North African chicken and butternut squash tagine

Food & drink
North African chicken and butternut squash tagine

The best types of recipes use just one pot, the same one right through from the moment the first dice of onion hits hot olive oil right through to its placement at the centre of the table.

It’s efficient, streamlined, but to work properly, the pan itself is important, and that’s where heavy, solid cast iron cookware comes in.

My most used pan is a large, deep braising pan with a heavy lid, the type that will outlast generations. It has a weight and heft to it that’s quite satisfying, and the iron holds the heat in a way that no other material quite can.

And here, it’s perfect for a quick and simple North African tagine, a one-pot meal to lift the gloom of a late February day.

First, a chicken

Use a whole chicken here, and butcher it yourself into small serving portions.

Use a heavy cleaver and be fearless, smashing clean through tough bones to reduce the bird to bite-sized portions.

Reserve the back of the carcass, the tips of the wings, the feet and any other bits and put them in a large pan with a chopped carrot, a stick of celery and a roughly chopped onion. Cover with water, bring to the boil and let simmer – this stock is part of the deal when you buy a whole bird, and it’s a vital part of this recipe. Yes, I know that there’s a second plan in play here, but it’s worth it to end up with a rich foundation for this tagine and enough stock leftover for a risotto or some such.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan with a lid and fry the chicken pieces in batches until they start to catch and brown. Set each batch aside as it’s done.

In the same pan, fry a chopped onion, two cloves of crushed garlic and a grated 4cm piece of ginger together until the onion starts to brown, and then add a spice mix of a teaspoon each of crushed coriander and cumin seeds, a stick of cinnamon, a pinch of saffron threads, a teaspoon of ground dried ginger and a pinch of chilli. Cook gently for a minute or two to help the spices get to work. Season with salt, about a teaspoon to start with, depending on taste, and freshly ground black pepper.

Peel a butternut squash and chop it into 2cm or so chunks, and add them to the pan. About 400g of squash is enough. Add the browned chicken back into the pan, and pour over a litre of the chicken stock.

Drizzle over a tablespoon of honey and stir and prod to help it to dissolve.

Transfer the pan to an oven heated to 180c and bake for forty minutes. The stock will concentrate, and the chicken and squash will catch and start to brown on the top. The crust is excellent.

Finish with chopped coriander, and eat with some bread.