Chicken, Preserved Lemon and Olives Tagine – Djaj Mkalli

It’s simply one of my favourite. Really and not just because I am posting it today. 

A while ago, when I was still a student, every time I would go back home to visit my parents my mum would welcome me with this tagine. I couldn’t possibly leave my home country without having had this tagine at least once. 

What I like the most about it is the onion sauce. I love it so much, I eat it the way some people secretly eat nutella. I mean with a spoon. Of course, no, I never dip my finger in the sauce, never.

So yes, its simply delicious, the onion sauce ends up with this sweet chicken and lemony flavour. I never get enough of it.

In Morocco we call this tagine ‘djaj mqualli’ (yes, you can pronounce it) and it’s a classic in Moroccan cuisine. If you’ve ever been to Morocco, I am pretty sure you would have tried djaj mqualli, sometimes the tagine is served topped with French fries, yes French fries!

Personally, I like it on its own with bread without the French fries addition. But you can also have it the way my partner does, with a side of brown rice or couscous. You decide, enjoy the sauce! 


Chicken, Preserved Lemon and Olives Tagine – Djaj Mkalli


Serves 4 to 6

  • 1,2 kg whole chicken cut in pieces or 1,2 kg chicken legs and thighs
  • 4 large onions (about 800 gr), chopped 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic (about 4 cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
  • ¼ ground black pepper
  • ¼  teaspoon saffron
  • 1 large coriander bouquet, tied
  • 2 medium sized preserved lemons
  • 150 gr red-brown olives, like Kalamatas


• In a large casserole, heat the olive oil and add the onions over medium heat. Cover with a lid and leave the onions until they are soft and translucent, about 10 min. This will allow to sweat the onions. 

• Once you’ve sweated the onions, place the chicken, the spices, the garlic, salt and pepper in the casserole and turn the chicken occasionally until the chicken skin is lightly cooked, about 10-15 min.

• Pour a cup of water (240 ml) in the casserole and place the coriander bouquet on top of the chicken over medium heat. Bring to the boil and cover with a lid over low medium heat. Leave until the chicken is cooked, about 40 min.  

• Meanwhile, remove the flesh from the preserved lemon and finely chop the lemon (discard the flesh). 

• Once the chicken is cooked remove it along with the coriander bouquet from the casserole. Set aside the chicken to cool and discard the coriander bouquet. 

• Reduce the sauce for 20 min over medium heat (stir occasionally to make sure the onions don’t stick to the bottom of the casserole). There should be some liquid left in the sauce after 20 minutes, we don’t want all the liquids to evaporate for this recipe. Add a couple of tablespoons of water if there is no more liquid in the casserole at this stage. 

• Add the chopped preserved lemon and the olives to the onions, stir to combine and leave over low medium heat for 10 min. 

• To serve place the chicken back in the casserole to warm it up over medium heat. Serve hot and enjoy with a side of rice, couscous or bread.


• Alternatively, you can warm up the chicken pieces and the sauce separately. Before serving, warm up the oven at 170 C, place the chicken in a baking tray lined with parchment paper and transfer in the warm oven until the chicken is hot, about 10 to 15 minutes, maybe more depending how cold the chicken is. If your onion sauce is cold at this stage, while the chicken is in the oven, warm up the sauce in a casserole over medium heat. Serve together when the chicken and the sauce are both hot. 

• Some people cook the flesh of the preserved lemon along with the onions in the beginning of the recipe, it’s a good way of recycling the flesh. For some reason my mom doesn't like it, she thinks it makes the tagine more acididic, so I never tried this method. Feel free to give it a go. I am planning on trying it next time!

• If you’ve used a whole chicken and are left with chicken liver, add it to the sauce after you discard the cooked chicken from the casserole. Once the liver is cooked, mash the liver in the casserole and stir the sauce to mix the onions and the liver, it will add a nice "livery" taste to the sauce. That is, if you like liver.

• Don’t forget to place the cooked chicken in the fridge once it has cooled down. You don’t want to leave your chicken at room temperature for too long.

• The cooking time instructions are adapted to regular casseroles. Don’t forget to adapt the cooking time to your cookware.