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In the vibrant city of Casablanca, Morocco, memories of a visit to the famed Dar Dada are always vivid. Nestled in the heart of the bustling medina, the allure of this city, known internationally as the backdrop to the iconic 1942 movie “Casablanca,” never fades. Think Humphrey Bogart’s enigmatic Rick Blaine or Ingrid Bergman’s captivating Ilsa Lund. From memorable lines like “Here’s Looking At You, Kid” to “Play it Sam,” the film’s legacy is still alive and well.
Casablanca itself, a major international hub situated along the Atlantic coast, is just an hour southwest of Rabat, the capital. Its modernity contrasts with its rich history, serving as both the primary port of Morocco and Africa’s leading financial center. With the country’s largest international airport, Casablanca stands as a gateway for travelers worldwide.
Dar Dada — the culinary focal point of our tale — is a gem set within a meticulously restored riad that showcases classic Spanish Andaluz architecture. The covered central atrium of this historical structure now functions as the restaurant’s primary dining area.
A glance at the menu offers a symphony of classic Moroccan dishes written in elegant French. Appetizers such as pastilla au poulet (known in the U.S. as bastlla — a delectable phyllo dough pie adorned with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon) and salade de poulpe greet you.
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The main courses are partitioned into fish and seafood offerings like croustillant feuilleté de poisson légère crème safranée and meat options like epaule d’agneau cuite lentement & dorée accompagnée de légumes. Notably, the garlic and lemon chicken tajine I sampled was a taste sensation.
To complement the meal, a curated selection of French wines and champagnes, local beers, and an impressive array of single malt whiskeys are available. The Moroccan wines, while a tad acidic, are suited for richer beef dishes rather than the nuanced flavors of tajines.
Eager to recreate the garlic and lemon chicken tajine at home? Here’s a recipe to get you started:
Garlic and Lemon Chicken Tajine
- 5 or 6 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs (approx. 2 ½ lb.)
- 1 preserved lemon, halved (one half thinly sliced)
- 1 tbsp. baharat spice blend (or substitute with Garam Masala)
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 medium red onions, quartered
- 2 heads of garlic, peeled (around 20 cloves)
- Juice of half a lemon
- ¼ cup chicken broth
- 2 tbsp. honey
- 2 cups diced squash
- ¼ cup rehydrated and cubed dry figs or apricots
- ½ cup mixed pitted green and black olives
- Flat-leaf parsley or cilantro
- Pickled pimento strips
- Rub the chicken thighs with half of the preserved lemon.
- Evenly sprinkle baharat over the chicken, rubbing to coat well.
- Cover the meat tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- Before cooking, remove the chicken from the refrigerator, allowing it to return to room temperature.
- Thinly slice the quartered onions and garlic, setting them aside.
- In a flameproof tajine, heat olive oil over medium heat (Ensure your tajine is labeled “flameproof” for stove-top use).
- Brown the chicken pieces in the tajine, ensuring all sides are well-cooked (around 5-6 minutes).
- Layer the browned chicken with the reserved onion and garlic slices.
- Introduce 2 cups of diced squash and either parsley or cilantro.
- Add in the rehydrated figs and the mixed olives.
- Incorporate the lemon juice, rind, and flesh into the tajine, layering atop the squash.
- Mix in the chicken broth and honey.
- Secure the tajine with its lid, reducing the heat to low, and simmer for a minimum of 25 minutes.
- Ensure the meat is thoroughly cooked by checking that its juices run clear.
- Finish by garnishing with slices of pickled pimiento.
Note: For an authentic touch, the dish incorporates preserved lemons – a staple in Moroccan cooking. To make your own:
- 1 large mouth jar with lid, sterilized
- 11 to 13 thin-skinned lemons
Classic North African Method:
- Start by juicing 4 of the lemons, reserving the juice and discarding the rinds.
- Trim the top and bottom of the remaining lemons.
- For each lemon, make an end-to-end slit from the top, going about ¾ down without fully halving the lemon. Rotate and repeat with another slit at a 90-degree angle to the first.
- Over the jar, pack each lemon slit with as much salt as it can hold.
- Place each salted lemon into the jar, pressing them down with a spoon to reduce any empty spaces.
- Pour the reserved lemon juice over the packed lemons, ensuring they’re fully submerged.
- Seal the jar with its lid and refrigerate for a span of 6 weeks, occasionally giving the jar a gentle shake.
- After opening, the preserved lemons can last up to 6 months in the fridge.
For a delightful twist — particularly when incorporating rehydrated fruits like prunes, apricots, or figs — add a teaspoon of sugar to the lemon juice to counteract the acidity in your dish.
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