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Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Nigella Seeds (Black Seeds or Sanouj)



Tagine of Chicken and Nigella Seeds (Sanouj)

Photo © Christine Benlafquih

Nigella seeds, also known as black seeds (or sanouj in Moroccan Arabic), impart a light oregano-like essence to this classic Moroccan chicken tagine. Saffron, ginger and white pepper lend fragrant seasoning. Cinnamon and preserved lemon are optional.

The cooking time is for preparation in a traditional clay or ceramic tagine. The time will be reduced by one hour if cooking in a conventional pot. The meal is traditionally served directly from the tagine or on a communal plate, with each person eating from his own side of the dish. Serve Moroccan bread for scooping up the chicken and sauce.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4.


  • 1 whole chicken (with or without skin), cut in half or into pieces
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced into rings
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon nigella seeds, toasted lightly and ground
  • 1 tablespoon nigella seeds, toasted lightly and left whole
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
  • 1/2 preserved lemon, cut into 2 quarters (optional)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • handful of cilantro sprigs, tied into a bouquet


Pour the olive oil into the base of a tagine or the bottom of a wide pot or Dutch oven. Distribute the sliced onion over the bottom.

In a bowl, mix the chicken with the chopped onion, garlic, ground nigella, whole nigella and spices. Arrange the chicken (meat side down) in the center of the tagine or pot, and distribute the chopped onions all around.

Swirl 1/3 cup of water in the bowl to clean it of the spices, and add the water to the tagine or pot. Add the preserved lemon quarters and cilantro.

If cooking in a tagine, cover and place the tagine on a diffuser over medium-low heat. Allow the tagine to heat slowly to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to the lowest temperature necessary to maintain the simmer. Cook the chicken for about two hours or until very tender, interrupting the cooking only once to turn the chicken over for the last 45 minutes of cooking time. Discard the cilantro, and serve.

If cooking in a pot or Dutch oven, cover and bring the chicken to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally and turning the chicken once or twice, for another hour, or until the chicken is tender enough to pick easily from the bones. Reduce the liquids (if necessary) to a thick sauce, discard the cilantro, and serve.

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