tagine remained quite soupy, which is different from my roommate's childhood memories, the roomie of honor said that his dad would be impressed. That was all I needed to hear! The Tagine was seriously complex in its flavors, with a spicy kick that only got stronger as we worked our way through leftovers. I used half of the cayenne pepper called for, but I left the recipe as is for those who like more spice. I also made some quick preserved lemons, so we had spice, yogurt, cilantro, and the salty-sour bitterness of whole lemons all taking place in each bite. Needless to say, this dish is not for the simple-taste-budded. If you are daring with your flavors, however, you will walk away a very happy eater.

The Naan was a glorious success, the cast iron skillet contributing to its beautiful charred and bubbly exterior. The interior of the Naan was chewy and perfect for scooping up bits of the chicken and chick peas in the Tagine. In the future, I would love to try to make Naan with some onions or garlic on top too. Naan is annoyingly expensive to buy from a restaurant (one little flat for $3?), so now I have a go-to recipe for making my own. Since the prep time is so long with the yeast, I'll have to experiment with freezing Naan (or its dough) and report back.
The naan dough, so light and airy, was intimidating to handle at first,
but it rolled out beautifully and was very forgiving.
As for my non-memorized recipes, the Khobz was the fastest and easiest bread I have ever made. It's not supposed to rise a lot, so the rising time was only an hour. The dough was easy to prep and knead, and when it came out of the oven after only 25 minutes it had a beautiful toasted crust surrounding a center that was moist enough to eat on its own but dry enough to soak up all the lovely spiced tomato broth from the Tagine. It paired beautifully with a young Parrano gouda, and I can see it making a tasty sandwich. The side dish I served, Green Beans with Mustard Butter, was a hit, and I can't wait to make it again for company. With shallots, vinegar, cream, and mustard seeds in a compound butter, it brought some fresh tang to this meal.
When the Khobz came out of the oven, I felt like we were truly ready to break bread together.
The crackling of the crust when we broke it apart made it appeal to all five senses.
The whole meal came together in about 1 1/2 hours once the bread dough had risen. Not too shabby for a stew, two breads, preserved lemons, and a side of green beans. It was a beautiful spread and I am happy to have attempted it.
Clockwise from top left:
Khobz, Chicken Tagine, cilantro, Naan, preserved lemons,
Green Beans with Mustard Butter, and Chick Pea Tagine
The Recipes
Chicken Tagine (with Chick Pea Tagine modifications)
from Ron Garrett the First
Yield: 4 servings

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp coriander
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper (modify to your preferred level of spice)
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 2 cans Italian stewed tomatoes
  • plain yogurt, for serving
  • cilantro, for serving
  • Heat olive oil in a pan. Place chicken pieces in the pan and begin to brown them.
  • Add onion and garlic and cook until they are sweating.
  • Mix and add all spices (cumin through cayenne). Allow chicken to brown, about 4 minutes on each side.
  • When meat is browned, add tomatoes and raisins.
  • Cover and let the stew simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.
  • Top with yogurt and cilantro and serve over rice or couscous.
  • To make this dish vegetarian, replace the chicken with 1 can of chick peas (garbanzo beans), drained. Add to the pot after onions have sweated and proceed as instructed.
If you prefer a thicker stew, you can use a slotted spoon to control
how much tomato broth is in your bowl... or you can just sop it up with Khobz and Naan!
Stovetop Naan
Adapted from Aarti Sequeira, Food Network
Yield: 6 flats, each about 8x3"

  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm water (100°F)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tbsp plain yogurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 stick melted butter
  • In a large glass, dissolve the yeast and 1 tsp sugar into the warm water. Let sit for about 10 minutes or until frothy.
  • Mix remaining dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir with a whisk to incorporate.
  • When the yeast is frothy, add the yogurt and olive oil to the glass and stir.
  • Pour the liquids into the bowl of dry ingredients and begin to mix lightly with a fork. 
  • Once the dough has mostly come together, use your hands to finish mixing it. Do not over mix; as soon as the dough has come together into a soft and slightly sticky mass, cover it with a towel and let sit in a draft-free, warm area for 2-4 hours. (I placed mine on top of the radiator cover with a folded dish towel underneath and left it there for only 2.5 hours)
  • Once the dough has risen, lightly flour your countertop and gently remove the dough from the bowl. Place on the countertop and separate into 6 even pieces.
  • Roll each piece into a ball and coat in ample flour before setting to the side.
  • One at a time, place a dough ball on the floured surface and flatten into a teardrop shape. Roll with a well-floured rolling pin until 1/4 inch thick, about 8-9 inches long, and 4 inches across at the wide end of the teardrop. Lift the dough every once in a while during the rolling to make sure it does not stick to the counter.
  • Roll out all dough balls and set aside, covered.
  • Place your melted butter in a bowl near the stove with a pastry brush. Have a little dish of salt ready as well.
  • Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat until it is nearly smoking.
  • Place a naan on the skillet and cook for 1 minute. Flip the bread, cover, and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute more.
  • Remove from the skillet and transfer to a plate. Brush with butter and sprinkle some salt on top.
  • Repeat with the rest of the naans and serve.
I don't have a lid that would work, so I fabricated one out of foil.
It worked like a charm.
Add melted butter when the naan is still hot.
Chewy, bubbly, and charred: everything I want in Naan.
Everyone was eyeing the last piece before we split it up!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I can hardly wait to try it!!!

  3. I am hoping I can figure out how to NOT be anonymous!!

  4. Sorry it didn't thicken. Usually I let it simmer for an additional hour, uncovered, and it thickens. Did you serve it over rice or couscous? I'm glad you enjoyed it. I also enjoy following your blogs and family dinners. Wish I had been there.

  5. Ron, the recipe was wonderful! Next time I will remove the lid for a while. We ended up just sopping it up with the multiple breads we had, but if there weren't so much bread I definitely would have made some couscous. Thanks again for the recipe and for reading!