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Olives (Recipe: chicken with preserved lemon tagine)


A few nights ago, Ted and I walked over to Foodie's Urban Market in Boston's South End to pick up a few provisions for a quiet night of dinner and a DVD.

We didn't have anything particular in mind; we were following our cravings. Grapes. Cheese. Chips. Chocolate. We wandered up and down the aisles. Just as we passed the artisan breads, my little eye spied a hand-lettered label...

"Venetian olive rolls."

Oh boy! The last time we'd had those was in Venice, when we'd rented an apartment near the Galleria dell'Accademia, around the corner from a bakery. Every morning Ted would buy rolls that were warm and purplish with chunks of Kalamata olives, and we'd get cheese at a market a few doorways down the street. It's the only time I've ever had olives for breakfast, and it was a wonderful way to start each day.

Like hot sauce and sea salt, olives of multiple varieties merit a permanent place in my pantry. Kalamata, which are Nick's favorite. Cracked green, when I'm lucky enough to get to the Syrian Grocery in Boston's South End. Stuffed green, for tapenade. Black ones in the can, because I love them in salad with nectarines and blue cheese, both strong flavors with which cured olives should not compete.

Olives are the fruit of a small evergreen tree; according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the top ten olive-producing countries in 2003 were, in order, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and Portugal. So it's no surprise that olives figure prominently in the cuisines of those countries.

I love this passage from John Thorne's Simple Cooking:

Olives. If there is a single flavor whose presence gives shape to the eating of all the Mediterranean, it is theirs. Street markets reek of their acescent aroma, brine-soaked tubs proclaim their gaudy multitude: bruise-purple, glaucous, pure emerald green; some plump to bursting, others withered as any prune. In Provence alone, there are dozens of varieties and hundreds of cures, touching every note in a register of bitter, pungent complexity.

How can we understand this appetite? Olives, their olives, are so hard to like except one by one -- the piquant touch on the hors d'oeuvres tray, some tiny slivers scattered over the salad, pasta, or pizza. And even then, we prefer them at their most suave -- nicoise, Kalamata, Ponentine -- sleek miniatures of what is in truth a coarse and gargantuan hunger.

People are passionate about olives, love 'em or hate 'em. If only as a snack food or garnish (after all, they were good enough for James Bond), olives would find their way into my refrigerator from time to time, but the great joy, and challenge, is to use them as an ingredient in other dishes, such as chicken with feta and olives, or pasta puttanesca, or muffuletta salad.

To prepare olives for cooking, you need to minimize the intensity of the brine, or salt, in which they were preserved. Place the olives in a small pan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, drain, and return olives to the pan. Cover with water again, bring to the boil, and drain. After two or three repetitions, the olives will have lost the briny quality but will retain all of their fantastic flavor.

Chicken with preserved lemon and olives

Chicken with preserved lemon tagine

If there’s one dish that everyone thinks of as typically Moroccan, it’s this one, often called a tagine, and cooked in a pot of the same name. Usually a whole chicken is cut into serving pieces; in this version, I’ve adapted to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which cook much more quickly than using chicken on the bone, but still stay moist. The chicken does need to marinate for a while before cooking, so be sure to leave extra time. Serves 6-8.


3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, or 1 tsp harissa
1/2 tsp turmeric
Pinch of saffron, crushed slightly
2 Tbsp olive oil
10 boneless, skiness chicken thighs, trimmed, cut into large chunks
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock
4 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus extra whole leaves for garnish
Kosher salt, to taste
1 whole preserved lemon, or equivalent chunks
18 or more pitted cracked green or kalamata olives, cut in half
1-2 Tbsp lemon juice


Combine garlic and spices, plus 1 tsp olive oil, in a large dish. Add chicken, massage all over with the spice paste, and marinate in a ziploc bag, in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours or overnight.

Place remaining oil and onion in the base of a tagine or Dutch oven, and cook over lowest heat until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add chicken to the pot along with marinade in the bag, plus the stock, parsley and a little bit of salt. Cover, and cook for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the pith and pulp from the preserved lemon, and rinse the peel. Julienne into thin strips. Place olives in a saucepan with enough water to cover; bring to a boil, then drain. Repeat at least once more, to remove bitterness from the olives.

Add lemon strips and olives to the chicken, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes more, or until the chicken is cooked through. Add lemon juice and adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh parsley leaves. Serve with couscous.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Preserved lemons 
Vinegar veggies
Mediterranean red snapper
Stuffed pepper tapas

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Just fantastic! I love chicken cooked this way a lot. I am low on preserved lemon. Need to get another jar just for this dish!

I´ve been meaning to make that for ages. So long, in fact, that I´ve had preserved lemons in the fridge for six months. is that dangerous, do you think?

I am crazy about olives, so much so that I really don't understand when someone is not as passionate about them as I am! I LOVE the different colors, the saltiness and the intense flavor. What a great passage from "Simple Cooking." That says it all. I actually never realized that you could boil away the brine before cooking and keep the flavor.

My preserved lemons are just 1 month old and just in time to try this delicious recipe. Can't wait!!!

Oh! I love the shot above. It's only recently that I've begun to like olives. Another appetizing recipe.


I always have olives at home - I love them!
Besides cooking with them, Joao also loves to nibble them while having his very cold beer. :)

Oh yes that's lovely chicken! Most helpful to have a good source for olives. Good olives are really good.

