Sometimes I get the question if I have a good recipe for Moroccan tagine. But what do we mean by tagine, the pot or the dish? I usually use the word when I talk about the pot. Nowadays the word tagine is used for both the terracotta conical pot as well as the food that’s served in it. Historically the nomads in North Africa used the tagine pot as a “portable cooking vessel”, allowing them to prepare food on a charcoal fire while moving around.
The traditional tagine consists of two parts: a round bottom unit that is flat with low sides and a cone- or dome-shaped top that serves as a lid during cooking. The lid is designed to return all condensation to the dish. That way less liquid is needed and food cooks slowly until completely tender. Tagine is traditionally cooked over hot large bricks of charcoal. More convenient methods of cooking with a tagine nowadays are in an oven or on a gas or electric stove top. Make sure you use the lowest setting when using the stove, just enough to keep it simmering gently. Resist the urge to increase the heat or you may damage your tagine or scorch the food. I always cook my tagine on my gas stove and use a heat diffuser to evenly distribute the heat. A heat diffuser is a round utensil placed between the tagine and the flame.
Be careful as many ceramic tagines are purely meant as decorative serving dishes. You will need to make sure you can also use yours for cooking. Also, there are people who advise you to soak your it overnight before using it. The soaking is supposed to make it less susceptible to thermal shock. I never soak my tagine before using it simply because I was never taught to do so. My tagines are glazed so I think water would not penetrate the terra cotta anyway. One thing I do know is that you always hand wash your tagine and never put it in the dishwasher.
So, if I had to choose a favourite tagine recipe, it would most definitely be my mums Moroccan chicken tagine with dried prunes. Believe me………..nothing beats homecooked Berber tagine. My mum used to make us all kinds of tagine dishes (lamb, beef, kofta, vegetables), but her Moroccan chicken tagine with dried prunes was our favourite.
I remember we would gather around the dining table with my parents and my siblings with one tagine in the middle. Everyone got a piece of ahrom (Berber word for Moroccan bread) to eat the tagine, no cutlery needed. We used the bread for scooping out bites using just our fingers. The trick is to only use your first three fingers cupped together. Use these fingers in a scooping up motion, helping to get the food onto the bread. Then you can use your thumb for putting the food into your mouth and to avoid licking your fingers.
Licking your fingers is very impolite because everybody is eating from the same serving dish (the tagine). Another no go is to reach for a bite on the other side of the tagine, you only eat from the part closest to you (the Berber word for that part is ‘lili’). If you want the last prune and it’s not in your ‘lili’ you can always ask the ‘owner’, but you never reach for it yourself. As long as we are talking rules, don’t use your left hand when eating tagine as that is the hand you (should) use in the bathroom for wiping certain body parts.
Maybe you want to stop reading after the previous paragraph: there are many people who can’t imagine themselves eating with their hands. Don’t worry, you can always use cutlery if you are not comfortable eating with your hands. I remember people coming over to our house and my mum would just fix them a plate and give them a fork and a knife if they did not want to eat with their hands. I also remember that lots of those people eventually wanted to try to use the bread instead of the fork and knife, just because they were curious if they could manage.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. If you try it, please let me know! Leave a comment, telling me what you think of it. You can also tag your photo on Instagram with @culyzaar or post it on my Facebook page so I can see it. I love seeing your takes on the recipes on my blog!
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 6 chicken thighs
- 1 large red onions, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- ½ tsp salt, or more to taste
- ½ tsp ground pepper
- 1 tsp raz-el-hanout
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 300 ml water (approximately)
- 250 gr little potatoes
- 1 small carrot, sliced in circles
- 150 gr dried prunes
- 1 red bell pepper, cut in stripes
- 1 large tomato, sliced in rings
- 1 large red onion, sliced in rings
- One hand full of peas (fresh or frozen)
- Chopped coriander for garnish
Put the tagine on the stove on medium heat. I like to use a diffuser to evenly distribute the heat over the bottom of the tagine. A diffuser is a round utensil placed between the tagine and the flame (see above). Coat the bottom of the tagine with the 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the finely chopped onion to the tagine and fry until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Arrange the chicken in the tagine and cook it for 8 minutes turning the meat occasionally to lightly brown it.
Add the spices, salt, and tomato puree and keep turning the meat until it’s completely coated. Arrange the chicken flat on the bottom of the tagine, leaving the rim free. Add enough of the water so it doesn’t overflow and keep the rest for later. Let the water come to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt if necessary. If at any point throughout cooking it looks like there is not enough liquid in the saucepan, add in a few tablespoons of water.
Now you add the vegetables carefully on top of the meat, fully concealing the meat. I always use the same order. First I add the potatoes and the carrots as close to the liquid as possible. Then I put the dried prunes in between the potatoes. The stripes of bell peppers go on top of them and then you carefully add the tomato rings and onion rings. It will look like a lot of vegetables, but it will be fine. The peas go last and they go everywhere they want to go. There is no way of orchestrating them. I finish with a sprinkling of salt and pepper because the vegetables are not touching the water enough to be seasoned by it.
Cover with the tagine lid and leave the heat low. Leave to simmer gently for 2 hours. Try not to disturb the tagine other than checking the level of the liquids occasionally and adding a little water when necessary.
After 2 hours take the tagine of the heat and let it cool down for 10 minutes. When you are ready to serve, remove the lid and garnish with cilantro (or parsley if you prefer) and serve with bread.
If you don’t have a tagine you can also make this recipe in a large deep-sided pan with a lid.