Tuesday, October 5, 2010
What is a tagine?
Tagine is the Moroccan word that refers to both the unique glazed earthenware vessel with a distinctive conical lid and also the food prepared in it.
Traditionally used by nomads as portable ovens over charcoal braziers for making stews, usually containing meat, the tagine is used for both cooking and serving, but care should be taken to protect your table when using the tagine as a serving dish as the base will be very hot.
The conical shaped lid helps preserves moisture in the food as the steam condenses on the inside of the lid. The shape of the lid also creates circulation within the dish, infusing the food with spices and flavors.
The low indirect heat produces a rich, aromatic flavor as the food slowly simmers for hours and the resulting meat becomes meltingly tender.
Most tagines involve slow simmering of less-expensive meats. Very few Moroccan tagine recipes require initial browning, making them ideal to cook in the oven.
Types of tagine
Tagines come in two types those that can be used for serving only and those used for cooking.
These Moroccan tagines are often highly colored and patterned, but are not suitable for cooking and are not dishwasher safe.
Traditional Moroccan tagines: These are made in Morocco of glazed terracotta and ideally require seasoning before use. They can be used in the oven and over a low gas flame preferably with a heat diffuser. These are not dishwasher safe, please wash by hand in warm soapy water.
Other cooking tagines: Ceramic tagines which come in variety of colors and patterns. These are fully glazed and do not require seasoning before first use. They can be used in the oven but not on the hob, and are dishwasher safe.
Tagines in Moroccan cuisine are slow-cooked stews braised at low temperatures, resulting in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce. They are traditionally cooked in the tagine pot, whose cover has a knob-like handle at its top to facilitate removal. While simmering, the cover can be lifted off without the aid of a mitten, enabling the cook to inspect the main ingredients, add vegetables, mix the contents, or add additional braising liquid.
Most tagines involve slow simmering of less-expensive meats. For example, the ideal cuts of lamb are the neck, shoulder or shank cooked until it is falling off the bone. Very few Moroccan tagines require initial browning; if there is to be browning it is invariably done after the lamb has been simmered and the flesh has become butter-tender and very moist. In order to accomplish this, the cooking liquid must contain some fat, which may be skimmed off later.
Moroccan tagines often combine lamb or chicken with a medley of ingredients or seasonings: olives, quinces, apples, pears, apricots, raisins, prunes, dates, nuts, with fresh or preserved lemons, with or without honey, with or without a complexity of spices. Traditional spices that are used to flavour tajines include ground cinnamon, saffron, ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika, pepper, as well as the famous spice blend Ras el hanout. Some famous tajine dishes are mqualli or mshermel (both are pairings of chicken, olives and citrus fruits, though preparation methods differ), kefta (meatballs in an egg and tomato sauce), and mrouzia (lamb, raisins and almonds).
Other ingredients for a tajine may include any product that braises well: fish, quail, pigeon, beef, root vegetables, legumes, even amber and agarwood. Modern recipes in the West include pot roasts, ossobuco, lamb shanks and turkey legs. Seasonings can be traditional Moroccan spices, French, Italian or suited to the dish.
Seasoning your tagine for first use
This is not essential but will remove any earthenware 'taste' and strengthen your tagine.
1. The new tagine needs to be submerged in water for at least 1 hour.
2. Rub the inside of the base and lid with olive oil.
3. Put in a cold oven and set temperature to 150C (gas mark 2) and leave for 2 hours.
4. Remove from oven and leave to cool.
5. When completely cool, wash in warm soapy water and dry with a clean cloth.
6. Your tagine is now ready to use.
Tagine is perhaps the most frequently served dish in Morocco. There are literally hundreds of variations of this exotic Moroccan stew.
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