Citizens, the tagine is one of the world’s great stew dishes, as well as the name of the cooking utensil it is cooked in!
Tagine is an ancient originally North African Berber dish – it’s a succulent stew made of meats and vegetables and traditionally cooked in a conical clay pot to allow the steam to rise, condense, and drip back down to the stew.
The traditional method of cooking is to place the tagine over coals, and typically the dish includes meat, chicken or fish, and most often vegetables or fruit. As this meal takes a long time to prepare, preparation of the lunch tagine begins as soon as breakfast is over.
There are several theories on the origin of the word tajine:
from Berber tajin meaning “the special earthenware pot in which it is cooked”.
from Persian tah-chin ته چین meaning “laid at the bottom [of the pan]”, referring to the way it is cooked. Tahchin is a Persian food made with rice and meat (chicken or beef). (See Tunisian tajine below and Persian tahchin)
from Persian tayān تیان meaning skillet or large pan. This word is Arabicized as ṭājin (طاجن) and ṭayjin (طيجن) and ṭajīn (طجين).
from Ancient Greek: τάγηνον (tagēnon), “frying-pan, saucepan”.
The traditional tagine pottery, sometimes painted or glazed, consists of two parts: a circular base unit that is flat with low sides and a large cone- or dome-shaped cover that sits on the base during cooking. The cover is designed to return all condensation to the bottom.
Tagine is traditionally cooked over hot charcoal leaving an adequate space between the coals and the tagine pot to avoid having the temperature rise too quickly. Large bricks of charcoal are used, specifically for their ability to stay hot for hours.
Other methods are to use a tagine in a slow oven or on a gas or electric stove top, on the lowest heat necessary to keep the stew simmering gently. A diffuser, a circular utensil placed between the tagine and the flame, is used to evenly distribute the stove’s heat.
European manufacturers have created tagines with heavy cast-iron bottoms that can be heated on a cooking stove to a high temperature, which permits the browning of meat and vegetables before cooking.
Tagine cooking may be replicated by using a slow cooker or similar item, but the result will be slightly different. Many ceramic tagines are decorative items as well as functional cooking vessels. Some tagines, however, are intended only to be used as decorative serving dishes.
Moroccan and Algerian tagine dishes are slow-cooked savory stews, typically made with sliced meat, poultry or fish together with vegetables or fruit. Spices, nuts, and dried fruits are also used. Common spices include ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and saffron. Paprika and chili are used in vegetable tagines.
The sweet and sour combination is common in tagine dishes like lamb with dates and spices. Tagines are generally served with bread. As the domed or cone-shaped lid of the tagine pot traps steam and returns the condensed liquid to the pot, a minimal amount of water is needed to cook meats and vegetables. This method of cooking is practical in areas where water supplies are limited or where public water is not yet available.
My version of this ancient dish is made with lamb, olives and a good hit of lemon – it is both delicious and ruthlessly traditional, I hope you enjoy it, Citizens! It incorporates my ultimate Ras-el-hanout spice blend, but I also provide a simpler blend if you so choose!
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