I heard about this dish from many members of the Tangier "literary set," who told me the Moroccan writer Mohammed Mrabet had cooked it for them. Despite all the descriptions, I couldn't figure out the recipe. Finally Paul Bowles, who had discovered and translated Mrabet, recalled the measurements for me from memory.
In the Rif Mountains, Mrabet's home, the people are individualistic and do things their own way — as in this recipe, where they rub cumin into the flesh of the chickens, a procedure unknown in other parts of the country.
1. Rinse the chicken and pat dry; trim away excess fat. Cut off the wings and legs, leaving the breast in one piece. Rub all the pieces with salt, pepper, and the cumin. Let stand for 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, cover the prunes with cold water in a small saucepan and add the cinnamon. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside.
3. Place the onions in a wide, shallow casserole with the turmeric, ginger, salt and pepper to taste, and 1/4 cup water; cover, and steam for 15 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, brown the almonds in 4 or 5 tablespoons oil in a large skillet; remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Brown the chicken evenly on all sides in the same oil, then transfer to the steamed onions. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper and cook over the lowest possible heat for about 1-1/4 hours.
5. Discard the parchment paper. Add the cooked prunes to the casserole and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Arrange the chicken breast in the center of a serving dish, place the legs and wings around, and cover all with the prunes and sauce. Sprinkle with the almonds and serve at once.
From The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert (Ecco, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2011). Copyright © 2011 by Paula Wolfert. Photography by Quentin Bacon. Used with permission of the publisher.
Paula Wolfert is the author of five cookbooks. She has won numerous awards, including the Julia Child award, the James Beard award, the M.F.K. Fisher Award for Excellence in Culinary Writing and the Tastemaker award, and has been a finalist for the Andre Simon award.