Our leader, Tess Willcox, takes you through Marrakech and beyond as part of our Stir, Sip & Sleep series.
Your guide to Marrakech
We’re all finding our merry way back to our roots, cooking with more care, implementing beautiful rituals, and taking the time to really make our homes places we want to lay our heads. If we haven’t quite managed to get there (or here) then at least chugging red wine from the bottle is hopefully married with a Netflix series that is taking you to an exotic corner of the planet, and a wonderfully gourmet meal on its way to you courtesy of Uber Eats.
My recent interview with Travel Weekly, has caused an absolute ruckus in terms of what I am cooking. I have been inundated with recipe requests to which I have humbly admitted how shit I am at following a recipe with grace. The cooking prowess in my kitchen is more reminiscent of a mad bohemian artist who throws absolute carnage at a pot and hopes for the best. Alas, here we are in a time where I can not only pour this cooking debauchery into a smattering of words, but pair it with my most adored wine and favourite place to lay my head in the destination of the cuisine’s origin.
Let’s dive in shall we?
STIR: WHAT TO COOK TO TRANSPORT YOU TO MOROCCO
YOTAM OTTOLENGHI’S Moroccan Sweet and savoury Pastilla topped with *egg
(*which I do not add because of no thanks)
Pastilla (read – totally a gourmet pizza pie), the rich meat pie that encapsulates Moroccan cuisine’s ability to combine sweet and savoury so cleverly, is the inspiration for this dish. If you don’t already follow Yotam Ottolenghi, I apologise for your future waistline. This is quite the run around for a dish, but your dinner guests will leave thinking you picked the recipe up from a local Souk in the bustling Medina of Marrakech. There are the obvious short cuts, like store bought pastry, but let’s be honest the one thing we are gifted with right now is TIME. So don’t be lazy, put this playlist on and make an evening of it.
Prep 20 min
Chill 1 hr 20 min
Cook 1 hr 45 min
For the pie crust
80g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
40g wholemeal flour
1½ tsp sugar
½ tsp flaked sea salt
115g fridge-cold unsalted butter, cut into 1½cm cubes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
60ml ice-cold water
For the topping
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced thinly
1½cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
400g chicken thighs, boned and skinned
1 tsp ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp saffron threads, soaked in 30ml hot water for 20 minutes
Salt and black pepper
1½ tbsp fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped, plus extra to garnish
1 tbsp caster sugar
25g blanched almonds, toasted
¾ tbsp lemon juice
Begin with the crust by whisking the flours, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and incorporate it into the mix by squashing each cube flat with your fingers – don’t overwork it, because you want chunks of butter throughout the dough, so just a light press will do. Add the garlic and water, then use your hands to gather the dough together into a shaggy ball. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Liberally flour a clean work surface and roll out the dough into a 28cm x 18cm rectangle. Fold the shorter ends in towards each other, so they meet in the middle, then fold the dough in half. Roll out the dough once again, then fold in half again from the shorter ends. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate again, this time for at least an hour, or overnight if you’re getting ahead.
For the topping, on a medium-high flame, heat a tablespoon and a half of oil in a large saute pan for which you have a lid. Time to add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes, until softened and lightly golden. Add the ginger, chicken and three-quarters of a teaspoon of cinnamon, and cook for four minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink on the outside. Followed by the saffron and its soaking water, 200ml extra water, three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Turn down the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
Transfer the chicken to a bowl and, once it’s cool enough to handle, roughly shred into large chunks. Return the pan to a medium-high heat and leave the sauce to bubble and reduce for about eight minutes, until you have roughly six tablespoons of liquid left. Turn off the heat and stir in the chicken and chopped coriander.
Put the sugar, a teaspoon of water and the remaining quarter-teaspoon of cinnamon and half-teaspoon of oil into a small saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and stir continuously until the mixture is bubbling – about two minutes. Add the almonds, cook for two minutes, or until they have crystallised, then tip out on to a tray lined with greaseproof paper. Leave to cool completely, then roughly chop.
Heat the oven to 210C (190C fan)/410F/gas 6½. Cut out a piece of greaseproof paper big enough to line the base of a large oven tray and lay it out on a work surface. Lightly flour the paper, roll out the dough on top of it into a 28cm x 28cm square, then fold over the ends by about 5mm, to make a thin rim all around the edge. Transfer the paper and dough to a large oven tray, then spread the chicken mixture all over the pastry, leaving the edge clear.
