Every time I open a food magazine, it seems that there is always a feature on Moroccan cuisine and tagine cooking. The same is true, when you go to stores for the gourmet such as William Sonoma and Sur La Table. I've resisted the lure since I am not sure if I even like Moroccan cooking. I've only tasted Moroccan dishes a few times, the first time being on a trip to Tangiers many years ago. There, our fellow travelers and I shared chicken and couscous served in a humongous serving dish. We all ate from this dish in the typical Moroccan way, with our hands.
|Mint tea maker among colorful Moroccan ceramic tile|
We also partook of their very sweet mint tea. The room where we dined was beautifully decorated with colorful Moroccan tiles. Actually, I was excited to be dining in this particular restaurant since I had wanted to see and dine in it in person ever since I saw it featured in a travel poster when I was a young girl in the Philippines.
|All colors and varieties of olives|
On a recent trip to St. Louis, Missouri, we had gone into a Williams Sonoma store and a hand-painted blue and white tagine cooking vessel made in Tunisia caught my eyes and I fell in love. I really wanted to buy it, more so for its intrinsic beauty than for practical purposes, like cooking. I held off, telling myself that I should do a little more research on tagines.
|Tagine made in Tunisia from Williams-Sonoma|
I found out that the word tagine refers to both the cooking vessel and the dish, a Moroccan stew, that is typically cooked in it. The vessel is normally made of heavy clay that may be glazed, painted or left as natural clay, but some are made of cast iron. These are utilitarian works of art, an example of form follows function. It is said that experts can tell exactly where a tagine came from and who made it just by the finishing on it. A tagine pot has two parts, a base unit, which is flat and circular with low sides, and a large conical and dome-shaped cover that rests inside the base ring during cooking. The cover is so designed to promote the return of all condensation to the bottom,
Tagines in Moroccan cuisine are slow-cooked dishes braised at low temperatures, resulting in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce. Moroccan tagines often combine lamb or chicken with a medley of ingredients and seasonings.
|Tagine spices and preserve lemons|
Here's the recipe that I used for my first tagine dish. You can really make this in any heavy pot such as the Le Creuset cast iron Dutch oven but, of course, you lose some of the drama and exotic flair you get and feel when cooking in an authentic tagine.
Williams-Sonoma Chicken Tagine with Olives and Lemons
1 chicken, about 3 lb.
2 Tbs. tagine spices (I used ras-el-hanout)
4 garlic cloves, sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 small yellow onions, thinly sliced
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 Tbs extra virgin oil
6 preserved lemon wedges, rinsed and pulp removed, or peel of 1 lemon, cut into strips
1 cup green or black olives
Cooked couscous or basmati rice for serving
Cut the chicken into serving pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs and 2 wings; cut each half-breast in half. Set aside.
In a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast the spices, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the bay leaves, 2 Tbs. of the olive oil, the garlic, salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and reserve the marinade.
In a tagine or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 2 Tbs. oil until almost smoking. Working in batches, brown the chicken on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.
Add the onions to the tagine and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the chicken, reserved marinade, the 1/2 cup parsley, cilantro, lemon juice, preserved lemon and olives.
Cover the tagine and cook until the chicken is tender and falling off the bone, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Discard the bay leaves. Garnish with parsley and serve the chicken directly from the tagine. Accompany with couscous. Serves 6