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Gilpin's Chicken Tagine Thing

A few weeks ago some very dear family friends of mine all congregated at the Commonwork Farm in Kent to cook for the open day there. They have been doing this annually for many years now but in 2013 it gained particular significance. Our friend Gilpin, who used to be the head chef there, passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly of cancer. We were all left with a little less laughter in our lives. Gilpin was larger than life. We still have a lot of fun together, but we miss his presence keenly. 

A few months after his death the open day gave us all the opportunity to come together and say our goodbyes in an informal way in a place that Gilpin loved and where he was loved. Against the backdrop of bucolic English countryside – rolling hills, wild flowers and the smell of cut grass – we looked on as his wife, Gayle, trudged up and down over a neatly ploughed field scattering his ashes with the help of a ladle she had borrowed from the Commonwork kitchen (unbeknown to the new head chef). She read a goodbye poem to Gilpin and we all laughed and cried and sang and laughed some more. It was sad, it was funny, it was moving and it felt utterly appropriate.

I was unable to join my friends this year, so instead I have been remembering Gilpin by cooking a dish inspired by him. I have been making this frequently since our friend, Jules, first posted it on her blog after Gilpin passed away. Overtime I have added bits and pieces. Here I share Gilpin’s original recipe and my bastardised version. They’re both delicious.

Actually this isn't really a tagine - it isn't cooked in one and it doesn't even take a look inside an oven - but the flavours are all there. It's also worth noting that the reason I haven't given a measurement for the preserved lemon is because they vary in strength considerably. It is also a matter of personal taste. 

Both dishes are great just as they are, but if you are cooking for a special occasion you could serve with some Middle Eastern themed sides. For example, a crisp fresh salad like fattoush or this pomegranate salad, some flatbread, labneh or yoghurt.

Either will serve 4 greedy people as a main.

Gilpin's version


8 chicken thighs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large onion, sliced into half moons
1 tbsp ras el hanout, or to taste
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into thick rounds
500g brown lentils
400g tin chopped tomatoes
750ml chicken stock
Handful dried apricots
½ cup green olives, pitted
Preserved lemon, finely chopped, to taste
Coriander leaves, for garnish


Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Brown the chicken thighs on all sides, in batches if necessary, and put to one side.

Reduce the heat to low, add more oil if necessary and add the garlic and onion. Fry gently for a few minutes until beginning to soften. Add the ras el hanout, stir and cook for a few minutes longer.

Put the chicken thighs back in the saucepan, along with the carrots, lentils and tomatoes. Pour over enough stock to cover. Turn up the heat to bring to a gentle simmer, then turn the heat down to low again and leave to simmer for 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until the lentils are cooked and the liquid is reduced. 

About 10 minutes before serving, add the apricots, green olives and preserved lemon.

Garnish with coriander leaves to serve.

My bastardised version


1 carrot
1 suede
½ butternut squash
2 tbsp vegetable oil
8 chicken thighs or 4 chicken legs
4 cloves garlic, squashed1 onion, sliced into half moons
1 tbsp ras el hanout
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
750ml chicken stock
1 x 400g tin chickpeas
Preserved lemon, finely chopped, to taste
Handful dried apricots, sliced
½ cup green olives, pitted
Coriander leaves, for garnish


Peel the carrots, remove the skin from the suede and butternut squash and remove any seeds and pith from the squash. Cut each into large chunks. 

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Brown the chicken thighs or legs on all sides, in batches if necessary, and put to one side.

Reduce the heat to low, add more oil if necessary and add the garlic and onion. Fry gently for a few minutes until beginning to soften. Add the ras el hanout, paprika, coriander seeds and cumin seeds, stir and cook for a few minutes longer.

Add the chicken, tin tomatoes and vegetables and pour enough stock over to cover. Leave to simmer over a low heat for an hour (more won’t hurt); you want the liquid to be significantly reduced. About 10 minutes before serving, add the chickpeas, dried apricots, green olives and preserved lemon.

Garnish with coriander leaves to serve. 

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Reader Comments (4)

I was there and your blog captures the moment perfectly . You've inspired me to have a go at cooking the Tagine. I'll ley you know how it goes. x

August 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMa

Me again. I have cooked Gilpin'sTagine twice in the last week.First time for Sara and more recently for the Marks famiy. In both cases it worked a treat. It is all about the preserved lemons and fresh supplies of Ras el hanout. Sara had Ras al hanout in her pantry, but it was past its useby date , and hardly smelt of anything., so we chucked it. I bought a fresh pungent supply at Borough market. Got the preserved lemons there too. Befoe adding the lemons I tasted the dish to check that the lentils were cooked. Even then it tasted great . Then I added the lemons as per recipe , and the flavour was transformed. This is a fabulous dish for cooking in bulk - I made enough second time around for a second family meal.

August 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMa

I ate the leftovers of the above tagine for lunch with Sara in her flat overlooking the Thames. It was terrific and I scraped the bowl. It has now prompted me to ask if you could do a post about one of my favourites dishes you used to just casually whip up - laab moo.

August 23, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjilly

Hi Ma, so glad you love this recipe as much as me. Have you tried my version too? I think both are great. Nice to change it up a bit. Yes, I agree re. spices and lemons. You will have to try it with my homemade preserved lemons and compare. :-)

Hi Jilly, glad you liked it. I have already got the larp moo recipe on here. I sent it to Charlie a little while back (your Charlie) actually as she wanted to make for you and Andrew :-) I'll send you an email now.

August 26, 2015 | Registered CommenterVix

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