This is the best chicken recipe I know (although to be perfectly honest I like it best with pigeon). It’s one of those special occasion staples of Moroccan cuisine that never quite make their way into the cookbooks. It is labor intensive and worth all the effort.
Credit for this recipe is due entirely to Christine Benlafquih, whose About.com recipes I really cannot say enough good things about. Cookbooks were one of many things I had to pack up and put in storage for a year, and being able to access her incredible store of excellent Moroccan recipes is another brick in the wall against homesickness (speaking of, if I had a dinar for every Pink Floyd song I heard played live in Jordan I could retire at 30…).
Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the women who made this for me in the first place, in the village of Ait Hamd in Morocco. As is so often the case, the rafisa I ate there (with pigeon…) was both the first and the best iteration of the meal I’ve ever had, and I’m grateful to them for introducing it to me. Whenever I’m missing that part of my life, this recipe – a whiff of fenugreek and saffron – brings it all back.
Moroccan Chicken Rafisa
You’re going to need:
1 chicken, quartered
3 large onions, thinly sliced
A small bunch each of parsley and cilantro
2 tablespoons of fenugreek seeds, soaked in water overnight
1/2 cup of lentils, soaked in water for several hours
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons each of salt and pepper and ras al hanut
1 teaspoon each of turmeric and ginger
A generous pinch of saffron threads
1 teaspoon of smen/ghee/clarified butter
You’ll also need a batch of the best Moroccan flatbread there is: msimmin. This will involve:
3 1/2 cups of flour
1/2 cup semolina, plus a bit more for sprinkling
2 teaspoons each of salt and sugar
A quarter teaspoon of yeast
1 1/2 cups of warm water
A stick of butter (that’s right)
A half cup of oil
First thing to do: you’ll want to soak your fenugreek seeds overnight and pre-soak your lentils for at least a few hours prior to cooking. It’s also best to add your quartered chicken, the olive oil, onions, and spices (excepting the fenugreek and saffron) together in a large covered pot and refrigerate that overnight.
When you’re ready to cook, gather all your ingredients; place the chicken on the stove and cook on low heat for 15 minutes. Be sure to toss everything together to ensure that everything (including the bottom of your pot) is coated in enough oil that nothing burns.
After 15 minutes, give everything a good stir and add 3-4 cups of water, the lentils and fenugreek (drained), parsley, cilantro, and saffron. Allow to simmer on medium low heat for about an hour.
In the meantime, prepare your msimmin:
Mix together the dry ingredients; add the water and knead to form a satiny dough. Pinch into 1-2 inch balls of dough and set aside.
Prepare an oiled workspace with a small bowl of semolina, a small bowl of vegetable oil, and your softened butter.
Roll out a ball of dough till it is as thin as you can make it, oiling your fingers and the dough with the vegetable oil. Sprinkle the flattened dough with semolina, dot with small bits of butter, and fold in thirds like you would an envelope.
That done, fold the long folded rectangle into thirds again to make a neat little square.
Proceed this way with all of the balls of dough.
When finished, heat up a frying pan on medium high heat. Flatten each square to twice its size before cooking it on the stovetop, several minutes on each side. They should be done when both sides are beginning to brown.
Shred the msimmin into small pieces (about a quarter or a sixth of the size of each cooked piece) and line the bottom of a large serving dish with them.
After cooking your chicken for about an hour, add the smen/clarified butter and mix. Test your spicing by taking a piece of fresh msimmin and dipping it in the simmering sauce. Make adjustments as necessary.
Place the chicken and lentils on top of the msimmin pieces and drizzle with the remaining sauce. Best eaten with your hands, like all good things…and it’s even better as leftovers the next day.