Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Moroccan chicken with Meslalla cooked M'chermel way

We're still on Meslalla olives topic and this time with another traditional dish in the Moroccan cooking repertoire cooked M'chermel way.

Chicken with meslalla and chermoula is quite a favourite family dish and I don't think restaurants serve it back home. It's a typical homemade dish with homemade cured olives. 

If you can't get hold of meslalla olives, your next option in line would be those bitter green olives which I easily find at Turkish grocery shops (here in London). You will need to crack them with a pestle and parboil them for 5 min. They will have to be pitted after that.

The other option is to look for purple olives which I guess are usually found in North African grocery shops.

The chicken which hasn't been marinated will look clearer like so.
This dish was prepared in a hurry.

On a very traditional ground, this dish would be a bit oily but oh how it tastes good. 

A seriously traditional chicken with meslalla olives, the sauce (marka),
although looking oily,  is incredibly packed with flavours

Unlike the traditional and unbeatable way of cooking which involved being generous with oil (sometimes, this would be the secret), I like to cut on fat. That's how I've seen my mother doing to keep us on track. You still enjoy the dish without feeling remorse about it.

There are to ways to make this dish. I'll start with the traditional version and I'll put my favourite version in a note at the bottom (which requires you make the recipe posted previously but it delivers).

Serves 4-6
Prep: 15 min - Cooking: 60 min

  • 1 chicken of 1.5 kg, cut into big pieces
  • 500 g of Meslalla olives, ready to use
  • 1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium-size tomato, grated, seeds discarded
  • 3 gloves of garlic, chopped
  • 5 tbsps of parsley and coriander, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsps of oil (olive oil and vegetable oil)
  • 1/2 tsp of ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp of ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp of cumin
  • 1 tsp of turmeric
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tbsp of sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp of cayenne or 1 whole hot chili
  • 3 tbsps of lemon juice
For garnish
  • Preserved lemon


Preparing the chicken

Clean and leave the chicken in a salty and lemony brine for a few hours. Drain.

Like most of the dishes in Moroccan cooking, it's optional to marinate the chicken for a few hours, but if you have time, this will make this dish even more succulent. In this case, rub the chicken inside out in a paste made of all the spices and a tablespoon of water

Preparing the olives

Before using the olives, parboil them for 7-10 mins in water and lemon: add enough water to cover them and about 3 tbsps of lemon juice or 1 lemon cut in quarters. In case the olives are obviously bitter, repeat the process with a new fresh water. 

Drain and pit the olives. 

Using the lemon in the preservation step and boiling step keeps the
olives looking good

In a deep pot, add a couple of tablespoons of water and place over medium heat. Add the chicken, the finely chopped onion, the spices (except if you have already marinated it) and the oil. Stir and let simmer for 7 to 8 minutes while turning the chicken all around so it's well infused with all the flavours.

Cover with water to 2/3 and add the herbs, the garlic, the tomato. Cover and let simmer for about 40 min until the sauce is halfway reduced and the chicken is cooked.  

Add the olives. Let simmer for another 10-15 minutes. The sauce should be nicely reduced and thick.

Before you knock of the heat, mix in about 3 tbsps of lemon juice. Stir. .

Serving the dish

In a serving dish, place some of the sauce, then the chicken, then top with olives and more of the sauce. 

Garnish with preserved lemons and a preserved chili (or one you would have cooked in the pot from the beginning).

Serve hot with a good Moroccan bread, baguette or pita.


1- I like this method where we add the already marinated olives and prepared as shown here. In this case, you don't need to parboil them, you just add them as they are. The taste of the olives with all the spices in them bring the dish to another level of goodness.

2- You could follow the same recipe by substituting the chicken with a  whole big fish such as pandora or conger or cod.

Moroccan Meslalla olives in chermoula

Now that Meslalla has become edible after a few days of water treatment and care, Moroccan households usually marinate it with a lemony chermoula mix and serve it as a starter in every meal.

In my last trip to Morocco, my mother shared with me a new recipe she's come up with to make an even better marinated meslalla and I can't have enough since I discovered it.

This recipe keeps well in the fridge for a month. It can be served as a starter or can be used for cooking (recipes will follow).

On their own, these marinated olives make a good snack

For 750g of meslalla
Prep: 10 min - Cooking: 25 min

First Meslalla boiling stage

  • 750g of meslalla ready to use (see post for more details), pitted
  • 2 tbps of salt
  • 3 tbps of lemon juice or a few wedges of lemon

Ingredients for chermoula simmering stage
  • 1 cup of tomatoes, grated 
  • 1 medium-size onion, grated or finely chopped
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 tbps of tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup of chopped coriander and parsley 
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • 1 tbps of sweet paprika (optional)
  • 1 tbps of harissa or to taste
  • 2 tbps of lemon juice
  • 150 ml of water
  • 2 tbps of extra virgin olive oil

The olives have been marinated all the way through. They're almost all
 pitted without effort.


Boil the meslalla olives for 10 mins in water, salt and lemon. Drain.

This steps corrects any bitterness in the olive especially if you are using it in its early days of processing (see previous post).

Next, mix all ingredients mentioned in the second step, leaving the olive oil for the end. Cover and let simmer for 5 minutes over medium heat.

Add boiled and drained meslalla and stir. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes. The sauce should have reduced to nothing by now. If not, make sure you increase the heat and reduce it.

You could add the chopped herbs at the same time as the olives. I actually prefer it that way.

Add the olive oil and stir. Set aside to cool. Store in airtight containers in a cold place for up to a month.

Serve cold.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Moroccan cracked olives: Meslalla

The olive tree is a big thing in Morocco. They grow all over the country with some concentrations in specific Area. There is a belief that whoever uproots an olive tree and let it die could be cursed and damned.

Moroccan picholine is the most common olive which seems to represent more than 95% of the national production. It's also the one with a high extraction percentage of oil.

Besides Moroccan picholine comes the Meslalla, Dahbia, Hamrani and a few other varieties mostly shared with Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean countries.

Meslalla before treatment, just after being picked

In Fez, everyone is expecting the beginning of the harvest season with excitement and a lot of expectations. Many households still cure their olives at home and most of the family know someone who would extract the olive oil they'll be using for the next year. I don't even know if any Fassi has ever bought an industrially extracted and bottled olive oil. It all comes from traditionally extracting facilities called "Ma'assras".

Separating the olives by colour, the purple ones will be slit 
and left in a brine while the green-looking one will serve for meslalla recipes. 
They could also be left as part of meslalla mix

Meslalla is an olive for olive-addict people and not for amateur looking for sweet or acidic olives because it's not an acidic olive (as opposed to the usual green olive) nor sweet. It's slightly bitter and that's what most of people like cooking with it and marinating it for days. There is that extra layer of taste that makes it exceptional.

Brining Meslalla

After picking the olives, we separate the green ones from the others (discard the black ones if any). The olives are washed and left to dry for a few hours. We usually leave them out in the air.

The green-looking olives should be smashed using a small rock or a heavy pestle. It's important not to break or shatter the stone inside. The fact of smashing the flesh of the olive helps it maturing in the brine, slitting is not the best option for meslalla.

Delicately smashing the flesh of the olive without breaking the stone inside

Meslalla olives are mixed with salt (optional) or and lemon wedges and placed in a big jar or a deep container. We cover the whole thing with water and seal.

The reason why some people add salt is to help tenderizing the olives faster. In case you don't need the whole bulk immediately, you can omit the salt. As for the lemon, it's meant to keep the olives from darkening.

Because we usually handle about 15 kgs of Meslalla in the beginning of the harvest season, my family prefers to keep them in their initial brine and only treat a small quantity (kilo by kilo as we go) for immediate use.

Meslalla olives are very bitter and no one can really eat them as they are. So here is how we handle this.

After the first brine where we prefer to keep the bulk of Meslalla, we only take what is going to be used for the next month and we handle it as follows:

Handling the bitterness of Meslalla

To get rid of the Meslalla's bitterness, we leave the olives in water and we change it a few times throughout a period of 8 to 15 days, depending how we like them. My mother likes an slightly bitter after taste while I prefer them with hardly  bitterness noticeable.

The desired amount of Meslalla is placed in a deep container and it should be covered with cold water.

After 2 days, we discard the water and cover with new  cold water. We repeat this operation 3 to 5 times.

At this stage, Meslalla is ready for cooking or marinating.

Marinating Meslalla

Meslalla is usually marinated and left to infuse in a nice lemony chermoula and crushed preserved lemons (see how to make chermoula here).

You could chermoula-marinate Meslalla lightly or heavily to your liking
We usually serve chermoula-marinated Meslalla as part of an olive spread in the beginning of a meal including for breakfast.

Chermoula-marinated meslalla can keep for a good month in a fridge or a cold part of the house, properly covered.

Dry chermoula marinated Meslalla

A lemony chermoula-marinated meslalla with a generous amount of preserved
 lemon in the mix
Now that Meslalla is ready for use, let's discover what it is good for, in the next posts.


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