For many of us, breaking the Yom Kippur fast is an Ashkenazic feast of bagels and lox, blintzes, noodle kugel and perhaps some sweet rugelach, babka or kuchen (coffee cake). For Sephardim around the world, break fast looks and tastes very different while still meeting the need to be tasty when prepared ahead, quick to assemble at the last minute, easy to digest and, above all, restorative.
For Jews of Morocco, a flavorful stew of chicken with preserved lemon and olives is often served for Yom Kippur break fast, providing comfort and nutrition similar to chicken soup. I’m tempted to re-name this dish “White House Chicken” because I was honored to prepare it as the guest chef for three Passover Seders hosted by President and Mrs. Obama. Even dearer to my heart, it’s the one dish my son said he absolutely wants me to make for the Shabbat dinner prior to his upcoming wedding. Fifty people? No problem. This is a perfect dish for large gatherings and holidays as it’s easily multiplied for a crowd, tastes even better if made a day or two ahead and freezes well. Let’s also appreciate that it’s made and re-heated on the stove top when so many other dishes vie for space in the oven.
Traditionally, this dish is made with bone-in and skin-on thighs or a whole cut-up chicken. Using boneless, skinless thighs and breasts was the preference at the White House and the way I prepare the dish at home so my guests don’t have to deal with bones. I also find the dish doesn’t need the extra fat from the skin. Use whatever is your preference, although if you do use bone in, you might need to add a little extra broth to cover the chicken pieces. Serve the chicken with lots of the sauce on a big rimmed platter on its own or surrounding a mound of rice or couscous in the middle.
- 3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1 medium onion, diced (around 1 cup)
- salt to taste
- 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper or to taste
- 8-10 chicken thighs and/or breast halves
- 2-3 cups chicken broth, or more if needed
- 1 whole preserved lemon or more, to taste
- 1 cup pitted green Mediterranean-style olives
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and thin stems plus some larger leaves for garnish
- In a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp oil over medium heat. Add the onion, sprinkle with a couple pinches of salt and sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned.
- Stir in the garlic, turmeric, ginger, paprika and black pepper and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring a couple times, until fragrant.
- If using boneless, skinless thighs, fold over ends of the meat to make a tighter “ball” of it. This will help keep the meat moist. If you are using large chicken breasts, cut them in half, closer to the same size as a thigh. Push the onion-spice mix around the edges of the pot and add the remaining tablespoon of oil, then add the chicken pieces. Cook until lightly browned, turn over and cover the cooked side with the onion-spice mixture.
- Once the second side is lightly browned, add just enough stock to barely cover the chicken and stir, making sure to get up all the bits stuck on the bottom of the pot.
- Bring to the beginning of a boil, then lower the heat to medium low, cover the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 40 minutes so the flavors really blend, the chicken gets soft and the onions nearly melt into the sauce.
- While the chicken is cooking, cut the preserved lemon into quarters and rinse the salty brine off the pieces under cold running water.
- With a small, sharp knife, carefully slice off the pulp of the lemon (save for other uses like salad dressing) and cut the rinds into very thin strips. After the chicken has cooked for 40 minutes, add the lemon strips to the pot along with the olives and chopped cilantro. Stir well and cook uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes more, stirring occasionally as the sauce naturally thickens a little. Given the saltiness of the olives and lemons, taste to see if you need to add salt.
- To serve the stew in a traditional way, mound rice or couscous in the middle of a large, rimmed platter. Surround that with the chicken and sauce and finish with a sprinkling of cilantro leaves.
- To prepare from frozen, defrost at least partially in the refrigerator overnight, then heat in a covered pot over medium, stirring occasionally until every piece is warmed through.