So I decided to make a lamb tagine this afternoon. It has been an amazing weekend and the only thing that could improve a lazy (for me, anyway) Sunday afternoon reading new books is to fill the house with the aroma of a tagine. This is one of my absolute favorite things to prepare.
A tagine is basically a Moroccan stew that takes its name from the distinctive pyramid-shaped earthenware pots that it is cooked in. There are two kinds of tagine ceramics – one is used for cooking dishes in and one is only used for serving dishes in. If you put the latter in the oven or on the stove, you will not be happy when it shatters. Caveat emptor. (The serving tagines are fun to collect though, as many are gorgeous. Folks from Morocco are some of the best craftspeople in the world.) The cooking tagine that I have is from Emile Henry. The other important thing to know about tagines is that you must never pre-heat your oven when cooking with one. You put it into a cold oven and allow your oven to raise the temperature of the dish as it heats up. Again, this is so it doesn’t shatter.
I wish I could say I have a recipe for this to share, but we don’t usually cook that way. I sear some cubed lamb in a skillet, and not for very long because I do not like well-done meat of any sort. Then I put the lamb and the drippings into the tagine and add some chicken broth.
To that, I add an assortment of dried fruits: apricots, dates, d’noir prunes, golden raisins, and figs. I toss in a few cinnamon sticks, sliced almonds, and some quality olives (this time I used some Peruvian olives, but usually kalamata).
Yes, I do have dishes shaped like sea turtles. Don’t judge.
Then I add a mixture of spices: ground cloves, ras el hanout blend, garlic powder, nutmeg, cardamom, turmeric, berbere spice, ginger, a thread of saffron. I’d say probably about a quarter tablespoon for everything except the garlic, and there’s some duplication there in some of the spice blends. And I would have used chopped garlic if I had any on hand, but I was too unmotivated to drive five minutes to the store.
(Berbere spice is one of the best spice investments you can make, by the way, except for maybe truffle dust. I have yet to find anything berbere spice does not improve. Truffle dust on sauteed or roasted vegetables is something that will alter your life. Also, while I am on this spice tangent, let’s turn it into a gardening tangent as well – did you know that saffron is made up of stamens harvested from crocus flowers? You can buy the bulbs for these early bloomers and harvest your own saffron! I am thinking about doing that this fall. I already grow culinary turmeric. Kind of wondering if crocus will work at this latitude, however.)
Anyway, mix all that goodness up together. The chicken broth should be just enough that this stuff is submerged. My figs were sticking up and did not stew this time, so this is my new rule. You do not want to overfill the bottom of the tagine, however, understanding that the meat is going to add to the juices. Put the pyramid top on the tagine and stick it in the oven for an hour or so at 350 degrees. Do not open it to check on it or stir it. Get a book and enjoy the intoxicating scent. I’m not kidding. This dish is legitimately a form of aromatherapy.
Headed into the oven (needs more broth):
(Not pictured are the prunes, which I initially forgot, and then had to pull the tagine out to add after barely a few minutes. You must include prunes. They are one of the best parts of the dish. I know you probably associate prunes with keeping your grandma regular, but put that out of your head – they pair nicely with meat.)
Coming out of the oven (ignore my messy cooktop):
We typically eat this with couscous, but we did basmati rice with saffron today:
Elise, the resident herpetologist, called me away from the kitchen to observe this fellow: