I wanted to make a Moroccan-inspired turmeric chicken dish for three reasons. First, I wanted to turn on the oven this morning to heat the room. Second, today I needed to use four chicken thighs. Third, I craved bright flavors and colors to offset white snow, gray clouds, and the monotone-colored dishes I have made in recent days.
With the skill of an amateur masseuse, I rubbed the chicken thighs and skin with a blend of kosher salt, black pepper, crushed white cardamom, yellow mustard seed, brown mustard seed, and turmeric. The primary hassle with using turmeric is that it stains everything a golden yellow unless you wipe off surfaces and wash dishes and utensils after using the spice. It’s supposed to be good for health so I guess that’s worth the hassle.
Next, I put the thighs in a greased dish, covered them with foil, and roasted them along with sliced onion and fresh-squeezed clementine juice at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes. In order to brown the skin, I removed the foil and roasted the chicken for another 20 minutes. The skin wasn’t getting as brown and crispy as I wanted. I took the tender chicken out of the oven and set it aside. I removed the seasoned skins whole and laid them flat in an iron skillet. The skillet went back into the oven until I had golden brown, crispy chicken skins.
To round out the dish, I made Israeli cous cous by toasting the uncooked grains in a sauce pan with olive oil. After adding hot water and some pieces of cooked onion that was stained with turmeric yellow from roasting, the cous cous steamed for about 12 minutes. Meanwhile, I made a gastrique by combining white vinegar and raw honey in a small pot with fresh clementine juice. I added a few stalks of lemongrass for good measure. I heated the mixture, let the lemongrass steep for a few minutes, removed the stalks, and sucked on their sweet-tart lemony flavor. The gastrique reduced until it was syrupy.
I needed some ingredients to make a light salad that would accompany the chicken and cous cous. I walked in the snow across the street to the City Market and entered the Al-Habashi mart. The store owner and I exchanged greetings. I filled small white paper bags with slivered almonds, dates, and golden raisins. I strolled over to the bulk spice section and filled plastic bags with bay leaves, cloves, and ground cumin to restock my pantry. After paying, I walked further along the covered stretch of the market, bought a pair of pomegranates for a buck and a cluster of parsley for two quarters. I trudged back home.
The salad was a blend of finely chopped parsley, chopped dates, golden raisins and pomegranate kernels. I added bits of turmeric onion for a savory flavor. I wanted to use fresh mint instead of parsley but didn’t feel like heading to the Asian markets. The City Market vegetable vendors only had parsley on display so I worked with what I had.
Before assembling the dish, I toasted some almond slivers in a saute pan. After removing the almonds, I sauteed segments of clementine with a dab of clementine-lemongrass-honey gastrique until they were lightly browned and blistered. I fussed with arranged the chicken, cous cous, crisp skin, salad and other items for far too long in order to photograph the final composition. I wish I had fancier dishware to plate dishes like this for photographic purposes, but I use what few dishes and plates I have.
As I had hoped, the turmeric and other spices imbued the chicken with just enough flavor but didn’t overpower it. Keeping the meat on the bone helped to retain its juices and therefore flavor. The cous cous was a nutty complement to the tangy citrus of the pomegranate-based salad and the sweet-tart balance of the blistered clementines and gastrique.
The entire meal turned out to me a fuss to make, style, and photograph, but it was well worth the effort to eat. The final assembly proved colorful and hopefully looks appetizing.
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