Saffron Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Sicilian Olives

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.

Saffron Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Sicilian Olives

Saffron Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Sicilian Olives

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.

Two chickens about to be cut into 6 or 8 portions - this is the worst job!

Two chickens about to be cut into 6 or 8 portions – this is the worst job!

Then guests were organised and finally mum would enter the kitchen to replicate the black and white image she’d seen in the paper.

Sliced onions, grated ginger and sliced garlic

Sliced onions, grated ginger and sliced garlic

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.

Browned chicken pieces lying all snug in the pan

Browned chicken pieces lying all snug in the pan

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.

Adding the saffron to the wine and stock mixture

Adding the saffron to the wine and stock mixture

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.

My preserved lemons and a bowl of Sicilian olives (not pitted!)

My preserved lemons and a bowl of Sicilian olives (not pitted!)

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!

Chicken with homemade preserved lemons

Chicken with homemade preserved lemons

Saffron Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Sicilian Olives

Serves:  4-6

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.

Warn your guests the olives aren't pitted!

Warn your guests the olives aren’t pitted!

Serve with couscous or quinoa that has chopped coriander, currants and toasted flaked almonds mixed through it.

A good meal for entertaining

A good meal for entertaining

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  1. Food memories, you’ve gotta love ’em. Your mum must have been cutting-edge.

  2. This looks fantastic! I bet she had all the other patients looking on with much envy. What a thoughtful daughter you are-we always try and help with food don’t we? 😀

  3. I tried to make preserved lemons a couple of years ago and it didn’t work out. The flavours in this recipe sound perfect and it’s no wonder your Mom and Dad enjoyed it so much.
    Hope your Mom’s recovery is speedy.

  4. I hope your mother is feeling better. How wonderful to recreate that special dish. I remember the first time I found a recipe that called for preserved lemons, I was scouring London and finally found them in a little Greek store. Great recipe. GG

  5. What a lovely story and so nice that you could recreate your mother’s dish for her when she is in need of good, home cooked food. I’m sure this will help her make a speedy recovery. This is also just my favourite type of meal for dinner, thank you for sharing this recipe made with love.

  6. A fabulous & very fragrant dinner! Peter & I both love dishes like this one! It is on my menu for this week, Charlie! x

  7. That is a beautiful dish! I love it and think I might be able to do it in the slow cooker as well? Two of my boys have given up poultry so I’ll have to save the recipe for when their food rules change again.

  8. You are wonderful daughter! 🙂
    The chicken looks delicious, all those flavor put together must be mouthwatering! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  9. Chicken with preserved lemons and olives is my favourite Moroccan dish. Haven’t made it in ages though. So glad your mum enjoyed her dinner, I hope she is doing well.


  10. What a nice treat for your mom! I hope she’s recovering OK. I used to cut up my own chickens all of the time, but it’s been years since I’ve done that. Mainly, I suppose, because I’m either roasting a chicken, or when I serve it in pieces I want all dark meat or all breasts or whatever, depending on the recipe. Preserved lemons are wonderful – love them in Moroccan dishes. Good post – thanks.

  11. This is one of my favorite Moroccan tagines–I can see why it would be a nice treat for your Mom. The last preserved lemons I made turned brown. Not good. And I don’t even know why as I thought I had done everything correctly. Back to the drawing board!

  12. Fabulous simple and sensational meal – I cannot almost taste it.
    Hope your mom is out of hospital soon and back to 100% health and strength.
    Have a lovely week ahead.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  13. What a lovely story of how a dish became part of your repertoire. With the strong flavours from the preserved lemons and the olives I bet her taste buds were thrilled at the change from bland hospital food. My mom’s cravings were usually for the salt and fat in deli meats/sausages and salamis.

  14. I love most anything with saffron. This sounds divine!

  15. I’ve seen recipes that call for preserved lemons and I’ve seen recipe to make preserved lemons…I have made neither, I digress… see you soon. 😉

  16. I’ve made a recipe almost exactly like this for my family many times; with Mum’s allergies (including to tomato, which is *so* common in slow-cooked chicken meals, and of course she’s also allergic to beef, and dairy, and…) these kind of “Middle Eastern”-ish tagines and stews are perfect. And we are a family that adores pickled/briny/intense flavours like olives and capers and preserved lemons!

