The next time you have dinner guests over, prepare a tagine. These eye-catching ceramic pots are used to make moist and delicious vegetables, chicken, lamb and fish in a rich stew, slow cooked to perfection. A staple in kitchens in Morocco, tagines also present one of the healthiest ways to make food.
Drama in presentation
The handmade tagine scores with table presentation. The round dish with a conical lid comes in a variety of colours and patterns. Traditionally, it is made of heavy clay and consists of two parts: a flat slightly lifted base and a tall, cone-shaped lid that covers the base. Since the pot makes for both, the cooking and serving vessel, it's important to layer ingredients inside correctly. Traditionally, diners gather around the glazed dish and eat the meat and veggies with couscous and bread.
Secret to its taste
The tagine is either baked in the oven or cooked on the stove (if it has a metal bottom). The conical lid has a special purpose. As the food cooks, steam rises into the conical lid, condenses, and slowly drips back onto the meat, fish or vegetables, resulting in extremely moist, succulent fare. Thus, there is no evaporation and the food gets stewed evenly over duration of two to three hours, without drying. A tip to cut down on cooking time is to brown the meat and onions with spices in the pan and then finish cooking the same in the tagine.
Sauces and flavours
The two key flavours that arise out of a tagine are sweet or spicy. And certain ingredients are best paired with certain meats. Chicken goes well with preserved lemon and olives and lamb with dried fruit and garlic. Honey, cumin, and herbed butter also give tagines the main flavours. You can make a chickpea tagine with apricots and harissa sauce, but the most popular of all recipes is the baked fish tagine which is made in chermoula sauce, a marinade of garlic, cumin, chilli, lemon, olive oil and cilantro or parsley. If you like it spicy, go with the fiery, red chilli harissa paste or the popular ras-el-hanout, which is a pungent blend of spices.
Points to remember
-Ceramic or clay tagines should only be used over low to medium-low heat to avoid damaging it.
-To cook, cover the meat/veggies with water (since the tagine creates steam as it cooks, you don't need to add too much liquid to the dish). Add honey and lemon juice and cover with lid. Reduce heat to a very gentle simmer.
-After about 30 minutes, remove the lid, turn the ingredients carefully, add dried fruit or olives and cover and cook for another 30 minutes.
-Olive oil is mostly used for tagine cooking. Usually about three tablespoons will do in a recipe for four people.
-You need time for this style of cooking. While chicken takes about two hours to cook, lamb will need up to four hours' cooking time.