I love our Pasadena farmer’s market, but after a recent trip to Santa Monica where I stumbled across their local farmer’s market, I found myself just a wee bit jealous. Santa Monica, right on the beach, is what non-Californians tend to imagine when they think of L.A. and as such it boasted a decidedly glamorous farmer’s market, which, I am aware, is a completely ridiculous oxymoron. The Santa Monica farmer’s market, which stretched for blocks and blocks, seemed to have not only all of the basics one sees at a farmer’s market, but all sorts of unusual varietals and mystery veggies. Coming back to our modest little farmer’s market the following weekend, I was determined to find something out of the ordinary and kumquats fit the bill. I realize that kumquats are not terribly exotic, but having lived in the Northeast for 28 of my 30 years, they’re not something I often encountered. In Southern California, of course, every other yard seems to have a kumquat tree, but I had yet to try one.
Unlike the better known citrus fruits, kumquats are eaten whole, rind and all. There are six subspecies, some sweeter than others, but as far as I can tell, the ones commonly found in the U.S. are tart and piquant, but not really bitter. As Dylan put it, when you bite into one, you get that citrus feeling in your nose. Technically, kumquats aren’t part of the Citrus genus, but are close relatives from genus Fortunella. I don’t think you’ll find these tiny oval fruits replacing oranges, clementines, and tangerines in people’s hearts and kitchens anytime soon, but they definitely add a vibrant and interesting flavor to this dish.
I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this dish given that the closest I’ve come to Morocco was a somewhat harrowing dash through Grenada, Spain’s Little Morocco district several years ago, but the combination of sweet and earthy flavors in this dish certainly evoked distant lands. With soft, stewed prunes, onions, sweet potatoes, and a distinctive spice combination balancing out the kumquats, there are a lot of flavors in this dish, but served over a bed of fluffy couscous, it works.
Because I really can’t stand dark-meat chicken, I used chicken breasts (one per person) instead of a whole chicken, but I’d imagine doing the recipe as it was intended would result in a richer sauce as the juices and fat from the chicken meld with the other flavors. I’ve included the recipe as it was originally written up in Bon Appetit in November 1992 (via Epicurious, natch) and made note where I changed the recipe a bit to better suit chicken breasts. The other major change I made was to substitute sweet potatoes for butternut squash, which I was having a devil of a time finding now that winter has passed. Whether you use squash or sweet potatoes, just be sure to cut it into small cubes so that they cook sufficiently. (That is especially true if you choose to use chicken breasts as the cooking time will be shorter.)
MOROCCAN CHICKEN WITH KUMQUATS AND PRUNES (serves 4)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces (or 1 chicken breast per person)
2 onions, chopped
1 1-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (or sweet potatoes, cut into small cubes)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
2 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt broth
4 ounces kumquats, quartered lengthwise, seeded
4 ounces pitted prunes
2 tablespoons honey
Freshly cooked rice or couscous
Chopped fresh cilantro (or parsley)
1. Heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, add to skillet and brown, about 7 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate. Pour off all but thin film of fat from skillet. Add onions, reduce heat to medium and sauté until very tender and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add squash and stir 2 minutes. Add cinnamon, cumin and saffron and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken stock and bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Add chicken with any drippings on plate, kumquats, pitted prunes and honey.
2. Cover skillet and simmer until chicken is cooked through, turning occasionally, about 30 minutes (less if you’re using chicken breasts- check at about 12-15 minutes to see if chicken is cooked through). Uncover and boil until liquid thickens to sauce consistency if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm covered over medium heat.)
Mound rice or couscous on plates. Spoon chicken and sauce over. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.