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 clashing. Some areas extend this combination to include fish (Safi region, they have stuffed fish with nuts and dates or figs).

The most iconic dish in our Cuisine is Prune tagine. There is also lamb or chicken tagine with tomato jam, Pumpkin paste and lamb or chicken tagine (a dish for the Mawlid feast) etc...

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. In today's recipe, I used what we call “coquelet” which is rather a baby chicken. 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, that was in another 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 : 90 min 

The chicken mq'alli
  • 1 baby chicken or 2 quails, 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 tbsp 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 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 most of the spices except saffron and 1/2 of the ground ginger. Massage with olive oil or smen. Keep in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.

Place the cooking pot or tagine over medium heat. Add a bit of water at the bottom, place the chopped onions, the bouquet of coriander. Season with saffron, ginger and and salt

Place the bird on top. If you are dealing with a chicken, you may cut it into 4. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the oil and top with water (a tagine does not need as much water as a pot where you have to cover at least 3/4 of the bird). Cover and carry on cooking until the bird is cooked through.

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 ( I never do that but some do).

Making the caramelized thick onion gravy-paste

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.


  • In another traditional version of cooking this sort of dishes, we cook the meat, we fish it out and set it aside. Then we add the onions into the pot and we cook them separately until the sauce thickens. In today's post, I've cut short the cooking time by cooking the onions along with the bird and then reduced the sauce. 
  • 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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