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Tagine-Inspired Chicken with Oranges, Caper Berries, Olives, and Dates

Tagine-Inspired Chicken with Oranges, Olives, Caper Berries, and Dates

Renée Robinson

In the Mood for Soft Syrupy Oranges Sitting on Top of Warmly Spiced Chicken?

When I got it in my head to make this dish, I didn’t really know where I was going to begin. All I knew was that I wanted chicken with warm spices, oranges, and some briny olives and caper berries to balance out the sweet and warm flavors. As my thinking progressed, I ended up deciding to cook it in a tagine as I felt it would give me the moist and saucy texture I was going for.

While I knew I could simply throw some sliced oranges into the mix, I wanted more than that, so I began by cooking a couple of sliced oranges in a black cardamom infused sugar syrup. I let them cook for a while until the syrup got thick, put on the lid and let them sit until I was ready to use them to top the chicken. I was delighted to see that after sitting for an hour or so, they had completely absorbed the syrup and were soft and full of flavor.

Oranges and Dates for Tagine-Inspired Chicken

While the oranges sat, I concentrated on the spice blend. I knew this is where the recipe would either succeed or fail. I ended up using a base of ras el hanout. This spice blend of cinnamon, cumin, coriander and allspice (among other things), seemed like a good place to begin to build my flavors. I added hot and sweet paprika, ground ginger, green cardamom, and a few other spices in order to come up with the flavor I was aiming toward.

After rubbing chicken thighs with some of the spice blend I browned them in a little oil, removed them from the skillet, added some browned ghee and sautéed a whole grated onion with some garlic and fresh ginger. After adding a little tomato paste, chicken stock, saffron and cider vinegar, I transferred it to a tagine, added the chicken, covered it and let it bake for about 25 minutes. I then added the caper berries, green olives, sliced dates and put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes.

I drizzled 2 teaspoons of orange blossom water over the chicken and sauce, topped it with the reserved oranges, chopped toasted almonds, and mint leaves. This was served with some simply steamed couscous in order to soak up some of that sauce. This ended up being even better than what I’d envisioned. While it isn’t a quick 30 minute meal, it was most definitely worth a couple of hours of my time. Sometimes, a dish requires a few extra steps in order for it to be all that you’d hoped. This is one of those. 

Tagine-Inspired Chicken with Oranges, Olives, Caper Berries, and Dates

Recipe by Renée Robinson



Chicken thighs, olives, caper berries and dates cooked in a spice filled sauce and topped with oranges cooked in black cardamom infused syrup.

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  • Oranges
  • 2 whole oranges, seeded and cut into slices 1/4 inch thick (I used one navel and one cara cara orange)

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar

  • 2/3 cup water

  • 4 whole black cardamom pods, cracked open

  • Spice Blend
  • 2 tablespoons ras el hanout

  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika

  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika

  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom seeds

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

  • Chicken and Sauce
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 3 pounds chicken thighs

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola or avocado oil

  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads

  • 1 tablespoon hot water

  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and coarsely grated on the large holes of a box grater

  • 2 cloves garlic, finely grated

  • 1 1/2 inches piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

  • 1/4 cup browned ghee or browned butter (I browned the milk solids when I made the ghee)

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 2 cups chicken stock or broth

  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

  • 1/2 cup Spanish green olives, pitted

  • 4 Medjool dates, pitted and quartered

  • 12 caper berries, rinsed and drained

  • 2 teaspoons orange blossom water, optional

  • 1/4 cup whole almonds, chopped and toasted

  • 2 tablespoons whole small mint leaves


  • Make the spice blend by mixing the ingredients beginning with ras el hanout through the nutmeg together in a small bowl. Rub the chicken thighs with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the spice blend and sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. Heat the neutral oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken thighs, skin side down and cook for about 5 minutes, until browned. Flip the pieces of chicken and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the chicken from the skillet. Pour off the fat in the skillet, while keeping all the browned bits (fond) in the pan.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, sprinkle the saffron into 1 tablespoon of hot water and put aside. Melt the ghee or butter in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the grated onion, garlic, and ginger. Cook until softened and the onions start taking on some color – 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomato paste to the center of the skillet and let it cook for a minute or two, while stirring. Add the remaining spice blend, chicken stock, saffron and its soaking water, and cider vinegar. Taste for salt and pepper.
  • Pour half the onion mixture into a tagine or Dutch oven. My tagine is approximately 14 inches in diameter and holds 5 quarts. Place the chicken skin side up on top of the sauce and pour the remaining sauce over the chicken. Cover with the lid, place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and add the olives, dates, and caper berries to the pan. Put lid back on and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Remove from oven, remove lid, taste for salt and pepper, drizzle on the optional orange blossom water if you choose to use it, add the reserved sliced oranges, sprinkle with the chopped toasted almonds and mint leaves. Serve with plenty of warm couscous.

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