Monday, December 6, 2010

Moroccan Chicken Sandwich


I want to start off with a disclaimer: I've never been to Morocco, or even eaten at a Moroccan restaurant here in the States. I have no actual hands-on experience with 'true' Moroccan food whatsoever- just my own experiments at home that resulted from a whole bunch of hunting around online for Moroccan recipes. So if you ever find yourself ordering a sandwich at a Moroccan restaurant- if they even have sandwiches on the menu- it will probably be nothing like this one. But calling it a 'Moroccan-Inspired Chicken Sandwich' sounded kind of dumb. (And besides, it's made with Ras el Hanout which is a 'true' Moroccan spice blend). But none of that really matters, because this sandwich is good. Really, Really Good. You (and all your friends) will like it, of that I'm sure. I'm also sure that you've never had a sandwich quite like this before. You know how I'm sure? Because I Googled 'Moroccan Chicken Sandwich' and found only a few things, none of which was even remotely like this. The closest one I've been able to find was this one. Not really anything like mine, which is also a whole lot messier. Easily one of the messiest sandwiches I've ever eaten (you'll need extra napkins, and a spoon wouldn't hurt either).

Here's the short list of what you'll need:
(specifics after the jump)

Boneless Chicken Breast
Cardamom Mayo
Ras El Hanout
Coconut Milk
Dried Fruit
Toasted Almonds
Diced Tomatoes

Optional, but not really, because they're totally amazing and easy to make. So if you do choose to make them optional, just remember that they're highly recommended:

Preserved Lemons

Ok, let's start with the Ras el Hanout, a blend of spices that is used extensively in Moroccan cooking. After that trip down the spice aisle at Target that I mentioned in the previous post, I started hunting around online for Moroccan recipes, paying close attention to the spices used, and I found a boatload of recipes for Ras el Hanout. You can certainly buy it many places nowadays, but I think it's better (and way cheaper!) to make your own, whether it's your own personal blend, or from a recipe you found on the internets. And being a blend, there are about as many variations of it as there are people who use it. I never did try a single one of the ones I found, though; because while they're all similar, they're all quite different too- some called for cumin and paprika, while others left out the cardamom (!) or coriander. There wasn't really a whole lot of consensus, which is totally fine and makes perfect sense, so I took a bunch and tried to come up with my own, based on the whole of what I found. First, here are the ones (that I can remember) that I based mine on -

Cyber Kitchen
Kayotic Kitchen
The Epicentre

(The link that I posted above to the Moroccan Grilled Chicken Sandwich also has a recipe for Ras.)

A few used saffron, which I would have liked to have tried, but it's just too expensive for me ($18/3 grams, or $106/oz. at Spice Barn, the cheapest place I've found). But I'm happy with what I came up with nonetheless, although I still consider it a 'working' recipe' (meaning that it works great for me, but I plan on tweaking it a lot in the future- maybe less pepper, definitely more cardamom).

My version includes most of the usual stuff, plus some more:

paprika, cumin, fennel, ginger, turmeric, kosher salt, cinnamon, garlic powder, coriander, allspice, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves.

A couple notes: I generally recommend toasting most of your spices first- adds a nice richness to the flavor. It's kind of hard to taste-test a spice blend of this sort as you're making it, since it really needs some sort of vehicle to bring out the flavors of the spices that are in it. If you were to taste it straight out of the bowl (which I always do when trying new blends) it would probably taste like dirt. Bitter dirt. And you would be thinking that it couldn't possibly taste good on anything. But you would be wrong! Try blending it with some honey, or coconut milk and dried fruit which is what I do in this recipe.

So that's the Ras. Now comes the Cardamom Mayo! This stuff is just flat-out delicious. I have no idea how I came up with it or what, if any, inspiration I had for it. There must have been some rhyme or reason for it, but then again, maybe not; maybe I was just experimenting and got lucky, I really don't remember. I did try making it once with whole-milk yogurt, thinking that would be a little more true-to-style, but didn't really like it. Mayo is preferred (homemade mayo is especially preferred. I'll post a link at the end to a nearly foolproof homemade mayo recipe I found).

Cardamom Mayo

3/4 c. mayo
1T ground coriander
1T ground cardamom
Zest of 1 lemon, juice of 1 half
1T honey
pinch salt/pepper
sprinkle cinnamon/cayenne

Definitely don't skip the cayenne, but be careful about adding too much- the excess heat isn't the issue, it's just that the flavor of the cayenne overpowers and ruins all the other flavors. Less really is more.

Preserved Lemons

You can buy commercially made preserved lemons, if you don't feel like making your own, or need some in a pinch, but I've heard that they're very expensive. But they're so easy to make on your own, not to mention dirt cheap, that there's really no reason not to. Pretty much all you really need, besides lemons and salt, is time (they're ready in about 6-8 weeks). I'm going to skip the recipe here, but here are a couple links to recipes I've used:

Tony Tahhan

Sippity Sup

Tony's is the first one I used and it's dead simple. Sippity's recipe calls for adding some aromatics. I made a batch using the exact recipe, minus the bay leaves because I didn't have any; honestly, though, I didn't really notice a difference. Not that it's not worth doing, I just think I'd add more of everything it calls for. But one thing I especially like about the recipe, is that she has a photo of them sitting in a large glass jar, held under the juice with a small plate. It seems obvious now, but since all the other recipes I've seen call for using mason jars, if you've never made any before, then you might subconsciously conclude that you need a mason jar to make preserved lemons. Well, follow her example and use what you've got. I actually have several jars of the stuff in my fridge, but I also have a 1-gallon Rubbermaid pitcher of them too. It was a lot easier to make them- and it's also easier to remove them- but the downside is that I also have a 1-gallon Rubbermaid pitcher of them in my fridge, which is probably more than I'll ever be able to use. Seriously, a little goes a long way- 1 piece (1/4 lemon) is easily enough for 2 or 3 servings.


