Let me start by explaining what a tagine is. It is a clay pot that is used to cook a Moroccan dish, that is also called a tagine. Don't worry, I was confused too and I still have family members that can’t differentiate tagine from tangia (I'll get to that in a later post).
You may not believe it now, but at some point in my life I had a 'normal' life and a 'normal' family, and even a 'normal' job with 'normal' working hours! I worked for a company that sells kitchenware www.surlatable.com. Each of their store locations has an international section, with the necessary kitchen items one needs to create an authentic international dish. I had people come up to me and ask me all the time about all the tagines in the international section for Morocco. At that time my knowledge of Morocco and Moroccan cuisine was as basic as buying that little box of instant couscous and following the instructions on the box. The women who came shopping at that store knew more than I did. I wasn’t about to let that happen, so researching about the tagine and already having a fascination with the architecture lead me to plan a trip to Morocco. And that’s how I came here for the first time to explore the land of tagine and couscous!
Last year when I was in Cleveland, OH visiting family, we all went to a Sur La Table store to buy a tagine, because I wasn’t going to risk bringing a tagine all the way from Morocco with me. We were four people who entered the store on a snowy early December evening, so it was only obvious that we got everyone’s attention… not to mention we were loud Arabs! I was proudly explaining to one of my brothers about the tagine when before I knew it two of the employees joined us and later thanked me for the explanation. I told them what I’m about to tell you.
In the US the only option is the fancy glazed tagines that are usually made in France and cost an arm and a leg. I shamelessly admit that I bought one from a store in DC for about $30, it was on sale that day. I can buy a 100 tagine for thirty dollars now here in Marrakech! But to save space and weight in my suitcase $30 seemed more convenient.
Last week, I broke one of the tagines that we use regularly. It's impossible to keep an earth-ware tagine for a long period of time. So, no big deal, no sweat about a broken tagine - I’m in the land of tagines after all! Yes, an old tagine gives a much more flavorful dish. Many restaurants, especially the ones that cook the tagine over charcoal, will keep using a cracked tagine as with time the cracks will get filled with grease and seal itself. But c’est la vie, tagines will break and you will go get a new one. But which tagine to choose, a glazed or non-glazed one?
Personally, I like to use the non-glazed ones because with a little bit of preparation and with time they add a nice flavor to the dish. You want to look for one with no cracks, you can tell if you tap on it and hear it echo. Watch this little video where the guy I bought my new tagine from was doing his testing. You can also view this video via my Instagram.
Once you get home, submerge your tagine in water overnight, drizzle some cooking oil and rub it in thoroughly, then leave it in the sun for a day.
You do not need to do the full preparation for the glazed tagines, however it is still advisable to soak them in water prior to using it for the first time.
You can also buy a metal tagine just like the one in this photo that I recently received from my brother, trying his hand at the metal tagine I gifted him few years ago. The last few years, tagines with metal bottoms have been appearing in the market here too. I tried one and wasn't satisfied with it though - the metal disk made the tagine too hot so the food was cooking too fast and burning.
My tagine is prepped now and ready to add the onions. Onions are the base for almost all tagines. Sweet potatoes, carrots, green peas, fresh cilantro, tomatoes, and garlic. Salt and pepper, turmeric, cumin and a dash of paprika. Drizzle olive oil, and a little water, cover the tagine and let it cook on low heat. Cooking times vary if you have meat in your tagine, for a vegetable tagine a good 45 to 60 minutes is sufficient. And since my tagine is new, I will keep watching it and add water if necessary.
My curiosity about tagine is one of the reasons why I visited Morocco in the first place. I am so glad I did and that I decided to make the land of tagine and couscous my home.