Are you missing out on tagine cooking? A Berber tradition, the tagine has been adopted across North Africa, and Morrocan restaurants around the world have introduced it to the dining public.
Since tagine (/təˈʒiːn/) is both the clay cooking vessel and the food that is cooked in it, you can eat chicken tagine, lamb tagine, vegetable tagine, etc. There are tagines for cooking – sturdy, unglazed clay dishes – and tagines for serving – which are glazed and colorfully decorated. Read on to learn more and get a Paula Wolfert recipe for lamb tagine – then make it at home with our grass-fed lamb shoulder.
A tagine is essentially a clay slow cooker that uses low heat and moisture to reduce meat to butter-soft texture and create an intoxicatingly fragrant sauce. Cuts on the bone are best for tagine cooking, like chicken thighs, lamb shanks or shoulder. Osso buco and other braising cuts would work well too. Traditional Northern African dishes are cooked with vibrant spices in the graceful conical clay tagine, often with preserved lemon, an array of olives, and aromatic spices to complement the meat and vegetables.
The use of fresh and dried fruits, as well as honey, is common, contributing a delicate sweetness to the overall flavor. One classic chicken tagine recipe has a silken sauce of luscious olives and tart, preserved lemons seasoned with saffron, cumin, ginger, and paprika.
Lamb tagine with fried aubergines employs paprika and cumin, and a there’s a version with prunes or dates – all are rich and substantial. Served with couscous, rice, polenta, or flatbread, these dishes make for the perfect comfort food with Moroccan style.
How Do You Cook with a Tagine?
A clay cooking vessel requires a little extra care. If you have an unglazed tagine, it will need to be seasoned before you cook with it, much like a cast-iron pan. You only need to take the time once – but don’t skip it, because this step prevents your beautiful tagine from cracking when heated.
Recipes may begin on the stove (use low heat and a diffuser on the burner) and move to the oven, cook entirely on the stovetop, or solely in the oven. Regardless, most authentic recipes generally have little or no added cooking liquid. This is where the fabulous vessel comes into play. The shallow base is designed for cooking and serving; while the characteristic conical lid keeps the moisture contained and allows it to steam the food while imparting a unique flavor.
Which Tagine is Best?
Look for a clay cooking tagine like the ones here, if you want to be a traditionalist. There are Moroccan tagines for cooking and some, more decorated, just for serving. A genuine folk tagine is beautifully simple, often unglazed and many feel, elegant enough for serving.
Modern European versions of the tagine are similarly shaped, but most are constructed with heavy, enameled cast iron bases and earthenware tops. That makes the tagine a little easier to cook with (no seasoning necessary), and better at withstanding higher heat and changing temperatures.
If you are unable to decide, do not despair. Most tagine recipes translate well enough for preparation in a conventional braising pot. That said, it is easy to see the appeal of the tagine, with its elegant shape, long tradition, and dramatic presence at the table.
Ready to cook in a tagine? Try our Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Melting Tomatoes & Onions, which is from Paula Wolfert’s excellent book, Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking. Smoky and fragrant, this convivial dish should be served with torn flatbread.
Are you a fan of tagine cooking? Tell us about your experiences here – even if you only enjoy tagine when dining out.
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