Want to make chicken tagine without a tagine? Try this tender slow-cooked chicken thighs recipe infused with Moroccan spices and harissa for a hands-off weeknight dinner! Originally published March 2017. Last updated January 2023.
Slow cooked, tender and flavorful Moroccan-spiced chicken is what's for dinner. This recipe is twist on a chicken tagine, made in a slow cooker and was my first foray into North African flavors and I've since become hooked. I know you will, too, based on both the amazing deep flavor and the convenience of making it all in a crock pot. Let's get into the details.
If you love flavorful weeknight chicken ideas, you must try my Cast Iron Orange Maple Chicken or my Roasted Honey Mustard Chicken Thighs & Veggies. Last but not least, Slow Cooked Pineapple Salsa Chicken is fab!
So, what is a tagine?
Tagine is both a cooking vessel and the dish made in it. A tagine pot is shallow and made of clay or ceramic with a cone-shaped lid, which yields super tender food. While not shaped the same, a slow cooker comes close as far as the results. Easy slow cooker meals are my jam, especially when I don't feel like putting forth much effort in the kitchen, so I was excited to use my slow cooker as a tagine.
What You'll Need for this Recipe
This chicken dish calls for some ingredients that you probably have on hand and a few you might need to make a grocery run for. And if you aren't familiar with Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisine, you might be confused of the combination of chicken with flavors like cinnamon and mint. But it works. Here's everything you'll need.
- Black Pepper
- Chicken Broth
- Chicken Thighs
- Dried Parsley
- Fresh Mint
- Harissa Paste
- Olive Oil
- Preserved Lemon
- Sea Salt
All of these ingredients come together in the slow cooker after the chicken and onions get a quick sear in a cast iron skillet. You'll also need a good, sharp knife on hand, a cutting board, and wooden kitchen spoon. Lastly, grab a mixing bowl to combine the spices in. Now, we're ready to cook!
Do I Need Preserved Lemon for a Tagine?
Short answer is yes. For authentic flavor, you should use preserved lemon. What is preserved lemon? Preserved lemon has a salty, intense lemon flavor with a hint of umami that joins the party as the mixture ferments in a jar. My first time making this recipe, I kind of felt my way through making healthy slow cooker chicken thighs with the loose idea of a chicken tagine in mind and the resolve to use some of the grapefruit I preserved from my parents' tree a couple of months ago.
Many Moroccan dishes, especially tagines, call for preserved lemon so I was hyped to whip out some of the grapefruit and see if it worked just as well. And it did! So feel free to use different kinds of preserved citrus if you can't find lemon or are just feeling adventurous when you make it. My friends that tried the first batch didn't even realize it wasn't lemon so it's a good substitute. I followed a tutorial on how to preserve lemon to preserve the grapefruit with just kosher salt and its own juice. I didn't shake or turn the jars every day, as indicated, and mine turned out well.
What can I use instead of preserved lemon in a tagine? If you don't have access to preserved citrus--lemon or grapefruit, as I used, you can just thinly slice up a couple of lemons (peels included) to capture a similar flavor or combine flaky sea salt with lemon zest.
What are Moroccan Spices?
Below are common spices and herbs used in Moroccan cooking, some of which you see in this spiced chicken thighs slow cooker dish. You can make a Moroccan spice blend for chicken with different flavors from this list for juicy grilled skewers, roasted thighs, and even hearty beef chili.
- Smoked Paprika
Tips for Slow Cooking Chicken Thighs
Can I put chicken into the slow cooker raw? Yes, you can add your chicken straight to the slow cooker raw. This recipe calls for a brief sear in the cast iron skillet but that is more for texture than safe consumption. As long as you cook the chicken through (I recommend testing it with a meat thermometer to be sure), it's ok to put raw chicken into the slow cooker.
Does slow cooker need to be preheated? Nope. Crock pots heat up quickly and any good slow cooker recipe will account for heating time in the cook time.
Is it better to cook on low or high in a crockpot? That really just depends on how much time you have. The way that slow cookers are made, either temperature setting will lock in moisture and flavor in your finished meal (Though it is possible to overcook something in a slow cooker!) so choose according to your schedule. My slow cooker has a "Keep Warm" setting that comes in handy when I'm not exactly sure what time I'll eat or am entertaining.
What other cuts of chicken can go in a slow cooker? Really...just about all of them! You can slow cook chicken wings, make shredded chicken breast for tacos or enchiladas or pulled chicken for easy BBQ sliders. I have even seen whole chickens finished in a slow cooker.
Lastly, while I'm not following a Whole 30 or gluten-free diet, this dish is in line with both of those so I'm very happy to be able to share it with a lot of my friends who are! This is a great all-in-one chicken dinner to make for guests or add to your weeknight dinner rotation. You can cook it pretty quickly on a high setting or on the stovetop or set it earlier in the day and let it cook slow and low. Either way, I hope you enjoy soon and very soon. And sharing is caring so be sure to pin this slow cooker chicken thighs and potatoes recipe over on Pinterest. Thanks for reading!
How to Make Chicken Tagine in a Slow Cooker
Slow Cooker Moroccan Spiced Chicken Thighs
- olive oil
- ½ white onion sliced
- 3 cloves garlic sliced
- 8 chicken thighs
- sea salt to taste
- black pepper to taste
- 8 potatoes quartered
- 2 preserved lemon or other citrus peels only, rinsed and thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 3 teaspoons dried parsley
- 6 tablespoons Harissa paste I used the spicy variety
- 3 cups chicken broth or water with 1 chicken bouillon cube
- 4 sprigs fresh mint chopped or torn
- Add olive oil to a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. While it warms, season chicken thighs with sea salt and black pepper, slice garlic, and slice onion into half-inch strips.
- Add onion and garlic to skillet and cook until the onions start to become translucent and mixture is fragrant (about two minutes). Add chicken to pan and brown on both sides (about 3 minutes each).
- Meanwhile, mix parsley, cumin, turmeric, and cinnamon in a bowl. Remove the peels of the preserved lemon and discard the fruit. Thinly slice the peels. Cut potatoes into quarters, lengthwise.
- In the crock of your slow cooker, layer 4 chicken thighs with half the garlic and onions, half the dry spice mix, 3 tablespoons Harissa paste, half the potatoes, then half the preserved lemon peels. Mix to coat everything well then repeat with remaining ingredients.
- Add chicken broth or water and bouillon then cook on high for 3 to 4 hours or low for 6 hours or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of at least 175 degrees Farenheit.
- Garnish chicken with fresh mint and serve with potatoes.