Moroccan Lemon Chicken with Olives

I have quite a few Moroccan Jewish friends, so it’s no surprise that one of the first Jewish dishes I learned to cook is kosher Moroccan Lemon Chicken. This slowly simmered, tender chicken dish is infused with complex flavors… exotic spices, lemon essence, and salty olives. When I make it, I feel like I’m taking a trip into the heart of Morocco. It’s a flavor journey.

The Jewish version of this dish is almost identical to traditional Moroccan Lemon Chicken, but it omits an ingredient called smen—Moroccan preserved butter. Butter and meat don’t mix in a kosher diet, so olive oil is used as a pareve (neutral) substitute. This is typical of many regional Jewish dishes; creative substitutions and “tweaks” are made in order to make these types of dishes kosher. If you’re not keeping kosher and you can track down smen, feel free to use it instead of the olive oil.

Traditionally this dish is made in a tagine, which is a ceramic Moroccan cooking dish. Since most of us don’t have a tagine lying around I’m giving instructions for cooking it in a saucier or sauté-style pan (like a skillet with high walls).

Also traditional to this dish are preserved lemons, which are simply lemons that have been preserved in brine made from salt and their own juice. Preserved lemons are really easy to make at home – to learn how, check out my tutorial here. Local gourmet markets sometimes stock them, too. If you can’t find preserved lemons and don’t want to make them yourself, you can use fresh lemon peel. The flavor won’t be as complex, and you’ll need to salt the dish a bit more to compensate. But don’t worry, even with fresh lemon peels this is a very tasty dish.

If you do use preserved lemons, know that they have a lot of salt in them which will naturally flavor the sauce in this dish. If you’re watching your salt intake, use a low-sodium chicken broth and don’t add any additional salt; the preserved lemons and olives will give the dish all the saltiness it needs.

Choose firm, good quality green olives for the sauce. You can usually find better quality olives at the deli counter, rather than jarred or canned. It can be tough to find quality green olives that are pre-pitted, so feel free to sub the kind with pits, or pit them yourself.

Serve this Moroccan Lemon Chicken with sauce on a bed of couscous, basmati rice or mashed potatoes topped with fresh cilantro. It’s absolutely delicious. Enjoy!

Passover Note: Can be cooked for the holiday if all packaged products are certified Kosher for Passover. If cooking for Ashkenazi Passover, serve over pareve mashed potatoes (or another non-kitniyot starch).

Gluten Free Note : This dish can easily be made gluten free. Just make sure your chicken stock is GF, and that your preserved lemons are from a GF source. Pair with a GF starch like mashed potatoes or rice.

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Moroccan Lemon Chicken with Olives


  • 3 ½ lbs bone-in chicken pieces
  • 1/2 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 qt chicken stock
  • 2 preserved lemons (or sub fresh lemons), peel only, pulp discarded
  • 1 cup pitted green olives
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro for garnish
  • Salt and pepper

You will also need

  • spice mortar and pestle, saucier or sauté-style pan
Servings: 6 servings
Kosher Key: Meat
  • For the chicken pieces, choose your favorite cut of meat. You can use a whole chicken cut into pieces, or buy specific pieces that you like. I usually use whole leg/thigh pieces because I find the dark meat more flavorful.
  • Remove skin from chicken pieces (freeze the skin for stock or use it to make schmaltz!), then rinse and dry the pieces. You may wish to salt the chicken lightly; do not salt if you are cooking the dish with preserved lemon and/or with kosher chicken meat (both have a lot of salt already, so you won’t need more). Grind the saffron threads into powder using a spice mortar and pestle. Mix saffron powder, cumin, paprika, turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Rub the spice mixture evenly onto the chicken pieces.
  • Heat olive oil in deep skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat. Sauté the onion in the oil till it turns translucent. Add the garlic and continue to sauté till lightly browned. Arrange the chicken pieces snugly inside the skillet. Pour chicken stock over the pieces; they should be almost covered with stock. You probably won’t need the entire quart depending on the size of your pan.
  • Remove pulp from the 2 lemons. With preserved lemon this is easy, the pulp will be softened and you can just scoop it out. For fresh lemon, I find it’s easier to slice the peel off of the lemon (if a little pulp clings to the peel it’s no big deal).
  • Cut the peel into thin slices and arrange it evenly spaced in the pan.
  • Bring stock to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer and cover the skillet. Let the chicken simmer for 60-75 minutes, periodically ladling the seasoned stock over the chicken pieces, until the meat is fork-tender. I usually cook it closer to 75 minutes because I like the meat very tender.
  • Remove chicken pieces from the broth using tongs or a slotted spoon; arrange the pieces on a serving dish or bowl.
  • Add olives to the sauce in the skillet. Bring sauce in the skillet to a boil and let it reduce and thicken for a few minutes. Remove skillet from heat and taste the sauce. Season with more salt and pepper, if desired. If you've subbed fresh lemons for preserved, add 1-2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice to the sauce, or to taste.
  • Serve on a bed of couscous, basmati rice or mashed potatoes; pour the sauce over the chicken and the starch. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro. Can also be served with flatbread or pita bread to dip in the sauce. Serve warm.

