It's a Good One: Ras el hanout
When a friend brought me a little jar of Ras el hanout, which she had found in a favorite spice shop in Montreal, she told me my challenge was to figure out what the hell to do with it. That was about six months ago, but I finally had her over and presented my experiment.
The spice mix, like curry or Garam Masala, is made differently by different cooks. (The Food Lover's Companion says Ras el hanout means "head of the shop," because shop owners put their own versions out.) Mine smelled like potpourri and to be honest, I was skeptical, until I toasted it, whole rosebuds and all, and ground it up. The cardamom, ginger, turmeric, juniper berries, cumin, cloves, and other unidentified seeds combined gloriously.
My method for the simplest Moroccan-inspired braised chicken after the jump.
Chicken Braised with Ras el hanout
Toast and grind about ¼ cup of Ras el hanout. Combine with 2 cups of full fat plain yogurt, a generous pinch of salt, and juice of half a lemon. Marinate one chicken (about 4 pounds) plus two whole legs—skin on, in the yogurt mixture over night or for several hours.
Heat a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a heavy pot (dutch oven is ideal), scrape the marinade off the chicken (but do not discard) and brown all pieces on all sides. Pour the marinade into the pot with the chicken and add two cups of water or enough to half submerge the chicken. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cover.
Cook for 45 minutes (or until the meat is tender but not stringy), rearranging the pieces once during cooking so those on top don't dry out. If there is a lot of liquid left in the pot when the chicken is done, remove the meat and turn the heat up to let the sauce cook down. Taste for salt and serve with lots of parsley on top. Couscous is a good counterpart, to soak up the sauce.