Classic Moroccan chicken with olves served topped with a signature onion topping

Traditional Moroccan chicken with olives and preserved lemons: Djaj M’qalli (mqalli) be zeitoun


Moroccan chicken with olives and preserved lemons is as Moroccan as it can get! It’s a dish served in ceremonies and during special events.

Every single stage in making this dish is important. From a properly handled chicken to the final texture of the gravy to how the whole thing comes together, everything about this dish is very important: the ingredients, the method, the time and most of all LOVE.

Classic Moroccan chicken with olves served topped with a signature onion topping

The iconic Moroccan chicken with daghmira and olives. Credit @Nada Kiffa

The dish can be cooked over a cooker or a brazier. whatever the way of cooking it, it can’t be rushed. It’s proper slow food.

I particularly love the chicken with olives and preserved lemons because of its onion gravy (deghmira). It is what literally makes the fame of this dish and this is how we know whether the cook is good or not. Deghmira actually can make the fortune of some traditional cooks called Tebbakhats (women cooking for major events such as weddings) or their misfortune.
Serves 4 persons
Prep: 15 min (if other steps were processed ahead of time)- cooking: 60-70 min
  • 1 chicken (1k to 1.2 kgs)+ 1 chicken liver
  • 3 medium-size yellow onions, finely chopped (you may use a food processor)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • ½ Moroccan preserved lemon (pitted)
  • 2 handfuls of green and purple olives
  • 2 tbsps olive oil and 1 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • ½ tsp of salt (because this dish will be seasoned with the olives and the lemon)
  • 1 tsp of black and white pepper (mix),
  • 1 heaped tsp of ground ginger,
  • A good pinch of saffron threads (quickly toasted and crushed between the palm of your hands)
  • ½ tsp of smen (Moroccan aged cured butter).
  • Depending on the regions, the different spices that can be added (limited to these): cumin, cayenne,  paprika, 1 tbsp of chopped parsley and coriander
Prep steps
1- Chicken in a brine: If you are not a follower of this blog, I’d like you to know that in Morocco, we keep our chicken in a brine (water, salt, lemon juice and rind, vinegar) for a few hours which makes it tender and allows us to easily pull the fat between the skin and the meat. We wash it with tape water and we proceed with the recipe.

2- Prepare the marinade: Mix all the spices (except the saffron thread) with smen and 1 tbsp of water.

Massage the meat and the skin of the bird with this paste. Leave it in a bowl or a plastic bag. Add 1 chopped onion to this and place in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight. This step is optional but it makes all the difference.
3- In a bowl, cover the olives with boiling water for 10 min. The reason why it’s done is because some industrially packed olives contain a high level of sodium (and sometimes other things). This will reduce the saltiness.
Add all the ingredients into the cooking pot. Add water to cover 2/3 of the bird that you need to rotate during the cooking.
At this stage, there are two methods of making this dish:

1-      Top the chicken with water, let simmer and cook. Once tender, put the chicken on the side, dump the onions in the sauce and cook them until all juice has evaporated and they become more like a puree. You do get a silky onion gravy.

2-      Cook the chicken and the onions at the same time, and then fish the chicken once it becomes tender. Reduce the sauce and keep stirring until you get a silky onion gravy

For both methods, you need to fish the chicken which you roast under a grill from all sides (it will take you about 15- 20 min at 220 degrees C).
Grate the chicken liver with a fine/medium grater and add it to the onions. Add the hearth of the preserved lemon and the olives. Continue stirring until you get what we call in Morocco “deghmira”.
Indications for the quantities of water:
– For a whole chicken: add water to cover 2/3 of the bird.
– For a chicken cut into 4 to 6 pieces: cover the pieces just about halfway.
Garnishing and serving
Arrange the chicken in a serving dish and top with the deghmira. Garnish with olives and the skin of preserved lemon cut into strips.
Serve hot with Moroccan bread or a baguette.
In some areas of Morocco, fried potato chips are served on the side or literally topping the chicken with olives and preserved lemon.


4 thoughts on “Traditional Moroccan chicken with olives and preserved lemons: Djaj M’qalli (mqalli) be zeitoun

  1. Hi Nada can you please elaborate on the brine? What if you wish to start the night before? How much lemon, salt, water do you use? Can i omit the vinegar? Do you prep the chicken this way for all chicken dishes?


  2. Hi Calista, there is no proper measuring as such here. I reckin you could do with 1/4 liquid being vinegar and you can generously rub the chicken with salt and drop it in the liquid. That should do.


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