Star Chef: Moroccan cuisine with a hint of California
Name: Mourad Lahlou
Hometown: Marrakech, Morocco
Restaurant or business where you cook professionally: Aziza in San Francisco
February 13, 2002
Background: I was born in Morocco, and came to San Francisco along with my brother Khalid to attend college. After getting a master’s in economics, I decided I needed a break before starting my doctorate, so along with my brother I opened Kasbah In San Rafael in 1996. Last November, we moved our restaurant to Geary St and named it Aziza, in honor of our mother. I have enjoyed it so much that seven years later my doctorate is still on hold.
What got you interested in cooking? As a little boy I would hang out in the kitchen and listen to my mother’s magical stories as she effortlessly prepared meals for the 12 people in our family. When I moved to California, I missed her very much, and since calling on the phone is so costly I had to come up with a cheaper way to stay in touch and soothe my homesickness. So after classes I would pick up some meat and vegetables and try to recreate some of her specialties. After a lot of trial and error, I started sharing these meals with Khalid and then a small circle of friends, and before long Khalid and I decided to open a restaurant.
Describe or explain your style of cooking. Contemporary Moroccan cuisine influenced by the Mediterranean region and California. I use locally grown and organic products whenever possible.
Essential utensils you need in the kitchen or recommend to friends: A spice grinder so the spices are as flavorful and fresh as possible.
What do you like to eat: Slowly cooked foods: stews, braised meats.
What restaurants do you go to: Any place that serves good quality delicious food, such as Chez Panisse, Ton Kiang, Bistro Jeanty.
Name five people you would like to cook for: My grandfather, mom, Bob Marley, Muhammad Ali, and Rudy Giuliani.
Please share a favorite kitchen secret or trick of the trade with our readers: when making Moroccan meat stews, sear the meat with the spices instead of adding the spices to the meat. This method allows spices to roast and release better fragrances.
Do you have a motto ? personal or professional? Don’t cut corners and good things will happen.
Braised Moroccan Hens with preserved meyer lemons and olives
4 cornish game hens
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 quartz chicken stock (warm)
8-10 large shallots, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon Spanish saffron threads
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 preserved meyer lemons (ringed and sliced)
1 cup Moroccan pink olives (or cracked olives)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Rinse the Cornish hens with cold running water, discard giblets and pat dry. Cut along backbone with shears. Cut off excess fat and skim. Rub lemon juice, salt and garlic onto hens. Let marinade over night (1 hour if short of time). Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat and sear on all sides until brown. Discard excess oil from pan. Deglaze with 1 cup of stock and scrape all cooked particles with a wooden spoon. When onions are translucent, add all the spices and stir well to avoid burning.
Return hens to the pan and cook them for 10 minutes. Try to get as much of the spice mixture over then hens as possible. Put then hens and spice mixture in a heavy stockpot and cover with the rest of the stock. Bring to a boil. Place pot in a preheated 375-degree oven and cook for 45 minutes (or until hens are very tender but not falling apart). Remove hens and set aside, covering them with foil to keep warm.
Transfer the cooking liquid to a large sauté pan and add the preserved lemons and olives. Boil over high heat until the sauce becomes thick. Return hens to the pan and return frequently in the sauce so that they absorb as much of the sauce as possible. Add the chopped herbs and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Place hens in a large warm platter, arrange olives in the outskirt of the platter and put 2 slices of preserved lemons on each hen. Pour the sauce over then hens and garnish with chervil or chives.
Serve with Moroccan bread or any other unflavored bread.