Bake for 22 minutes, then remove from the oven and use the back of a spoon to create two wells in the centre of the topping (take care not to pierce the pastry). Crack the eggs into the wells, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, then return to the oven for seven minutes, or until the eggs have cooked through but still have runny yolks. Slide the pie on to a wooden board, sprinkle with lemon juice, drizzle with the remaining teaspoon of oil, sprinkle over the coriander and almonds, and serve.
SIP: WHAT VINTAGE WOULD BE BEST PAIRED
If you have been to Marrakech in the summer time, you would share with me the yearning to be sitting rooftop on a Riad in the Medina, indulging in a bowl of olives and dates, whilst sipping on a chilled Rosè staring down the sunset.
Thanks to an Easter long weekend spent in Aix-en-Provence last year with some dear friends, coupled with a meandering journey out to sip the Rosè the region is famous for, my current obsession is Le Domaine Des Masques Syrah Grenache. Although if you are coupling this dish with some cooler weather and find yourself beside a fire with a good book to accompany you, my red of choice would be a little closer to home (literally a few km’s down the road from me) 2016 Pierro Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Reserve.
SLEEP: WHERE TO STAY IN MOROCCO
Ah Morocco. The country that continually calls my name. A sensory assault of bustling life, aromatic richness, old-world charm, hidden treasures, and peeling waves (if you venture further West). Travelling to this majestic haven over 9 times in the past decade, the magic of Morocco is never lost on me. In fact each time I set my ‘fernweh’ feet onto its soil, a dusty dance with destiny ensues. It offers an unwaveringly embodied culture, and vast landscapes that encapsulate yesteryear. There are so many different pockets to explore in this North African Kingdom, you would be forgiven for getting lost and being found all within a 100m radius of where you started in the most bustling city of all, Marrakech.
The polarity in weather will dictate what time of year you travel, with the summer months scorching and the winter months offering a cooler reprieve. I personally like a mid-season break in Autumn or Spring, and love to jump from rooftop to rooftop exploring the different nooks of the Souk.
Few places used to embody my ideal aesthetic; raw, rustic, earthy and ethereal. A tonal nod to a vast continent that bellows to the depths of your soul, as opposed to the cat cries you get for a more shallow destination. Littered with Riads whose courtyards invite you to get to know the Arabic roots of those surrounding it, with the call to prayer never far from the next tick of the clock hand.
There are a myriad of accomodation options available to every possible traveller venturing to Marrakech. Budget throes, the mid-range manors, the luxury lodges. In true #slowjourney style I prefer something a little more inconspicuous, although there are some divine luxury treasures on offer. My top 3 places to sleep in Marrakech would be;
A rural retreat inspired by traditional Berber architecture, and curated by a love story between the owner and the village of Oumnass and its inhabitants. Set in an Olive Garden in the outskirts of Marrakech, with breathtaking views and a reprieve from the bustling Medina. Everything about this place is a dream, from the organic vegetable gardens, to the cultural embodiment, to the vast landscapes and views. Berber Lodge is a real hidden gem, and still accessible to the Medina if you feel like heading in to get lost in the Souks.
UMNYA DUNE CAMP
The gateway to the Sahara Desert is rife with camps that attest to being authentic and luxurious, but end up only being held up by beautiful angles captured on instagram. Umya Dune Camp is the exception to the rule, emanating style, grace, luxury and culture. I like polarity, so either waking up in the middle of a desert with rolling sand dunes for miles, or right on the waters edge are my two favourite scenarios. Umnya feels like you are thrown into yesteryear and treated like Moroccan royalty. An absolute must.
WITHIN THE MEDINA
The struggle to recommend something within the Medina walls is not derived from a lack of beautifully secretive nods to nomadic lodging, but because I like to stay somewhere different every time I am in the heart of Marrakech. Each corner of the souk has its own charm and I find that I discover new idiosyncrasies to the Moroccan way of life if I wander between. Some of my favourites to date have been Riad Jardin Secret, Le Riad Berbere (would be one of my TOP favourites but their rules of sobriety don’t match with my sunset wine hankering) and of course El Fenn.