Sunday, April 15, 2007

Breaking in (but not breaking) the tagine

As I may have mentioned before, my sister and her fiance bought me a gorgeous Emile Henry tagine for Christmas. Thus far, it's been decorating the top of my pantry in the new kitchen, but tonight I finally cooked something in it.

What is a tagine, you ask? This is a tagine:

It's a traditional Moroccan cooking vessel, which would generally be made from unglazed terra cotta and seasoned with oil and charcoal ash. It was used to cook over a charcoal brazier, and the conical lid allows moisture to roll down the sides and "baste" the food cooking inside it, making everything moist and delicious. My version is a little more modern, made from glazed ceramic and completely stove-, oven- and dishwasher-safe. It's still a heck of a lot of fun to cook in, though.

The dish I made is one I've had in Moroccan restaurants, though this version I found on Epicurious []. It has a few steps and takes a while to put together, but I think it's worth it. I'm not sure I'd take the extra step of simmering the apricots separately in honey water next time, though, but instead would probably just add the honey and apricots to the tagine and let it all cook down together. I also didn't fry the almonds in oil, as instructed. but simply dry-toasted them in a skillet. Next time I'll oven-roast them, for a more even browning, but they were pretty tasty as they were. Oh, and I removed the skin from the chicken pieces - I need to remember not to brown them at such a high heat next time, as the spices scorched a little. Tasted fine, though.

The great thing about it is that it balances the sweet and savoury elements of Moroccan cooking so beautifully. The earthy saltiness of the chicken, the rich almonds, and the onions and garlic keep the sweet apricots and honey from becoming too cloying and icky.

This is what it looked like when it had finished simmering. At first I thought there was too much sauce, but it got soaked up nicely by the couscous with vegetables I made on the side.

We drank half a bottle of Reserve Perrin Cotes-du-Rhone with this, as it mentioned chicken tagine in the matching notes of our Vintages catalogue, and it was an excellent match indeed. Medium-bodied, with enough tannin to smooth out the spice and enough acidity to stand on its own. All in all, a delicious meal, one I'll definitely be making again. I think tagine cooking is a weekend sport, though, because of the prep and the focus it requires me to have - I'm usually too tired at the end of a workday for something as involved as this was.

Next time I'm trying it with lamb shanks. And maybe a little red wine in the sauce. I think that would rock my world. Then I have to try chicken with olives and preserved lemon, and maybe a fish tagine, and and and.... Possiblities are endless.

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