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Using Julia Child rules to kick up tagine

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Using Julia Child rules to kick up tagine

AdinaA | Jan 19, 2014 07:20 AM

Moroccan tagine (stew) is surely one of the great recent additions to western cooking. In the classic recipes, everything, vegetables, legumes, meat, and the signature Moroccan spices go into a ceramic tagine pot which simmers in a charcoal fired oven for 3-4 hours. The only work involved is a few minutes of peeling and chopping vegetables. (and making the charcoal, which is a lot of work; but if somebody else makes the charcoal) then, compared to other great Mediterranean recipes that involve, stuffing grape leaves, shaping and browning meatballs, or caramelizing onions - preparing a classic tagine is a snap.

Although the cone-shaped ceramic tagine pot makes a great presentation (especially if you can casually say: I picked it up in Marrakech) it is totally unnecessary. A pot on the stove, slow cooker or a casserole in a modern oven works just as well.

But, as is true of many dishes, playing by Julia Child (French) rules makes it better. I'm talking about adding 1 time-consuming step:browning, and 1 ingredient: wine. Some - not all - modern recipes suggest browning the meat. But browning the onions and all the other veggies in tagines, really adds flavor; as does the haram (forbidden by Islamic law) ingredient: wine. Here's what I did this past Shabbat, riffing on one of the Moroccan classics: lamb with apricots.

I took ~ 6 lbs. lamb shanks, I cut away all exposed large chunks of fat and threw a piece of fat into a heavy-bottomed braising pan; I browned the meat a couple of pieces at a time. Poured off excess fat, diced 6 large onions, and them in batches in the lamb fat, adding a little fat as needed. (If I had been putting other vegetables into the tagine, I would have browned them all , too.) I deglazed the pan with half a leftover bottle of a very dry Prosecco , any dry white wine would have done. I added 5 cinnamon sticks to the wine in the pan, along with ~12 oz. of dried Turkish apricots, sliced into rough chunks (so that they will dissolve into the sauce), put the meat on top of the cinnamon and apricots, put the onions on top of the meat poured ~2 cups of diced (Pomi) tomatoes on top of the onions, and went back to my desk while the tagine simmered all afternoon. Late in the day I checked to make sure the sauce had cooked down and was somewhat thick - if It hadn't been thick enough I would have poured the liquid into a separate pot and reduced it at a rapid boil. At this point I added about a teaspoon of cumin and about three of macerated ginger (Christopher Ranch brand ginger - I cut corners where I can). Adding the spices to the already cooked sauce at this point lets you do it to taste, and the strength of ginger and cumin varies so widely that sticking to precise measurements is unwise. (Garlic could have been used, and extra pepper)

This produced succulent dish of lamb that, if not authentically Moroccan, was really, really good. I served it over plain couscous with warm roasted vegetables (leeks, sweet red peppers, zucchini) alongside. One of the nice thing about tagines/braises is that they hold up so well on a warming tray until it is time to serve dinner. I wish more people on this board would post whole menus with recipes for meals that hold up to the constraints of cooking for Friday night and Shabbos lunch.

Dessert was a lemon curd tart. The first course was individually plated salads (mesclun, cucumber, mango, avocado, tomato) drizzled with vinaigrette and liberally topped with wonderful, smoky crumbled Kosher Lamb Bacon.

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