A Tagine, also known as a Tajine, is a traditional cooking vessel as well as the name of the dish cooked in them and method of cooking found in the North African cuisines of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Usually the traditional Tagine pot is formed entirely of a heavy clay which is sometimes painted or glazed. It consists of two parts; a base unit which is flat and circular with low sides, and a unique large cone or dome-shaped cover with a top knob that looks like a pointed hat for handling that rests on the base during cooking. The cover is so designed to promote the return of all condensation to the bottom. The lid allows the steam to circulate above and around the contents while cooking, thus infusing the dish with flavor. With the cover removed, the base can be taken to the table for serving.
Morocco is located in the northwestern corner of Africa, across the Gibraltar Strait from Spain, so there is strong Spanish and Moorish influences. Morocco is slightly larger in area than California, and its territory has three different regions: The northern coast along the Mediterranean Sea is made up of fertile land that rises to elevations of about 8,000 feet and center of the local agriculture. The Atlas Mountains run between the Atlantic coast in the southwest to the Mediterranean Sea in the northeast. Finally, the semiarid area in the south and east known as the Western Sahara connects Morocco with the vast African Sahara Desert, home of the nomadic tribes.
The most well known tagines are considered Moroccan cuisine and are slow-cooked
stews of chicken or lamb with chickpeas braised at low temperatures, resulting in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce. While simmering, the cover can be lifted off without the aid of a mitten, enabling the cook to inspect the main ingredients, add vegetables, move things around, or add additional braising liquid. The tagine is also nicknamed the “Moroccan crockpot”.
The sweet/savory nature of the cuisine flavors tagines with lemons and oranges, olives, figs, dates and prunes, and almonds, including the spices saffron, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, and ground red pepper. Mint tea is served with every meal in Morocco. It is sweetened while it is still in the pot.
The Dutch oven is an alternative to the special tagine cooking vessel, but the slow cooker has also shown itself to be the best alternative to the traditional cooking vessel originally designed for use over an open cook fire. It is able to be used with excellent results to make the tagine braised stews on the countertop–the modern method for an ancient sytle of cooking. The slow cooker replicates the slow low temperature necessary for proper cooking, as well as the ceramic cook pot material and the conservation of the precious moisture during the cooking process.
Many of the recipes in Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker books have braises that reflect this north African style of cooking and specific flavor combinations, which has become incredibly popular in the last few years in Western cuisine. We have a library of cookbooks that are devoted to tagine cuisine, by food writers Paula Wolfert and Kitty Morse for example, and a Western culture that is intriqued by the exotic flavor alchemy of north African desert cuisine, but the real culprit in opening up the cuisine of Morocco to America is the Oldways Slow Food movement, which held a food symposium there some years ago and food writers have been in love ever since.
Here are two of my favorite tagines made with chicken. Exotic is a few hours away in your kitchen…