Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
“Of All The Gin Joints In All The Towns In All The World…”
Yes! We are in Casablanca, Morocco... again!
For lunch, we walk to Dar Dada in the heart of Casablanca’s medina, a restaurant around the corner from Rick’s Café… I would not mind trying the food at Rick’s but we have been told by people we know in this city that it is a “pure tourist trap”!
Casablanca is a very large, international city on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. It is about 1 hour Southwest of Rabat, the capital, but it is much more cosmopolitan. It is the country’s main port and the largest financial center in Africa. It also has Morocco’s largest international airport.
The city was made famous by the beloved 1942 eponymous film and its star-studded cast, featuring Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine), Ingrid Berman (Ilsa Lund), Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), Claude Rains (Captain Lo), Conrad Veidt (Gestapo Maj. Strasser), "Dooley" Wilson (Sam) and with Sydney Greenstreet (Signor Ferrari), Peter Lorre (Ugarte) and Szőke Szakáll (Karl the head waiter).
That film has been the source for many memorable quotes still part of our vernacular such as “Here's Looking At You, Kid," "Round Up The Usual Suspects," "I Think This Is The Beginning Of A Beautiful Friendship" and, of course, the quote heading this article.
But I digress!
Dar Dada is in a riad building, built in classic Spanish Andaluz style, with a covered central atrium that now serves as the restaurant's main space.
The food is classic Moroccan; the menu is in French, with some exceptional appetizers i.e. entrées, such as seìlection de salades fines marocaines, pastilla au poulet (known as bastllas in the US, they are closed phyllo dough pies sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon powder) and salade de saumon.
The mains are divided into Fish and Seafood, such as croustillant feuilleté de poisson légère crème safranée, filet de Saint-Pierre juste saisi escalivada de legumes et pomme écrasée, tajine d'espadon tout en saveurs de chermoula citronnée. Also Meats, such as epaule d'agneau cuite lentement & dorée accompagnée de légumes (2 personnes), tajine de jarret de boeuf aux coings caramelizes, a couple couscous de jarret de boeuf mijoté aux legumes and other classic tajines.
Amongst these tajines was the garlic and lemon chicken tajine I had for lunch.
There are desserts, fruit plates etc. There is a selection of French wines and champagnes, nice local beers and an exceptional collection of single malt whiskeys. They have also a selection of Moroccan wines, whites and reds, but they seem to be very acidic so they will work well with fatty beef dishes but not so well with delicate poultry tajines.
I asked for the recipe of the garlic and lemon chicken tajine I had.
The ingredients are:
5 or 6 skinless but bone-in, chicken thighs about 2 ½ lb.
1 preserved lemon, halved
1 tbsp. baharat spice blend
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 medium red onions, quartered
2 heads garlic peeled (about 20 pieces)
¼ cup chicken broth
2 tbsp. honey
2 cups diced squash
¼ cup dry figs or apricots, cubbed and re-hydrated
½ cup pitted green and black olives, mixed
Flat leaf parsley or cilantro
Pickled pimento strip.
Rub thighs with ½ of preserved lemon
Sprinkle baharat evenly over thighs and rub the chicken pieces to create a coating
Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight
Remove meat from refrigerator and let it return to room temperature
Slice quartered onions and garlic into thin pieces and reserve
Heat olive oil over medium heat at bottom of a flameproof tajine (tajine must be labeled “flameproof” to be usable on a stove top, gas or electric)
Place chicken pieces to brown, at the bottom of the flameproof tajine
Cook for 5 - 6 minutes until chicken pieces are browned on all sides
Cover thighs with reserved onion and garlic slices
Add 2 cups of diced squash and parsley or cilantro
Add ¼ cup of reconstructed figs and ½ cup of pitted green and black olives
Add juice, the preserved lemon pieces and cubed rind and lemon flesh
Add lemon juice and cubed rind and flesh to the tajine on top of the squash
Stir in broth and honey
Cover with tajine lid, reduce heat to low, and let everything cook for at least 25 minutes
When meat is fully cooked, juices will run clear
Top with slice of pickled pimiento.
The chicken tajine can be started on the stovetop for browning the meat and then moved in to the oven to cook at 350 F⁰ for at least 50 minutes.
You can find high quality baharat and other North African spice blends at The Spice Lab. See also the associated articles The Spice Lab and Spice Lab Redux. If you can’t find baharat you can substitute with Indian garam masala and the taste will be even more complex.
Tajine dishes with fish or chicken frequently feature preserved lemons. The lemons are preserved by keeping them in a mixture of sea salt and lemon juice.
To make the preserved lemons, you need:
1 large mouth jar with lid, sterilized
11 to 13 thin skinned lemons
Squeeze juice from 4 lemons and reserve juice, discarding the rinds.
Remove and discard the top and bottom of the remaining lemons.
Set a lemon on one end and make a slit from top to ¾ down, making sure the lemon is NOT halved. Turn the lemon with the other end on top and slit again about ¾ down at a 90 degree angle to the first cut.
Working over the jar, fill the slits with as much salt as they will hold and place in the jar. Repeat until you have used the rest of the lemons pushing them down with a spoon to minimize the empty space as much as possible. Pour reserved juice over the lemons until they are fully submerged, secure the lid and set the jar in a refrigerator for 6 weeks, occasionally shaking the jar. The lemons will hold for as much as 6 months after the lid is opened and the first lemon is removed for use.
To use the lemons, slice the rind in thin strips or cube in small pieces and add to a tajine.
For an interesting tasting variation, especially if you are using dry and re-hydrated fruit like prunes, apricots or figs, dissolve 1 tsp of sugar into the lemon juice to sweeten the dish.
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