Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Figs

Hello… Feels like I went into hibernation after Groundhog Day (Feb. 2) when Punxsutawney Phil the Groundhog saw his shadow, predicting 6 more weeks of winter! (And how did this little guy get so clairvoyant anyway?)

Anyhoo, as an island girl at heart, even though we’ve lived in places with snow-on-the-ground winters before (Boston, Germany), I was not happy with the groundhog’s prediction. Yes, even more reason to miss the balmy 77F weather of Ewa Beach, Oahu in February… Of course, we really can’t complain since my in-laws in Maine were buried in a Nor’easter (snow storm) last week — and that is not a figure of speech, they were literally BURIED, as you can see on my MIL’s site, Maine Musing. Glad it wasn’t me shovelling out the second floor balcony!

This morning, though, I spotted a pair of robins — a rather frisky couple chasing each other around the front lawn. This can only mean the cherry blossoms near the Tidal Basin can’t be far behind, even though the temperature here is back into the low 40s after hitting a balmy 58F yesterday.

So, thoughts are turning toward spring, but warm and warming meals are still the order of the day for a little while longer. I had a hankering for the bright flavor of those preserved lemons we made last November, but wanted something a little different too. I played around with flavors and put together a twist on our favoriteChicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives, adding a touch of sweetness with honey and dried figs. The result was a salty-sweet (think: Silver Palate’s “Chicken Marbella), lemony soul-warming casserole.

When brainstorming this dish, I was tempted to include cinnamon but instead put it in the side dish — adding cinnamon to the boiling water before the couscous grains are rehydrated. The combination of lemon and cinnamon is classic, but I really wanted the clean intense flavor of preserved lemons to shine here. The added warmth of cinnamon in the couscous livens every mouthful.

Preserved lemons are welcome in our house all year, but their sunny citrus flavor with its promise of warmer weather ahead are the perfect antidote when rumbling grey winter skies numb your outlook as well as your bones. Keep warm, Everyone!

Serves 4

4-6 dried whole figs
2 TBL honey, preferably a non-flowery variety
(I used NZ manuka honey, but any with a minerally (thyme), citrusy or earthy (chestnut) flavor will work)
1 cup boiling water

Rinse figs under warm water, and cut each dried fig in half. Dissolve honey in hot water, and add dried fig halves. Set aside for at least 30 minutes to re-hydrate fruit.

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
3 TBL olive oil
3-5 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly mashed

Cook onion in olive oil over medium-low heat until onions are translucent and sweet, about 10-15 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook until garlic is fragrant. Put onion mixture into bottom of oven-proof casserole that will fit all the chicken in a single layer.

Preheat oven to 375F/190C.

1 whole chicken, cut into serving pieces, or 4 whole legs
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp. sea salt

Combine cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Rub spice mixture into chicken pieces, especially under the skin. Place chicken in a single layer on top of onions in casserole.

4-6 pieces of preserved lemon, to equal 1 lemon
1 cup (160-200g) small-medium green olives with pits
2 tsp. raw/turbinado sugar
1/2 cup (120ml) chicken broth
1/4 cup (60ml) dry white wine
2 TBL olive oil

Separate lemon pulp from rind. (Pulp is usually discarded, which you can do, but I like to include it in the braising liquid) Cut each rind into 3-4 thin strips, and tuck 3/4 of the lemon strips under skin and between joints of the chicken. Sprinkle sugar.

Remove fig halves from soaking liquid (do not squeeze), reserving any liquid. Add water to soaking liquid to bring it to 1/4 cup. Scatter olives, figs, remaining 1/4 lemon rinds, and optional lemon pulp between chicken pieces. Pour broth, reserved fig-soaking liquid, and wine over everything, then drizzle on olive oil.

Bake in pre-heated oven for 15 minutes, then turn temperature down to 350F/180C, and continue baking for another 35-45 minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked through (whole leg joints will move easily and juices run clear).

Serve with cinnamon-scented couscous or long-grain rice, and think of spring…

Cinnamon Couscous
Prepare couscous according to package directions, but add pieces from 1/2 cinnamon stick to the water when you put it on to boil. When the water reaches a full boil, add a pinch of salt and the couscous, cover tightly and set aside for 10 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and fluff couscous grains with a fork.

More Recipes with Preserved Lemons:
How to Make Preserved Lemons
Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives
Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemon & Sage
Lamb Shanks with Preserved Lemons and Gremolata
Preserved Lemon & Almond Polenta Torta (dessert)