Years ago when I was growing up my mother was always an enthusiastic cook. She liked to be up with the latest trends and would scour the newspaper for the most up-to-date recipes; (cooking magazines weren’t yet invented). One day there was in the paper a recipe calling for preserved lemons. No one in our world had ever heard of a ‘preserved lemon’ let alone tried one. This recipe quickly entered my mother’s must-do category and so it was cut out and placed in a plastic folder then put in the bottom drawer in the kitchen.
Having found ‘the recipe’ the next task was to source the ingredients and this required a lot of ringing around. ‘Do you sell preserved lemons?’ my mother would ask with a lessening sound of hope with every phone call. But, after an exhaustive search they were found and my mother leapt into her car and beetled to the trend-setting store that sold preserved lemons.
Then guests were organised and finally mum would enter the kitchen to replicate the black and white image she’d seen in the paper.
My mother cooked so many different and fabulous dishes and so I’m not sure why it is that I remember this dish so distinctly. Mum is currently recovering from surgery and I wanted to make her something so she didn’t have to order in takeaway and when I entered my pantry I saw my jars of preserved lemons. I really wanted to cook with them because they have been sitting there preparing themselves for a good few months. My mind immediately wandered back to that dinner I had enjoyed all those years ago in my family home.
On Saturday morning I phoned my father to find out how mum was coping with being in hospital. ‘She’s not liking the food’, he said. So I told him I was making a meal for them and he asked if he could pick it up on his way to the hospital that evening. ‘Not a problem’, I said.
Except I didn’t have a recipe. I have no idea what happened to that newspaper clipping however I’d have to assume it went the way of a lot of superfluous items when you move from house to house. So I recreated the recipe from memory. I used two chickens and made a double quantity but the recipe below gives single quantities. I served this with quinoa that had flaked almonds, currants and chopped coriander mixed through it.
Dad beetled around at 5pm and it was just coming out of the oven and I packed it into containers and he drove it straight to the hospital. Within the hour my mother had sent me a text message saying, ‘Fantastic dinner, Charlie. Loved it. Will have to make it when I get my strength back’. What goes around, comes around!
Saffron Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Sicilian Olives
Degree of Difficulty: 3/5
Cost: Preserved lemons can be expensive but if you make your own, they’re very affordable – especially if you have your own lemon tree! This is an inexpensive meal.
- 1 tbspn olive oil
- 1 x 1.7kg free-range chicken, rinsed, patted dry and cut into 6-8 portions. (If you don’t want to do this you can buy chicken pieces but I prefer to buy a whole chicken and cut it up myself).
- 2 brown onions, sliced
- 2 tbspns grated ginger
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
- a wineglass of white wine
- 2 cups (500ml) chicken stock
- pinch of saffron
- 1 preserved lemon, flesh discarded then rinsed and chopped finely
- 2/3 cup Sicilian olives (and do warn your guests these haven’t been pitted)
Pre-heat oven to 180C (375F).
Heat a large casserole dish with a lid over medium-high heat. Add olive oil.
Carefully place chicken skin side down, in batches, in the casserole dish and brown on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon or tongs and set aside.
Turn down the heat to medium and add onions, ginger and garlic. Cook until softened. Add white wine and simmer until alcohol has evaporated. Add stock and bring to the boil. Add saffron and stir to combine. Return chicken to casserole dish. Add preserved lemons.
Place lid on top of casserole dish and place in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and add olives. Return to the oven with lid on for another 15 minutes.
Serve with couscous or quinoa that has chopped coriander, currants and toasted flaked almonds mixed through it.
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