Chicken Rfissa is a variation of trid, a Moroccan dish which traces it origins back to tharid, a centuries-old Arab dish of stew and broth served over bread. While trid can take different forms, rfissa is specifically a chicken and lentil dish that’s served on a bed of shredded trid pastry, msemen, meloui (or rezat el kadi), harcha, or day old bread. When served over crumbled harcha, it’s referred to as rfissa medhoussa; when served over cubed bread, it’s called treda.
Rfissa’s signature broth is uniquely and fragrantly seasoned with Ras el Hanout, fenugreek seeds (helba in Arabic), saffron, and other spices. While not an elegant dish, it’s memorably delicious and regarded by many as Moroccan comfort food at its best.
In some regions, a seasoning blend called msakhen is used instead of ras el hanout. Many consider the two blends to be similar, but msakhen includes herbs while ras el hanout does not. Msakhen also adds an element of heat, so it’s sometimes favored in cooler weather.
You’ll find rfissa served for family gatherings and casual company meals. It’s also traditionally served on the third day following the birth of a baby, due to the health benefits that fenugreek offers a nursing mother. Of course, it can be offered at other times as well.
The chicken and lentil stew is quite easy to make, but plan ahead to marinate the chicken (preferably overnight) and to soak the fenugreek. An organic, free range chicken is often preferred in Morocco, and it works best due to the long cooking time.
The shredded msemen or pastry is usually steamed in a couscoussier prior to serving. Both can be made and shredded ahead of time, then stored in the freezer until needed. Using leftover bread will reduce that prep time.
You might also want to try Bormache, a regional variation of rfissa that includes the addition of tomatoes, garlic and dried herbs.
A delicious Moroccan dish of chicken, lentils and onions served with broth on a bed of shredded pastry, msemen or bread.
Plan ahead to allow all day or overnight marinating of the chicken. The trid pastry or msemen can be made ahead of time or while the chicken and lentils are stewing.
- 1 large chicken, quartered or left whole
- 3 large onions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp pepper
- 1 1/2 tbsp ginger
- 1 tbsp Ras el Hanout (or 1 1/2 tbsp msakhen)
- 1 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 cup uncooked lentils
- 4 tbsp fenugreek seeds, soaked overnight and drained
- 1 1/2 tsp saffron threads, heated gently and then crumbled
- 1 handful fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 4 1/2 cups water
- 1 1/2 tsp smen (Moroccan preserved butter)
- 1 1/2 batches msemen, shredded (or trid pastry)
Making and shredding msemen is best done ahead of time. Tear the msemen into bite-size pieces while hot off the griddle. When cool, store in a plastic bag. If prepared more than a day in advance, freeze the shredded msemen until needed.
The night before (or at least six hours before cooking), soak the fenugreek seeds and lentils in separate bowls of cold water. Drain when ready to use. (If desired, the soaked fenugreek seeds can be tied in a cheesecloth to keep them separate from other ingredients in the pot.)
The night before (or at least six hours before cooking), mix the chicken with the onions, olive oil, salt, pepper, ginger, turmeric, saffron and Ras el Hanout spices in a heavy-bottomed pot. Stir to coat the chicken well, cover, and leave in the fridge to marinate.
Place the pot with the chicken on the stove over medium heat and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, for about 15 to 20 minutes, until a rich sauce has formed.
If using a free range (beldi) chicken: Add the drained fenugreek seeds, parsley, cilantro and the water. Cover and simmer over medium-low to medium heat for about 1 hour. Add the drained lentils and continue cooking, covered, for another hour, or until the chicken and lentils are quite tender. Add water as needed during cooking to ensure that ample broth remains in the pot, and correct seasoning if necessary.
If using a regular, factory-raised (roumi) chicken: Add the drained lentils, drained fenugreek seeds, parsley, cilantro and the water. Simmer, covered, over medium-low to medium heat for about 1 hour, or until the lentils are tender and the chicken is well-cooked. There should be rich, ample broth in the pot. (If there's not, add a little water during cooking, tasting to be sure that the seasoning is not diluted.)
Taste the broth for salt, then add the smen, swirling the pot to incorporate it into the broth. If desired, remove the chicken from the pot and place it under a broiler for a few minutes to brown and crisp the skin.
Steam the shredded msemen in a couscoussier for about 10 minutes, or until steaming hot and tender. Spread or mound the hot, shredded msemen on a large serving dish. Add the chicken to the bed of msemen, and distribute the lentils, onions and most of the broth over all. Reserve a bowlful or two of broth to offer on the side. (If you tied the fenugreek in cheesecloth, empty it into a bowl to offer on the side as well.)
Rfissa is traditionally enjoyed communally from the serving dish, with each person eating from his own side of the plate by hand or with a spoon.
- My family loves a generous amount of broth as well as a generous bed of pastry or msemen. I often increase the seasoning and liquids by half to ensure ample broth is available to serve on the side.
- Halfway through cooking, taste and adjust seasoning, particularly if topping off the liquids. You want the broth to be very flavorful.
- Fenugreek imparts a traditional flavor to rfissa, but not everyone likes to bite into the cooked seeds. As noted in the directions, tying the seeds in a cheesecloth allows you to keep them separate from the main dish at serving time. Overnight soaking both softens them and reduces their pungency.
- Smen is a preserved, clarified butter that adds a distinctive flavor to traditional Moroccan dishes such as this one. It can be omitted without too much compromise, but its absence will be noted by those familiar with the dish.
- Steaming is the traditional method of tenderizing and heating the shredded pastry or msemen (or stale bread), but you can use the microwave instead. Sprinkle a little water over the shredded pastry, cover and microwave until hot. The cover traps the steam and has the same effect as steaming.
- If your chicken cooks faster than the lentils, remove it from the broth and set aside, covered, to avoid it falling apart in the broth. Once the lentils are cooked, you can return the chicken to the pot to heat through for serving.
- If serving the chicken whole rather than cut into pieces, you can remove it from the pot when nearly cooked and finish it by roasting in a 450° F (230° C) oven.