What is a tagine?
Tagine is a Moroccan word, referring to both the glazed earthenware cooking vessel with a conical lid (above), and the stew cooked and served within it. Make sure you get one that can be used on the hob. Le Creuset (from department stores) and Emile Henry (visit Armorica for mail order) both make excellent tagines. The shape of the lid allows condensed steam to run back down into the base, keeping the food moist and tender.
The flavours in a tagine
A tagine is made from either lamb, beef, chicken or fish flavoured with onions, garlic, aromatic herbs and spices and can include a mixture of vegetables, fresh and dried fruits, olives and chickpeas. A classic dish is chicken and preserved lemon tagine recipe, which combines all the traditional flavours. The result is a flavoursome sweet-and-sour summer stew with tender meat and vegetables and a lovely brothy stock, which is then poured over the couscous to soak up all the juices.
A fiery condiment made from chilli, garlic and spices, which is usually served alongside a tagine. You can buy it from major supermarkets or to make your own, deseed 10 large, dried ancho chillies (visit Cool Chile for mail order) and soak in water for an hour. Drain and add to a mini processor with 5 fat garlic cloves, and 2 large pinches of salt. Blitz to a rough paste with a little water. Stir in 2 tsp ground coriander and 1 tsp ground cumin, put in a jar and cover with a layer of olive oil. Chill for up to a month – re-cover with oil each time you use it.
Ras el hanout
An aromatic spice blend used in tagines. Most versions contain a dozen spices such as cumin, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, coriander seeds, cloves and allspice. Some blends even include rose petals, lavender flowers and saffron. Look out for the Seasoned Pioneers’ blend at major supermarkets.
Shallots & garlic
Cheat’s preserved lemons
Preserved lemon is used sparingly in a tagine to add that wonderful sour flavour to the dish. Add quartered or finely chopped – see the chicken and preserved lemon tagine recipe. However, they’re easy and rewarding to make if you plan ahead, but if you’re short of time try this cheat’s method: pile 4 lemons into a small pan, add 100g salt and enough cold water to cover. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour, topping the water level up as necessary to keep the lemons submerged. They will keep for 5 days in a sealed jar in the fridge. You can also buy them – we like Belazu Pickled Lemons (from supermarkets and delis).
The national drink of Morocco, this makes a refreshing brew when served with spicy tagines. The real stuff involves something of a ritual but try this lighter version. Gently crush a large handful of fresh mint sprigs with your fingers and put in a warmed teapot or heatproof glasses. Add a sugar cube or mild honey to taste, then top up with just-boiled water. Leave to infuse for 5 minutes before pouring or drinking.