A tagine is a staple cooking tool of Moroccan cuisine. It is used to slow-cook many different types of dishes both sweet and savory. Made in earthenware, the traditional Tagine comprises two parts - a wide base which is about 2-3 inches deep, and on top of this is the tent shaped lid. The same design has been used for centuries in North African kitchens to cook meat, poultry, vegetables, fruits and spices and the slow cooking method allows the subtleties of all the different flavors to meld together, resulting in the succulent, flavorful and fragrant dishes for which the region is known.
Earthenware tagines are still in use in North Africa today, and have a slightly rounded base so that they fit firmly into slow burning charcoal. The shape of the lid allows very little water to be used (which has always been useful in a desert region) in the base of the tagine, and as the food heats up the steam that forms in the tall lid does not evaporate but re-condenses when it hits the cool sides and keeps the food moist whilst cooking. Also the tall shape of the lid keeps the top of the lid cool enough to handle without a cloth.
As well as the earthenware tagines used widely in North Africa, many adaptations have been made to suit modern kitchens, such as the Le Creuset tagine pictured here which has a glazed earthenware lid, but an enamelled cast iron base. In this way the firm, flat base can easily be used on any modern heat source, but the advantages of the earthenware lid are still retained.
Cooking and hospitality are an integral part of life in North Africa and the tagine recipe below is typical of the wonderful combinations of flavor that can be produced with tagine cooking, yet the dish is relatively simple to make. You don't have to own a traditional tagine to prepare good Moroccan food. If you have an enameled casserole dish with a lid, a crockpot or a small Dutch oven, these will substitute for the tagine, and you can still enjoy the mouthwatering flavors of North Africa in your own home.
Recipe - Lemon Chicken Tagine
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 4 chicken quarters
- 1 level teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 4 quarters preserved lemons
- freshly ground black pepper
- fresh coriander to garnish
- Heat the oil in the tagine base, fry the onion and garlic gently for 3-4 minutes without coloring.
- Cut the chicken quarters into two pieces. Add these to the tagine, raise the heat slightly and brown evenly, turning the pieces frequently.
- Add the turmeric, coriander and stock with some seasoning, bring to a simmer.
- Rinse the pieces of lemon thoroughly in cold running water. Cut away and discard the fruit flesh then cut the softened peel into thin strips, stir these into the chicken.
- Cover and cook very slowly for 2 - 2 1/2 hours. Remove the lid and boil the liquid rapidly for a few minutes to thicken the consistency.
- Garnish liberally with the chopped coriander before serving.