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.
One 3 1/4-pound chicken, preferably organic and air-chilled
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin, preferably Moroccan, or more to taste
12 ounces moist prunes, pitted
2 to 3 teaspoons ground Ceylon cinnamon
2 large yellow onions, halved and sliced lengthwise
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup blanched whole almonds
Vegetable oil for frying
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Copyright 2011 by Paula Wolfert. Reprinted by permission of Ecco.