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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.
Moroccan Chicken Rfissa - Trid with Chicken and Lentils
- 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
For the Lentils
- 1/2 cup uncooked lentils, green or brown
- 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)
Msemen or Trid
- 1 1/2 batches msemen, shredded - (or trid pastry)
Ahead of Time
- 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. (If you forget to do this, you can do a quick soak by pouring boiling water over the fenugreek and lentils and letting them sit an hour or two.) Drain when ready to use. If desired, the soaked, drained 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.
Cook the Chicken and Lentils
- 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.
Serve the Chicken Rfissa
- 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.
Nutrition information is provided as a courtesy and is only an estimate obtained from online calculators. Optional ingredients may not be included in the nutritional information.REVIEW THIS RECIPE
Thursday 23rd of July 2020
Hi! Recipe sounds great. Planning to try. Can you specify on lentils? Or any type of lentils would do?Thanks
Thursday 23rd of July 2020
Good question! Green or brown lentils should be used; I've updated the recipe to specify that. Definitely avoid red lentils or you'll end up with a mushy mess.
Friday 23rd of February 2018
Salaamz and first may I say that I find your recipes to be excellent-so well thought out and explained. Shukran ! I started seeing you on The Spruce and was impressed from the beginning. I have been cooking and baking Moroccan all these years but still find useful information and new ideas for my dishes in your recipes. And this is after being married to a Moroccan for 32 years. I especially enjoy your well written pieces about Moroccan culture which I find to be completely accurate and interesting. In the recipes I especially appreciate the detailed differences between pressure cooking, regular pot , and tajine ...all of which I use on a regular basis. I am not a big fan of making msemmen, so I make Jewish medium egg noodles instead and so far I have had only good reviews from my husband and the Magrebi crowd. It might be worth a try for people who have less time but still want to make r'fissa. for anyone who might be interested I made a short documentary about Moroccan Women it can be seen online here.
Friday 23rd of February 2018
Salam Khadijah. Glad you find the recipes and articles to be helpful. And thanks sharing your suggestion of using Jewish noodles as a bed for rfissa...I can see how that would work well.
Sunday 19th of November 2017
Sounds outstanding! Haven't heard of this dish. I'll give it a try. Thanks, Amitai
Sunday 19th of November 2017
It's one of my favorites. Hope you like it!