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Kitchen kit: Tagine

Monday, April 4, 2011

I recently cooked with my Moroccan tagine for the first time. I've had it for almost a year, and I don't know why it has taken me this long.

The cooking vessel is not decorated or glazed, and it is made by hand. It is rough and rustic, and that is why I bought it. It cost something like US$5. I got it from a little shop selling tagines and other clayware on the edge of the Djemaa el Fna in Marrakesh from an elderly gentleman with such an amazing face. He looked at first like a sage spiritual guru, and then as he started talking about his pots, this cheeky man suddenly appeared!

The tagine has to be seasoned first and I learnt how to do it with instructions (and pictures) at The tagine is soaked first, then oiled and placed in the oven for about an hour before it can be used. On the stove, it should sit over very low heat or the tagine may crack. I don't know what it's like with a glazed casserole/pot, but for my unglazed clay one, the food isn't browned first (as you might also do if cooking in a skillet or casserole dish). I loved how, when I lifted the cone-shaped lid halfway through cooking the prawns and fennel, the sauce was bubbling and the smell was delicious.

This tagine ­­– or any tagine, for that matter ­­– makes an impressive dish (just like the chocolate √©clairs I made for this month's Don't Call Me Chef column ­­– the theme was "dish to impress". The column appears in print today; link to pdf here). The food itself is good, or course, but it will certainly taste better if cooked in an actual tagine, and will look impressive when the vessel is brought directly to the dining table.

My tagine will only make enough for two people but I ate the whole dish by myself, and I can say decisively that I was impressed!

The secret ­­– if you want to call it that ­­– of this dish is the chermoula, a fresh herb mixture used to marinate the prawns. My recipe simply throws things together and I go by taste but if you want some actual recipes, which I think look good, here are three links:
The Epicentre
New York Times

Green herb marinade
Makes about 1 cup
2 cups fresh coriander (cilantro)
1 cup fresh Italian parsley
1 lime, zest and juice
2 cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon chilli flakes
1 teaspoon sumac
Salt, to taste
½ cup olive oil
  • Use a mortar and pestle to pound all the ingredients, except the oil, until smooth but not too fine (or do this in a food processor). Taste and adjust seasoning. Add the olive oil gradually and stir in with a fork until an emulsion forms.
Layer the ingredients...
Prawn & Fennel Tagine
Jumbo prawns
Potato, peeled and cut into 2cm-thick slices
Fennel bulb, sliced thinly
Red capsicum (pepper), sliced into rings
Ras el hanout
Fennel sprigs for garnish
  • Peel the prawn, leaving the tailed intact. Cut down the back and remove the dark vein. Marinate with come of the herb marinade for 30 minutes. 
  • Layer the ingredients in the oiled tagine base: First the potatoes, next the sliced fennel bulb, then the prawns (with the marinade) and finally the capsicum rings.
  • Mix ras el hanout to taste with a few tablespoons of water and pour over the layers.
...and all the flavours meld when the dish is cooked
  • Cover the tagine and place it on a low flame. The dish is cooked when the potatoes are soft. Before serving, garnish with a feathery fennel sprig.

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