Among the healthy dishes that Moroccan cuisine boasts is a chapter of tantalizing stuffed chicken recipes. Each has a different filling depending on whether the chicken will be steamed or roasted.
This recipe for Moroccan steamed and semi-roasted chicken with spinach stuffing combines both cooking methods. The birds are steamed ahead of time then roasted for color and texture just before serving. You may also stuff and marinate the chicken the day before and steam one hour before serving, skipping the roasting part if you are in a hurry, which is how it was done in the old days. My dad used to shred the leftovers to use in an omelet or sandwich, but I add salad as an option, sometimes with greens and a lemony vinaigrette.
Steaming and Roasting the Stuffed Chicken
During informal family gatherings, this recipe is one of our “must serve” light options in case anyone is on diet. Steaming chicken (or meat) to make Moroccan mbakh-khar keeps the birds moist and prevents them from drying out. If you try this method, I’m sure that you will love it.
After the chicken is cooked through by steaming, we semi-roast it for a nice golden color just before serving. This second stage of cooking by semi-roasting is a new trend of the last decade which provides color and extra texture before serving.
Red or Yellow Marinade
Chermoula paste is a key player in flavoring the dish as it’s used to both marinate the chicken and season the spinach stuffing. It requires generous quantities of fresh cilantro and parsley, so plan ahead to make sure you have them on hand.
Before you marinate the chicken, you’ll want to decide which hue you want. You can marinate the chicken with a red effect by adding more paprika and harissa to the chermoula or with a yellow effect by adding turmeric and using less paprika. Both are a matter of choice. In the Fassi (from Fez) tradition, we traditionally go with the first option.
Stuffed and steamed chicken is a light dish for those avoiding fat. The steaming process ensures that the whole chicken remains moist, even the breast section. Then we roast the chicken for about 20 minutes, just enough time to give it a nice finish and also concentrate the flavors. This combination of cooking methods dates back only two decades in my family, and we all agree it takes the dish to another level.
This is another recipe calling for chermoula marinade. If you don't have it handy, just make sure you chop the fresh herbs finely before using them.
- 2 tbsp butter or olive oil
- 1 lb new potatoes
- 1 lb carrots, roughly diced or sliced
- 1 lb zucchini, in chunks or sticks
- 1 lb green beans
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 5 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp parsley, chopped
Brine the chicken ahead of time and pat dry. Season with salt.
Make 1 1/2 cups chermoula if you haven't already. Stir in harissa to taste, then measure out 1/2 cup and set aside the remaining chermoula for the stuffing.
Add the finely chopped preserved lemon pulp to the 1/2 cup of chermoula. Generously rub the mixture inside the chicken's cavity as well as under and above the skin.
Parboil the rice in boiling salted water for about 10 min. Drain and set aside to cool.
Steam the chopped spinach (or chard, purslane, mallow) in a couscoussier (or other large steamer) over hot boiling water. Don't worry about fitting all that pile into the couscoussier; the greens will shrink as they steam so you can add more progressively.
When the greens are wilted, set them aside to cool then squeeze out the excess liquid.
In a saucepan or frying pan, slightly saute the chermoula for a minute, then stir in the chopped spinach and all the other ingredients. Fold in the rice, stir and set aside.
Stuff the chicken's cavity from the bottom then from the neck to ensure it's properly filled. Leftover filling can be inserted carefully under the skin by the neck and thighs. Seal the cavity with a toothpick (or truss the chicken for a better finish).
Depending on the size of your steamer or couscoussier, steam the chicken one after the other or together at the same time. It usually takes about 1 hour. It is advised to turn the chicken halfway through steaming to ensure it's cooked properly. I suggest you start by placing the chicken breast side down.
Just before serving, brush the chickens with butter or olive oil. Roast the chickens from both sides for about 20-30 minutes at 400 F/200 C until they look nicely golden.
If you plan to serve this dish without the roasting step, begin steaming the vegetables halfway through cooking the chicken. Either use another steamer for the vegetables or lift the chicken, scatter the vegetables (mixed or in separate piles) and place the birds back. Carry on steaming as per previous guideline. (The vegetables can be seasoned in this step, unless you want to saute them in butter later on.)
Alternatively, you can boil the vegetables separately in salted water. Make sure to not to let them get mushy as we still need to season and saute them in butter.
Heat the butter, mix in the other ingredients (cumin, parsley etc). Fold in the vegetables and delicately stir. Knock off the heat and set aside, covered. Keep warm.
Place the chickens in the middle of a large serving dish and scatter the vegetables around. Serve hot or warm.
- The liver, heart, gizzard are also roughly diced and added to the stuffing. They should be sauteed separately with a bit of seasoning (salt, pepper, chermoula, olive oil) before adding them to the rest.
- I like to eat chicken leftovers cold. They are really nice over a leafy salad or in a sandwich along with a spread of mustard and a few green salad leaves.
- You could use rice vermicelli instead of rice for the herb stuffing; follow cooking instructions on the package then drain and chop (or cut them with scissors) before using them.
- The chermoula used for the stuffing does not have to be a paste. You can get away with chopping the herbs in this case finely or coarsely.
- Potatoes can be steamed or boiled then seasoned and brushed with oil or butter. Finally, we roast them along with the chicken for a nice crusty layer.