Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Moroccan Slow-cooked stew: Quails with semi-confit of pears

In morocco, it’s quite usual to have a dish where savoury and sweet meet without complex. Some areas push this logic to fish even (Safi region, they have stuffed fish with nuts and dates or figs).

The most famous dish is Plum tagine, or apricot and plum tagine. Then there is tomato confit with lamb, then pumpkin paste and lamb or chicken (a dish for the Mawlid feast). We also have quince with lamb or quails, aubergine with lamb..

Ideally, sweetened/caramelized vegetables/fruits go well with lamb meat, or any meat having a strong flavour. You may use chicken but I suggest you follow the same logic, farm chicken or quail will have a stronger flavour. I used what we call “coquelet”, a sort of baby chicken because they’re convenient and have a concentrated flavour. Besides, I didn’t have quails and I eat red meat only when I have no other choice.

When I was at my cousin’s wedding (2 weeks back, in Fes), I remembered the best quails with pears I’ve ever had were prepared by the same women who were cooking for the event. It was during my friend’s brother wedding, over 10 years ago.

There are things you don’t forget, senses are very much related to our memory, as they say.

Serves 2 to 4 persons
Prep: 15 min - Cooking : 2 hours

The chicken with the sauce
  • 1 baby chicken or quail, cleaned and brined at least 6 hours (in water, vinegar or lemon and sea salt)
  • 1 ½ medium-size red or yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 tsp of ginger powder
  • 1 tsp of turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp of white pepper powder (you may use black pepper)
  • A tiny bouquet of coriander/parsley (optional)
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • ½ tsp of saffron threads
  • 1 garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp of smen (aged and cured butter, optional)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp of caster sugar or honey
The pears
  • 750 g of medium-size pears (about 4 to 5), a bit firm
  •  40g of butter
  • 50 g of caster sugar
  • 1 cup of the chicken sauce (above)
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon powder
  • 2 tbsp of orange blossom water
To serve
  • Almonds, fried and crushed roughly or roasted sesame seeds


The chicken with the sauce

Marinate the chicken in spices (no saffron) and massage with olive oil. Keep in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.

Heat the oil and sear the bird with a heaped tablespoon of chopped onion, garlic. Make sure the bird is seared in all directions.

Cover the bird with chicken stock or water. Add the tiny bouquet of coriander/parsley and let simmer over medium heat until the bird is cooked and tender. Add the saffron (set 10 min in hot water) half way of the cooking.

Fish out the bird and set aside (cover with foil or something, we need the juice that will come out as well).  Keep about 1 cup of the liquid on the side as well. Make sure you sift it. Discard the bouquet of herbs.

Making the caramelized thick onion gravy-paste

Add the chopped onions to the main pot, the remaining sauce should at least cover the onions. If not, add a bit of water. Let simmer for about 45 min until you see the onions melting and reducing. You need to keep stirring when it happens..You are just about half way through.

Add the sugar at this stage, maybe 2 tbsp of olive oil as well. Keep stirring until you get a sort of thick paste which also looks caramelized.  It might take about 30 min.

Be patient, this is old-style slow cooking and thank God you are not cooking for a crowd (100s), because you would have to spend hours reducing the sauce and caramelizing the onions while stirring (in a big pot like the one below), not to mention chopping kilos of onions…

The pears

Peel the pears, halve them and remove the pits. Brush with lemon juice. You may need to make a cross on the outer side, from the belly side of the halved pears (I forgot).

On a medium heat, melt butter with sugar. Add all the other ingredients except orange blossom water.

Add the pears and let simmer, covered. In a while, the juice will start caramelizing. This is where you should be careful not to burn the fruits. Add the orange blossom water a minute before you knock off the heat.

The pears should become tender but firm enough not break.


Heat the chicken and the onion sauce.

Serve the chicken first, then the onion sauce on the top. Place the pears and finish with crushed almonds or sesame seeds.


  • This meal is freezer friendly, mostly the caramelized onions and the cooked meat. Just separate its elements: the onion sauce, the chicken and save them in different containers or plastic bags.
  • You may cook this with lamb as well.
  • You follow the same recipe to make sweet chicken and quince tagine except that you cook the quince (because it takes longer) with the meat then you fish it and finish it the same way we cooked the pears.


  1. Omg, super inviting dish..lovely flavours.

  2. Thanks Priya! I like the new look of your blog by the way..


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