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Moroccan Roasted Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives

User Rating 5 Star Rating (3 Reviews)



Moroccan Roasted Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives

Moroccan Roasted Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives Photo © Christine Benlafquih

Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives is a classic Moroccan dish. The roasting method calls for marinating whole chickens with a Moroccan spice rub, and then slow-roasting the chickens the next day. A savory onion, lemon and saffron sauce is prepared stove top.

This method is particularly useful for feeding a crowd, as most of the preparation can be done the previous day. Moroccan etiquette is to serve one chicken for every three adults. Increase the recipe proportionally for the number of chickens you plan to make.

Also try the conventional stove top method and tagine method of preparing this dish.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 3 hours

Total Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes


  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • 1 small clove garlic, finely chopped or pressed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • --------- For the Sauce ---------
  • 2 large yellow or white onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon smen (Moroccan preserved butter - optional)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • 1 preserved lemon, quartered and seeds removed
  • handful of red or green olives


Season the Chicken

Make a spice rub for the chicken from the spices, garlic, cilantro, olive oil and lemon juice.

Gently lift and loosen the skin of the chicken from the breast and leg meat, leaving the skin intact. Spoon most of the spice mixture under the skin, and rub the spices over the meat, taking care to reach the leg.

Turn the chicken over, and loosen the skin from the back of the chicken. Add the remaining spice rub to the back meat, reaching to the legs if possible.

Salt and pepper the cavity of the chicken, truss the legs, and rub a little olive oil on the outside of the chicken. Transfer the chicken to a glass or plastic bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate overnight.

Cook the Onion Sauce

Set aside the saffron. Slice the onions as thinly as possible. Place the onions, garlic, remaining spices, cilantro, oil and smen in a heavy-bottomed shallow stock pot or Dutch oven. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, an hour or longer, until the onions are very soft and can easily be mashed with a spoon or vegetable masher. Avoid burning the onions, and add a little oil or water if necessary to prevent the onions from sticking.

Mash the onions and continue cooking, uncovered, until the onions are reduced to a thick blended mass sitting in the oil. How long this takes will depend on how moist the onions were, how thinly you sliced them, and how wide your pot is.

When the onions are a unified mass, stir in the saffron and remove the onions from the heat. At this point, the sauce can be cooled and refrigerated overnight.

Roast the Chicken

Transfer the chicken to an oiled shallow roasting pan, and allow the chicken to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven 325° F (160° C).

Roast the chicken uncovered, basting occasionally and rotating the pan halfway through cooking, for 2 to 3 hours, or until the skin is beautifully colored and the leg can be moved easily in its joint.

Transfer the cooked chicken to a serving plate, or hold warm in the turned off oven.

Finish Making the Sauce

Pour the juices from the roasting pan into the onion sauce mixture, stirring to blend. Add the preserved lemon and olives, 2 or 3 tablespoons of water, and simmer the sauce over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the flavors are well-blended and the sauce is very thick.

Pour the sauce onto the serving platter, spooning a little sauce and olives over the chicken. Garnish the chicken with some of the preserved lemon, and serve immediately with Moroccan bread (khobz) for scooping up the chicken and sauce.

User Reviews

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 5 out of 5
Amazing, Member hroth521

Roast chicken is comfort food in the first place. This takes it to a whole new level. The house never smells as good as when I make Moroccan spiced food. The saffron was a real treat. I made a few changes (of course), none significantly change the overall recipe, I think. I added a teaspoon of Ras El Hanout to the spices paste that I rubbed under the skin. I bought some in Fez and I'm always looking to use it. Also, I roast the chicken at 400 deg F, covered, breast down for 1/2 hour, covered, breast up for 1/2 hour and uncovered breast up for 1/2 hour. Whatever works for you. The one thing I must insist, making the gravy the day before serving is not an option. You must make it the day before - while it is terrific the day you make it, with 24 hours the flavors and textures and spices melt into the most amazing sauce with which I've ever eaten chicken. Thank you so much for posting this recipe.

10 out of 10 people found this helpful.

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