Ras el hanout is a traditional Moroccan spice mix. Loosely translated, it means ‘top of the shop’ and is meant to represent the very best the spice merchant has to offer. What makes this blend so special is the large number of ingredients, sometimes over 20, and the subtle manner in which the spices merge to form a balanced, full-bodied blend with no sharp edges. We’ve included a simplified version here that can be made from readily available ingredients.
PREP TIME 15 minutes
COOKING TIME 45 minutes
- 4 chicken thighs, bone in
- 2 chicken breast fillets
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 small onions, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 small carrots, sliced
- 12 small mushrooms, halved
- 1 cup (120 g) frozen peas
- salt, to taste
- about 1 cup (250 ml) chicken stock or water
- couscous, to serve
- Ras el hanout spice mix: 2 teaspoons mild paprika
- 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground cassia
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground fennel seeds
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- pinch of ground caraway seeds
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- pinch of ground cloves
Put the ras el hanout spice mix in a shallow dish, add the chicken pieces and roll so they are well coated with spice.
Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan over high heat, add the chicken and turn until the pieces are sealed and browned all over. Add the onion, garlic and ¼ cup (60 ml) water and reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting. Cover and cook for at least 15 minutes, resisting the urge to lift the lid as this will cause the temperature to drop, allowing the flavours in the steam to escape. By this time the chicken pieces will have released their juices.
Add the carrot and cook very slowly until tender. Stir in the mushrooms, peas, salt and enough stock or water to cover the chicken. Increase the heat until the liquid is heated through, then reduce it to very low again. Simmer gently until the mushrooms and peas are cooked. Serve over couscous.
Ras el hanout can be used to flavour most Moroccan dishes. To make a simple spiced couscous add ½ teaspoon of the spice blend to couscous or rice before cooking. For those who like a little more spice, make up some harissa paste and have this on the side.
Lots of flavour here but no chilli heat so go for a pinot gris or chardonnay. If you prefer a red, try a pinot noir or sangiovese.
Recipe from Just Add Spice by Lyndey Milan & Ian “Herbie” Hemphill