    This looks lovely. And without the quinoa, perfect for your carb-avoiding kids too, right? 😉

  17. Sounds like your mom is recovering well. I’m happy to hear that. This dish sounds very good. I never would have suspected ginger would be in this. I bet it’s delicious. I’ll have to look for preserved lemons now. 🙂

  18. That’s an absolutely fabulous dish!

  19. I loved your story about this dish, it makes it even more special no?
    So flavoursome and your chicken looks perfect 😀

    Choc Chip Uru

  20. I love what saffron has done to your dish – that colour is intense and it is amazing!

  21. Gorgeous dish!! So it runs in your genes 🙂 I love the picture you painted of your Mum and her quest for preserved lemons 🙂 Wish your Mom a very quick recovery.

  22. I know your mother had to really appreciate you making this meal for her. I make a similar dish but do not use saffron…it adds such lovely color to your dish.

  23. This would make me feel better no matter what I was suffering from! Really must make some preserved lemons with my lemon glut. There are just so many I don’t know where to start!

  24. G’day and love the stories behind the recipe Charlie, true!
    Your recipe and photo look delish and wish I could try some of it now too!
    Cheers! Joanne

  25. It looks beautiful hun and you cant beat the healing power of food. I hope your mum makes a quick and speedy recovery xx

  26. I can’t wait to make this! I have quite a few preserved lemons in the fridge that need to be used and I love preserved lemons with chicken, but I’ve never made it this way. This dish looks SO good and what a thrill to have you mother call and let you know! Sorry that your mom is in the hospital. Hope she is out very soon and has a fast recovery.

  27. This dish sounds so incredible and looks so beautiful, Charlie. No wonder your mum loved it and I’ll bet it helps her recovery, too. Hope she’s well soon.

  28. Good: I still have one jar of preserved lemons from my darling Meyer [on strike this year for lack of nutrition!] – shall try your version of a very beloved tagine.

  29. What a wonder in the kitchen you are, Charlie! And a very loving daughter, too! I’m sure your mother was abundantly cheered by not just a delicious meal, but the thought that you went so far to replicate a memorable family meal. I have never had any preserved lemons, and I’m quite intrigued! I hope your mother is back to good health and vitality very soon. Blessings! ox

  30. When family/friends are in hospital, we often interpret it as a good sign when the person starts complaining about the food. It very often means the recovery is well underway. I hope that’s true for your Mother, Charlie. This sounds like a great dish and how thoughtful of you to send it to the hospital. I’m sure she enjoyed it. I’ve got pretty much all of the ingredients myself, including some preserved lemons looking for a purpose. Thanks, Charlie!

  31. I hope this chicken made your mother’s recovery much quicker. I’m sure it did.

    Does anyone like hospital food?

    I hope she gets home soon.

  32. i hope your mum is feeling better Charlie!

  33. I hope your mom is healing fast from the surgery and what a nice daughter you are to make this dish! I haven’t tried preserved lemons before but I love citrus and I would love to have this chicken. Looks so juicy and flavorful!

  34. this sounds delicious.

  35. Its gorgeous Charlie. I love chicken with preserved lemons. How nice for your Mum, you Angel

  36. Bless you Charlie, what a gorgeous daughter you are 🙂 Hope your mum recovers soon xx

  37. What sweetness that you would prepare this for your hospitalized mother. I’m sure it made her day.

    Now we know from whence your interest in cooking springs.

    Lovely story.

  38. Your chicken came out gorgeous. My mom was also a passionate cook, I guess that is where we get it from 😉

  39. I hope your mum is doing better now Charlie, hospitals aren’t very relaxing places to recover in- and the food is never inspiring!
    I’m glad you could make a version of your old family favourite. Preserved lemons are still a bit exotic now- how on earth did you textbook them down at all years ago? Xox

  40. Love the story and the recipe. I hope your mum is feeling much better soon!!! 🙂

  41. What a lovely example of family traditions going full circle. Your mum sounds like quite the trend setter and I am impressed you replicated this dish without the newspaper clipping! I’m sure your meal has speeded her recovery and hope she’s back to full health soon.

  42. That is it….. I’m calling it. When’s the ebook coming out? I will be your first customer. This looks fabulous and I adore preserved lemon.

    Now I see where your greatest culinary inspiration comes from.

    Hope your mum recovers well.

  43. I’ve never understood why the food in hospital is so terrible, what’s the deal with that? This sounds lovely, I really like the simplicity of it all.

    I hope your Mum is back on her feet, cooking up a storm really quickly.

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