Some people say there are only three basic categories of cuisine in the world, French, Chinese and Moroccan. Tagine is both the name of a class of Moroccan stews and the pot they are traditionally made in. We planned a celebratory dinner for our ceramics teacher, Tony Wise. (You can see his cooking and eating web site at http://culinaryclay.com/). So to make it more special, he made the tagines above that I used to make the dinner.
Here we are outside the Sonoma Community Center, where he is Artist in Residence. (He’s the young good looking one.) He chose a fine red clay and paid special attention to compressing the clay during building to help make it withstand the thermal shocks of cooking. As you will see, the tagine went over an open flame, so it is quite robust. All the same, with ceramic cooking ware like this you need to avoid abrupt thermal shocks. I started the heating with the tagine on top of a fry pan to get it to warm up evenly. As usual with stews, I made it the day before, so to reheat it, I let it warm up to room temperature for an hour, and then put it in a cold oven, so it could heat slowly.
Also, you have to understand that the clay is porous. When you wash it, never use detergent or soap that would soak into the clay. Dry it in the oven for at least an hour at 300F, until you can no longer see condensation, or you risk mold growing on the damp clay.
Moroccan tagines combine spices like cinnamon, cloves and cumin with dried fruits; in this case raisins and apricots. I started by browning the lamb in a frypan, because I wanted high heat to get a good fond going, and I was not sure I could do that in the ceramic tagine. I may have been wrong there, but I didn’t want to break it during first use.
Once the lamb was browned I deglazed the pan with some red wine and saved it for later. Then it was the turn of the ceramic tagine on the stove top to fry the onions.
In went the spices, tomatoes, stock and the lamb. I put it into a 275F oven for about 3 hours, then I added the fruit, made a little roux with the flour and stirred that in, and left it in the oven for another hour. Once it was cooled to about room temperature I put it in the fridge until the next day. There was no need to defat because I aggressively trim the lamb of visible fat. I served it with saffron rice, fruited couscous, and spiced carrots. There was not a scrap left.
Moroccan Lamb Tagine
2 teaspoons ras-el-hanout*
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
½ cup red wine
1 can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
up to 3 cups chicken stock
3 lb boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/4 cups raisins
1 1/4 cups whole blanched almonds
1/4 cup honey
2 tbs flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Saute lamb in batches until brown. Set aside. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and then add ras-el-hanout, salt, pepper, ginger, saffron, tomatoes. Stir in the lamb, onion, garlic, cinnamon stick and enough stock to cover the lamb and bake at 275, covered, until lamb is very tender, about 2 hours.
Mix the flour with a little butter and stir it in, followed by raisins, almonds, honey, and ground cinnamon and continue to cook, covered, until meat is very tender, about an hour more.
Toast the almonds and sprinkle them over the top.
* Ras-Al_hanout is a blend of spices. The blend varies quite a lot. If you can’t find ready blended ras-al-hanout in a middle eastern store, you can make it yourself. This is a typical recipe.
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
I teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves