It’s hard to imagine that Essaouira (formerly known as Mogador) once had a larger Jewish population than Muslim and that there were once over 40 synagogues in the town. However, head out of the medina at Bab Doukkala and the two Jewish cemeteries just beyond the city walls give an impression of the significance of this community in the past. Today, less than a handful of Jews live permanently in Essaouira, but many of its Jewish sons and daughters visit their native city from time to time, recalling it as it once was.
Through my work with the High Atlas Foundation, I have been fortunate to meet a number of these Jewish Mogadorians. Intrigued about the influence of the Jewish community on the local cuisine, I asked a friend to teach me a couple of Moroccan Jewish recipes. This one, which I have called Mogador Lemon Chicken, has a sweet and sour taste which seems to originate further East than Morocco; although it uses familiar local ingredients, it tastes like no dish you will find in the dozens of restaurants offering so-called Moroccan cuisine. Yet, I am told, it is a typical Mogadorian recipe and one I would like to share.
1 whole chicken, chopped into joints (you could use chicken pieces – aim for 2-3kg)
3-4 cloves of garlic
½ tsp paprika
1 tsp turmeric
Salt & pepper
3-4 tbsp clear table vinegar
– – – – – –
A large handful of capers (you can substitute with 5-6 cornichons if necessary)
Around 25g fresh coriander, larger stems removed and finely chopped (with a nice, not in a grinder)
– – – – – –
Note: this recipe has three distinct phases. The phases should be followed separately in order to preserve the unique flavours. The key flavor components (spices, coriander, garlic, vinegar and capers can be adjusted to taste – the above quantities are meant as a guide).
1. Rinse the chicken pieces and salt, as is the traditional Jewish manner. Leave for 30 minutes and rinse again.
2. While the chicken rests, dice the onion and garlic finely. Sweat them in a good glug of oil in a heavy bottomed pan with a well-fitting lid – don’t heat the oil too hot; you don’t want to deep fry them!
3. Once the chicken has been rinsed again, add to the pan and toss around to seal. Add salt, pepper and spices. Toss again to distribute the spices. Add half a glass of water, and the vinegar, put on the lid and cook the chicken. Toss around from time to time and check occasionally to ensure there is enough liquid to ensure the chicken has a sauce and doesn’t burn (not too often to keep the steam in and the meat tender).
4. Once the chicken is cooked through, add the capers (or cornichons) and 2/3 of the chopped coriander. Keep tossing the ingredients around in the pan to distribute the flavours.
5. Just before serving, juice the lemon and add a pinch of salt to the juice. Crack in the egg and stir to separate (but don’t beat it). Pour the lemon and egg mixture over the chicken and stir to distribute. Just as the egg begins to cook, switch off the heat.
6. Serve on a platter and sprinkle over the remaining coriander.