Traditionally a Berber dish originating from North Africa, Tajine or Tagine is named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. The Tagine pot is made out of a heavy clay, and is sometimes glazed or decorated with paint. There are two parts – the flat circular base, with low sides. The second is a large dome shaped cover that sits over the base during cooking. The pot is designed so that all the evaporated water is kept inside, and drips to the bottom, keeping the food moist.
Recently, manufacturers from Europe have begun to produce tagines made from cast-iron. These can be used on the hob and heated to a very high temperature, allowing the meat and vegetables to be browned before the main cooking period.
In Moroccan cuisine, tajines are slow-cooked stews cooked over a long time at low temperatures, which create a dish with tender meat and aromatic vegetables and sauce. Less expensive meats are usually used. The most popular cuts of meat are lamb’s neck, should or shank, cooked until it is practically falling off the bone. Few traditional Moroccan tagines need to be browned first. If need be, browning can be done after the dish has been simmered.
Moroccan tajines often combine lamb or chicken with a medley of ingredients or seasonings: olives, quinces, apples, pears, apricots, raisins, prunes, dates, nuts, with fresh or preserved lemons, with or without honey, with or without a complexity of spices. Traditional spices that are used to flavour tajines include ground cinnamon, saffron, ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika, pepper, as well as the famous spice blend ras el hanout.
However, tagines can be made with almost any type of ingredient, as long as it braises well. Fish, quail, pigeon, beef, root vegetables, legumes, and sometimes amber or agar wood can be used to create a delicious authentic Moroccan meal. Many western recipes these days call for use of pot roasts, ossobuco, lamb shanks and turkey legs, along with a variety of non-traditional seasoning, including French and Italian!
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