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Chicken Tagine Smothered in Spicy Eggplant Puree (Tagine Mderbel)

  • SERVINGS: 4 to 6

Here chicken (or lamb, if you prefer) simmers in a sauce of garlic, ginger, saffron and black pepper until it is so tender it is falling off the bone. Then the chicken is piled in the center of a dish and topped with a thick, intensely flavored "jam" made from fried eggplant that has been crushed with spices and garlic, refried with fresh tomatoes and enriched with some of the sauce from the chicken. The remaining sauce is added to the dish, and the tagine is reheated to blend the flavors. Though absolutely delicious, this dish is not at all subtle.

  1. 2 pounds eggplant (about 2 large)
  2. 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons coarse (kosher) salt
  3. Olive oil or corn oil, for shallow frying
  4. 3 medium garlic cloves, crushed
  5. 3/4 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  6. 1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander
  7. 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  8. 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  9. Several pinches of cayenne pepper, to taste
  10. 2 large tomatoes—peeled, seeded and chopped (about 2 cups)
  11. Pinch of sugar
  12. 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  13. 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  14. 1 chicken (about 4 pounds), cut into 8 pieces, or 3 pounds lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat
  15. 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
  16. Pinch of powdered saffron
  17. 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  18. 1/2 cup grated onion (2 small onions)
  19. Sprigs of fresh coriander and/or thin slices of lemon, for garnish
  1. Trim off the top and bottom from each eggplant. With a vegetable peeler, remove 3 to 4 thin vertical strips of skin from each vegetable, leaving the eggplants striped, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Sprinkle the eggplant with 2 tablespoons of the salt and let drain in a nonaluminum colander for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight. Rinse and drain the eggplant; pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a large heavy skillet over high heat. Fry the eggplant slices in batches until golden brown on both sides, about 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels; place on a cutting board, and reserve. With a potato masher, crush the eggplant with 1 of the garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons each of parsley and coriander, the paprika, cumin and cayenne.
  3. Return 3 tablespoons of the reserved oil to the skillet and reheat. Add the tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of the salt and the sugar, if necessary. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until most of the moisture evaporates, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the mashed eggplant to the tomatoes in the skillet and cook over very low heat, stirring frequently, until most of the moisture evaporates and the mixture is very thick, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and vinegar.
  5. Trim the excess fat from the chicken or lamb. Wash the chicken; pat dry. In a mortar, pound the remaining garlic with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Blend in the ginger, saffron and black pepper. Gradually stir in 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil and 1/2 cup of hot water, as if making mayonnaise.
  6. In a large flameproof casserole or deep skillet, toss the chicken with the garlic-spice mixture to coat each piece. Cover and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Add the onion, the remaining parsley and coriander and enough water to just cover, about 2 1/2 cups. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to moderate, cover and simmer for 1 hour, or until the chicken begins to fall off the bone. Remove the chicken to a serving dish and cover to keep moist. Skim off most of the fat, then continue cooking the pan juices uncovered over moderate heat until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 15 minutes.
  7. Mix half the pan juices with the eggplant puree and adjust the seasoning, adding additional salt, black pepper and lemon juice to taste. Place the chicken in a small heatproof serving bowl. Pile the eggplant on top, forming a pyramid. Surround with remaining sauce. Cover loosely with foil and reheat 10 minutes in a 400° oven just before serving. Garnish the puree with thin slices of lemon and sprigs of coriander if desired.
Make Ahead The recipe can be prepared to Step 4 up to 3 days in advance.