First off, lets clear one thing up. I have no clue whether I should be spelling it Tajine, or Tagine. Popular opinion would seem to favour Tajine with a ‘J’, but the labels on the box from one Mr Emile Henry, proud maker of my fancy new “Tagine” beg to differ.
Personally, I only get involved in linguistic battles when I think I can win, and having very little grasp on any other languages other than English (which is a tenuous one at best), I think i’ll stick to trying to cook one.
So, now that the formalities are out of the way, I have anti climatically bought my first Tajine. Yay ! After a long hard day of being dragged through furniture stores looking for a new lounge suite, I finally had enough and did what any well meaning, red blooded Australian male does to relax… head straight to the nearest kitchen supply store and start fondling crockery. I did my usual trick of picking up all the Le Cruseut stuff to see if it’s still as heavy as the last time I picked it up (it is), then casually scoffed at the lame excuses for non-stick frying pans they have, before wondering if I really needed to buy an industrial sized burner for caramelizing the tops of my creme brulee (I don’t, yet).
Finally, after eliminating all the other possible things I could waste my money on, I came across an object of desire that has passed my gaze many times and managed to get away. A Tajine. And not just any Tajine… but a RED one… which everyone knows is WAY more authentic than any other colour… and also goes faster. This particular model was by the aforementioned Emile Henry, and a finer model I’ve not seen.
It’s made from a high grade glazed ceramic that is both heat resistant as well as resilient to sticking, and hardy enough to be scrubbed with abrasive materials and not lose it’s lustre (a great benefit to lazy cooks the world over).
So… my purchase made, and my walk acquiring a new skip that only the knowledge of future dinner experimentation with new toys can bring… it was off home to get cooking.
Now, I know about as much about Moroccan cuisine as I do about Morocco. Thanks to Wikipedia, I do know the capital isn’t Casablanca (which is a movie I have still yet to watch), that it’s been inhabited by more cultures than one of Jerry Springers cocktail parties, and that Morocco ranks among the world’s largest producers and exporters of cannabis… possibly why the food tastes so good.
So to my first foray into Moroccan cooking, and the Tajine.
- chicken breasts (I would have used meat on the bone for a more tender texture, but breasts were all I had)
- 1 can of chickpeas
- 1 can tomatoes, plus 4 whole tomatos chopped
- duck/chicken stock (I had duck stuck left over from earlier experiments)
- 4 potatoes
- 1 large carrot
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 onion
- 1 pack couscous (I’m still yet to fully grasp couscous as a concept)
- Crushed Spice mix (cumin, clove, cinnamon, saffron, tumeric, fennel, coriander)
How I made mine
Basically put the Tajine over the heat and put a little oil in, fry the onion and garlic together til it’s a little soft and then add the chicken pieces and brown them off a little. Then add in all the other bits and pieces. The chick peas, carrot and potato, the chopped tomatoes and any other vegetables you may want to use. Once all the veges are simmering away, add the can of tomatoes and the stock, enough to almost cover the food, and then mix the spices well through the tajine. When you’re happy with how much liquid you’ve got in, turn the heat right down on the stove, put the lid on, and walk away… thats right… just walk away.
From what I can gather, Tajines gain much of their mythical popularity from the gorgeous flavours and textures you bring out, after slow cooking the food over a long period of time with a bunch of spices. So I left this cooking slowly for around an hour and a half, checking it occasionally to make sure the potatoes and carrots hadn’t completely disintegrated into some kind of unexpected (but totally planned if it tasted ok) Moroccan soup.
While that was going I made up the couscous. Now I have a bad history with couscous. It was a dish my sister used to butcher mercilessly when we lived together. Putting it in the microwave and a bit of water and nuking it to death until it turned into a fluffy cardboard tasting mess. So it was with much fear that I decided to give it another go.
This time I simply put it into a pan on the stove with a bunch of butter, and simmered it slowly over low heat while adding more duck stock. Towards the end, sprinkling a little fresh chopped coriander into it. I won’t say that it was great. But it was at least good enough to use as a liquid absorber for the tajine… So we’ll call Matt vs Couscous round 1 a draw.
So after waiting longer than my meagre patience can normally stand, it was ready to go. Normally tajines are served straight to the table and people use their hands and bread to dip in and share the meal, but opting for the polite refinement of western disconnectedness, I served it into some big plates with the couscous, more fresh coriander, and some toasted turkish bread (I couldn’t find Moroccan bread).
It was a definite success, rich flavours, beautiful textures, and the subtle elements of each spice coming through just nicely. I think I’ve found something to occupy myself with for at least the next month. Mo-rock-on :)