Comments (32)Post a Comment

  1. This is an old family recipe of mine however I make it a little different. Your recipe is EXCELLENT!

    I also throw in some bell peppers too. This recipe still comes out best if you make it in a Tagine.

  2. I didn’t think I would be interested in this recipe at first. Now, I think it will be tonights supper.
    Thanks for sharing it :)

  3. Just thinking about this recipe and wondering, I use lots of veggies in most of my meals, how do you think this recipe would be with green beans, asparagus and maybe zucchini?

    1. Hi Karin, I think some zucchini would work well in the dish, the flavor would be complimentary. Green beans would probably be good, too. Not so sure about asparagus. I sometimes serve it on a bed of steamed spinach when I want a lighter meal. Let me know how it turns out for you!

  4. Tory: Would there be any adjustments other than cooking time if I were to substitute boneless/skinless chicken breasts and thighs?

    I think this will be on my table VERY soon.

    1. Hi Leigh! I would keep the cooking time the same with boneless/skinless pieces. They will cook faster than bone-in chicken, but they’ll also be a bit dryer. The longer you slow cook them in the broth the more moist and tender they’ll be. Enjoy!

  5. For the Moroccan Lemon Chicken… I do have a Tagine to cook this in. Would I keep the liquid amount the same ?

    1. Hi Jocelyn– lucky you! The tagine takes this recipe to a whole new level. Tagines tend to circulate moisture better than pots and pans do, so you don’t need quite as much liquid. Cover the chicken about halfway with stock, it should be plenty of liquid. Check it halfway through cooking to make sure it doesn’t look dry. Let me know how it goes!

  6. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I’ve never tried anything Moroccan, but you’ve just convinced me to try it now. That looks absolutely amazing and the longer cooking time is perfect as I like to try to get in some homework while cooking dinner. Love the Blog, Love the food, the kids love your homemade pita chips, we made them one night for a girl’s night sleepover. The boys kept sneaking inside from their “camp out” and swiping handfuls.

  7. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    This sounds amazing…and I just need to get preserved lemons..I’ve gotn all the other spices.
    It will be for a friends 80th birthday!

  8. I know where I can get a tangine & will buy it now that I can start using it with this recipe. I always assumed it was only an oven type of cooking item. Can I really use it on top of the stove,sauteing,etc.? What size tangine is the most practical? I want to make sure the one I have in mind will be large enough.Thank-you!!

  9. WOW Tori! I just had this Moroccan Chicken, pretty much the exact preparation of it, in a restaurant, and the salty/lemony/spicy goodness of this dish, meat so juicy and well-stewed it was fork-tender and falling off the bone.. mmm. It was just out of this world. And the preserved lemon does give it a big, unmistakable PUNCH of flavor. But I only got one TEENY, TINY strip of preserved lemon in that whole big platter of chicken and rice. I was bummed. I understand why- the condiment is notoriously expensive online, especially if that restaurant needs to buy it in big amounts, but once I had that tangy lemon flavor, it was addictive!! I wanted more!! And you may motivate me to make it myself now, haha.

  10. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    This is amazing! I made it with skinless/boneless chicken thighs and breasts (the chicken breast had been marinading in olive oil/lemon/water previously). I added the olives about halfway through cooking. I used “syrian” olives (I live in israel, we buy them in the souk) that i pitted, rinsed and boiled a few times. thanks !

    (btw – i am a member of the Ynet Kosher food forum, i know that you were in contact with one of our moderators).

  11. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Made this yesterday for dinner, yummy!!!
    It reminded me of the chicken tagine I’ve learnt to make in a cooking school I’m Marrakech . I would add some tomatoes next time. Excellent recipe. Thank you!
    I am making the shawarma tomorrow again, everyone is looking forward to it. Tory, you are a star! Love your site!!! Xxx

  12. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I made this dish last night for 14 people. I followed almost to the tee –
    used less chicken broth, and used meyer lemons and juice, because I live in rural area and could not get preserved lemons. When I was prepping everything I thought of browning the chicken first. But I had so many other dishs to get ready, and short on time. It turned out fantastic ! And it is quiet an easy dish to make. Thank you for this – I’ve noticed that your recipes are true and tested, time and again, they have worked for me. By the way; served the chicken with roasted whole carrots rubbed with spices, and glazed with pomegranite mollasses, topped with mint. And – Saffron rice studded with dried fruit and almonds and pine nuts. It was a Great party – everyone was so happy & joyous.

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