Oh yay for Moroccan lemon chicken. This is one of my favorite foods. I like your spin with the chicken thighs.

Am not a fan of olives. You know, when I really don't feel like it, I will even pick them out from a pizza :O

As soon as my preserved Meyer lemons age another week or so, I'm making this. We're huge olive fans -- and the thigh has become my favorite part of the chicken. Many thanks for the recipe.

Anh, preserved lemons are really easy to make at home, too. Check my link for the seven-day lemons.

Lobster, the lemons are probably fine, especially if the jar hasn't been opened. I've kept some as long as a year.

TW, I'm an olive fanatic, too. For years when we lived in Boston, we were right up the block from a Lebanese grocery that had huge bins of olives for $1 a pound. It was fun to mix and match.

Pauline, happy cooking!

Paz, olives are an acquired taste, but once you acquire it, you'll wonder why you waited so long!

Patricia, olives and cold beer sounds pretty darned delicious.

MyKitchen, this is one of the recipes I did with my tagine class. I'll be posting another next week.

Maryam, using boneless chicken thighs definitely speeds up this dish. The secret is to cook them until they are firm, and then to keep cooking until they relax again.

Tigerfish, sorry you don't like olives. You can make this dish without them and it would still be delicious.

Casey, hope you enjoy this recipe.

I so like olives. The chicken sounds so good. Mary

I recently discovered Kalamata olives and am now paying more attention to the various varieties...there are so many! I'm developing a great fondness for olives. Your chicken recipe looks great. Thanks for the tips on cooking with olives.

This sounds delicious!

I made a risotto tonight using very similar flavours, chicken, lemon, olives... it turned out well.

thanks, I feel easier now. Let´s see if I can get my tagine show on the road soon.

That is one of my favorite meal !!!

Mary, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I love olives, too. I think I'm getting addicted to olive bread.... there's a bakery in Providence that makes ficelles (like thinner baguettes) with olives, and I get cravings....

Diane, one of the best salad bar inventions is the pitted kalamata. Makes them just like candy! Here in RI our supermarkets have olive bars along with the salad bars, so you know we serious about our olives here!

Brilynn, that sounds like a great combination for a risotto. I'll have to try it.

Lobster, be sure to remove the pith, rinse off the rind, and taste before you use them. They should taste like pickles!

Cabinet, welcome to my "cabinet"! Your site makes me want to redecorate my entire house. I love the traditional form of this dish, too, but my one-hour adaptation works very well.

Oh, I so agree with John Thorne. Olives have got to be one of those perfect foods - incredible when eaten out of the jar and amazing when added to a recipe. They just can do no wrong.


This dish looks really good! Wow. I love all things olive, especially tapenades or just eating olives straight up (well the green and black ones, I'm not huge on kalamata) but this dish really seems worth trying.

Love olives, whether eaten whole or in a tapenade. They are very tasty and quite addictive.

...and might I add that chicken has me drooling right now!

Now I feel ashamed of my self. Algeria is one of the ten producers and I have never shared a single olive tajine recipe on my blog. Yours looks delicious my sweet Lydia.
I bought some "fresh olives" last time that are going to be cured with anis and bay leaves. I can't wait.

awesome. this looks ... so GOOD. I want it now.

Oh I do love the writing of John Thorne, and this recipe I have been bookmarking a version of this for awhile. A sort of moroccan chicken mirabelle. Anyways I hope you made it in your handmade tagine!

AV, I agree -- olives are one of the foods I get cravings for, and when I crave them, no other taste will do.

Hillary, kalamata are my new favorites, but when I make tapenade, I use a mix of black olives and the green ones with pimiento. Tapenade with grilled chicken or salmon is so good!

Veron, you can see that I agree 100%!

Rose, I have a few tagine recipes that include olives. Your olive cure sounds delicious -- I've never cured fresh olives and will look forward to reading about how to do it.

Alec, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I guess I should publish food photos more often!

Callipygia, John Thorne is a favorite of mine, too. I did make this in one of my tagines -- stay tuned for more about that next week (hmmmm, is that mysterious?).

Link, I'm guessing you mean Mexican oregano? I don't know if it will grow that far north. From what I've seen at the markets in Mexico, it's not a pretty plant -- but the taste is unique.

I'm an exception to olives..I neither hate them nor love them. I don't mind them cooked in things though....like bread. I actually made an olive bread that I'm going to post soon :)

I've never met an olive I don't like. The boyfriend has developed an odd affinity for picholine recently, which is kind of a pain... they're so small and difficult to pit! Luckily he's a willing sous chef.
I love this recipe... lovelovelove.

Nabeela, olive bread is one of my passions -- I'll be watching for your post.

Ann, same here. All olives would be welcome in my kitchen. The first time I saw pitted kalamatas in a gourmet market, I bought a quart of them -- and ate them! The picholine are wonderful, especially with a willing guy to pit them.

Oh goodie yummy!!!!!
Never tried olives with chicken! Your dish sure sounds uber delicious;)

That is a really fabulous looking dish, yum!

Valentina, olives and preserved lemon really make this dish unusual, and delicious.

Kelly-Jane, thank you. The combination of flavors in this dish really make you feel like you're in North Africa.

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