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Enjoy Salty Flavors and a Sweet Finish

By Diane Rossen Worthington

The following recipe for roast lemon chicken, which also includes sweet Medjool dates, is a treasured family favorite that is the centerpiece of our holiday table. However, it is a dish that is great anytime of year.

Traditional roast chicken with olives, garlic and lemon is a Moroccan specialty. Here you don’t need a tagine (a special clay roasting pot with a conical top) to achieve tasty results. Finding already-peeled garlic cloves at your market makes it a snap to put this together. I blanch the garlic cloves first to help the garlic cook through evenly. If your garlic cloves are too large, slice them in half so that the garlic cooks uniformly. Don’t be put off by the large number of garlic cloves – they add a wonderful nutty, richness to the sauce.

Cook the chicken in a shallow roasting pan that can be brought to the table for a casual presentation. Use a microplaner or grater to grate the lemon zest before squeezing the juice. The lemon slices and optional sumac add a fruity touch. Ground sumac is a versatile spice with a tangy lemony flavor, but it is more balanced and less tart than lemon juice. Fresh Medjool dates are my pick here for their intense, rich, caramel-like flavor and soft, chewy texture. The dates add a sweet balance to the tart lemon and salty olives.

You can easily double or triple this recipe, making sure to use enough pans so as not to crowd the chicken. Serve with roasted vegetables or a vegetable rice pilaf for a hearty and satisfying
festive meal.

Roast Herbed Chicken with Caramelized Garlic, Dates, Lemon and Olives

INGREDIENTS:
25 peeled medium whole garlic cloves, ends cut off
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon zest
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs (any combination of rosemary, thyme, parsley, basil and oregano)
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sumac, optional
1 3 1/2- to 4-pound chicken, cut up or 4 chicken breast halves and 4 thighs
1 lemon, thinly sliced
8 fresh Medjool dates, pitted and cut into fourths for a total of 32 pieces
3/4 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup pitted green olives or black

Serves 4

1. Place the garlic cloves in a medium saucepan of boiling water. Blanch the garlic for 5 minutes or until very slightly softened. Drain and set aside.

2. Combine the zest, lemon juice, olive oil, 1/4 cup herbs, salt, pepper and sumac, if using, in a small bowl. Mix to combine.

3. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Arrange the chicken pieces in a roasting pan, skin side up, and pour over the lemon herb mixture. Arrange the garlic cloves, lemon slices and dates all around the chicken, moving them to coat with the mixture. Roast for about 40 minutes or until the chicken pieces are nicely browned and no pink color remains. (The dark meat may need another 5 or 10 minutes to finish cooking.)

4. Remove pan from oven. With potholders place pan on top of the stove on medium-high heat, add the stock and deglaze the pan by scraping up any of the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle on the olives, and toss them around to heat through. Garnish with remaining 2 tablespoons of herbs and serve right from the pan or transfer to a platter and serve immediately.

NOTE: The lemon-herb mixture can be made 4 hours ahead, covered and kept at room temperature.

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