If you know of a decent store-bought kind that you like, go for it; if not, I found this one over at Allrecipes awhile back and have been using it ever since (I always skip the garlic, though). The flatbread you see in the photos was made with this recipe.

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
4 1/2 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons minced garlic (optional)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until frothy. Stir in sugar, milk, egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until smooth. Place dough in a well oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise. Let it rise 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.
2. Punch down dough, and knead in garlic. Pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into balls, and place on a tray. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
3. During the second rising, preheat grill to high heat.
4. At grill side, roll one ball of dough out into a thin circle. Lightly oil grill. Place dough on grill, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned. Brush uncooked side with butter, and turn over. Brush cooked side with butter, and cook until browned, another 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from grill, and continue the process until all the naan has been prepared.

I don't know about the golf ball size measurement because I weigh mine out now. I've found that 3-3 1/2 oz. works really well for me. It's always tempting to make them bigger so I can have a bigger sandwich, but it never really works out in practice. You can only fill them up so much before everything falls apart and makes an even bigger mess than it otherwise would. Also, while an oiled grill on high probably works great, I get fantastic results from cooking mine in a dry wok on medium.

I hate when recipes call for yeast by the packet because I buy mine in bulk. I have a scale, so if they list the weight, it's not really a problem, but if you also use bulk yeast and don't have a scale, let me save you a step:

1 packet of yeast is approx. 2 1/2 t.

Putting it all together
Boneless Chicken Breast
Cardamom Mayo
Ras El Hanout
Coconut Milk
Dried Fruit
Preserved Lemons
Chopped, Toasted Almonds
Diced Tomatoes

(I don't have exact amounts for any of this, but figure that you're only going to be able to use about 3-4 oz. of chicken breast per sandwich.)

Start by adding coconut milk and water to a medium sized saucepan, over medium heat- use a 1:1 ratio, or even more, of water to coconut milk (say, 1-1/2 cans of water per can of coconut milk). It may seem rather thin now, but it'll thicken up a lot as it cooks. Add in as much or as little Ras el Hanout as you like. I like a lot. I don't even measure it- I keep mine in a wide-mouth jar and just shake a bunch in until it looks good. Taste it and see (note that it might seem like it needs a little... 'something;' sugar, maybe? That's where the dried fruit, and later on, cardamom mayo come in). When it's to your liking, add in your raw chicken, either sliced very thinly or diced, 1 piece of minced preserved lemon peel, and a handful or so of chopped dried fruit. I've used figs, raisins, dates, and apricots; each one adds its own unique take on the flavor of the final dish and I like them all. Raisins have the added benefit of being small enough that you don't have to chop them. (And in case you missed my last post- Walgreens, of all places, has really high quality, really cheap ($1/box) dried fruit. At least the one in my neighborhood does, but I'm pretty sure the rest have the same supplier.) You'll probably have to turn the heat down to low because the mix will thicken considerably and start to bubble and splatter a lot. Now would be a good time to spoon out a piece of the chicken and take a bite to see if it's done. No, I'm kidding. You should probably wait several minutes until it at least looks like it's cooked, then spoon out a piece and maybe set it on a cutting board or something, to slice it open and check for sure. And unless you're using really large, thick pieces (not recommended) it really doesn't take long at all, maybe 7-10 minutes. When you've decided that it is in fact ready, take a piece of freshly made/heated flatbread and spoon a bunch of the chicken/fruit mix into a line down the center of it (try to drain off most of the coconut milk beforehand; it's going to be plenty messy as it is without it). Add some diced tomatoes, a spoonful of cardamom mayo, a sprinkle of the almonds, and then the cilantro. In that order.

Fold it into a taco shape and prepare yourself for one of the tastiest, messiest sandwiches you've ever had.

Variation: If you're planning a bbq or something, or just don't feel like going the messy route, this will also make a great 'regular' sandwich- just make a marinade out of some Ras and oil and lemon juice/preserved lemon and then coat some chicken breasts with it and marinate for awhile before tossing on the grill. Goes great on a regular hamburger bun with Lettuce, Tomato, and Onion, and also the cardamom mayo, almonds and cilantro. Maybe a slice of Muenster as well.

This is a great recipe for homemade mayo that I found (you'll need an immersion blender). When I was getting ready to make it for the first time I remember thinking that there's no way this would work. No Way. But it did! In fact, it works fantastic! No more super slow drizzling of oil, no need for a food processor. Once all the ingredients are in your mixing vessel, it literally takes about 5-7 seconds to whip up a batch. Keep in mind, though, that room temperature ingredients are key. The only time this didn't work for me was when my egg was close to- but not quite at- room temp.


Yes, I realize there's no cilantro or tomatoes on the sandwich in these photos- that's because even though there's a grocery store only a mile and a half from my house, when you don't have a car, you have to learn to make some sacrifices. In this case, I sacrificed the cilantro and tomatoes. The sandwich was still awesome. In no case, however, should you ever sacrifice the cardamom mayo or almonds. They're an integral part of the sandwich. If you don't have any on hand, hold off on making this until you do. And if you're allergic to eggs or almonds? Well, it's worth whatever reaction you might have. If you're deathly allergic, however- well, at least you'll die with a smile on your face.

The plate's not as dirty as it looks. I swear.

No comments: