More fun with tagine

So we’ve made three tagines now, all within a week or so. I know I promised a recipe, but in working with this I’ve come to realize that tagine is not so much a recipe as a technique. I file it under the same kind of dish as paella or risotto: Dishes that have an equation of ingredients and a more or less set process. If you stick to the equation, and follow the process, you are free to play around with the ingredients. There’s no reason why you couldn’t make a tagine that has overtly Italian, Indian or Thai notes just by swapping in the appropriate spices and ingredients. The net result will be as satisfying.

Basically, tagine is simply a hybrid between a braise and a stew, comprised of meats (which are in fact optional), aromatic and/or sturdy vegetables (also optional, if you want to make an all-meat version), fruits (optional, but very nice), spices/herbs (decidedly not optional) and liquid (fundamentally necessary). And heat.

The real challenge is liquid management. You’ll need less than you think. As the dish cooks, the ingredients will give off some of their own liquids; as the steam builds under the cone, pressure will force the liquid down, which in turn pushes it out around the periphery of the lid. Less is more.

All tagines — the cooking vessels themselves — are different. I can only speak for the Le Creuset
version. Traditional ceramic ones may be more shallow; the All-Clad
version appears deeper. But in our experience so far, the tagine
equation is as follows:

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Tagine1One of the more extravagant gifts DPaul received for his birthday last month was this fabulous Le Creuset tagine (in red, of course). Of course, that occurred smack in the middle of all our travels, so we hadn’t really had an opportunity to christen the thing until just the other day.

We’ve never made tagine before, at least not in an actual tagine. But a little cursory research indicated a few common threads among recipes. Basically, it’s a braise of browned meats slow-cooked in a small amount of spiced liquid; the cone shape of the lid creates a convection system, causing the steam to condense and drip back down. There are many kinds of tagine, with different ingredients ranging from sweet to savory. For our inaugural run, we decided to do a tagine of chicken with lemon and olives. Conveniently enough, my conserved lemons are ready to go!

For a first pass, it was pretty good. The chicken was moist and flavorful, lightly yet exotically spiced, and the salted lemons lent a pleasantly subtle and fruity flavor, not as intensely salty or tart as I had expected. The only thing that needed serious adjustment was the amount of liquid — less is more. Our tagine was bubbling out all over the place, and required frequent mopping up with a paper towel.

As this was a first attempt, I don’t have a concrete recipe to share at
this point. We’ll do a couple more runs and nail it down. I will however include a quick and easy recipe for cous cous that makes a lovely complement.

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