A Tagine is a Moroccan, Berber earthenware vessel with a cone shaped lid. It is used to slow-cook the food on a clay stove filled with piping hot charcoal. Tagine, also refers to the dish cooked in the earthenware vessel. Although the cooking technique has stayed true to the Berber traditions, the recipes have developed to include more vegetables as the irrigated agriculture developed over time and vegetables have become available in the “Souk” (market) all year.
First, I must clarify something that I found very confusing, in most of the cookbooks that I read, only what is actually cooked in the Tagine can be called a Tagine! If the food is cooked in a pressure cooking pot and transferred into a Tagine, that would be a stew served in a Tagine.
Don’t worry if the food sticks to the base of your Tagine, this is very normal. In fact, this is the ultimate proof that the food was cooked in the Tagine. Don’t be fooled, if you go to a restaurant in Morocco and you are served a Tagine where no onions have burned and stuck to the base of the vessel, you have been served a stew in a Tagine vessel. There are a few exceptions however, some ingredients like tomatoes, calamari and shrimp for example release a lot of liquid; therefore nothing burns or sticks onto the base of the Tagine.
Also, contrary to what some cookbooks may suggest, a Tagine is an entrée served with bread, salads and a glass of Moroccan mint tea. Tagines are not served with couscous. There is certainly nothing wrong with that if we want to get creative, but the issue is: the Tagine’s vessel is shallow and it does not allow a lot of broth. Couscous must be drizzled with broth, otherwise you may choke on it. That is why, couscous is served with a stew, and Tagines are served with bread.
The Tagine design is genius. The cone shaped lid locks the moisture and circulates the heat evenly allowing the food to cook perfectly in its own juice, or very little added liquid, and stays moist.
Some Tagines have a tiny hole on the peak of the lid, to allow some of the steam to escape. If your tagine doesn’t have this tiny hole, when you have a lot of broth in your Tagine, you can tilt the lid open, and hold it with a spoon. This is the Moroccan way! (see the picture)
What to shop for:
There is an array of Tagines on the market, all made of different shapes and materials. The authentic Tagine is made of terracotta. It might or might not be glazed, depending on the region of Morocco it was made in.
The most important thing you need to know is that Tagines are very fragile. They are very sensitive to changes in temperature. If you plan on using it on your stove, like I do, you need to place a heat diffuser on the stove. Then, put the Tagine on top of the heat diffuser. If you don’t do that, the Tagine will crack and become useless.
There are also cast iron Tagines that you can place directly on the stove, but you won’t get the real flavor of the food cooked in the earthenware Tagine.
Before using a new Tagine:
Wash it thoroughly with soap and water, inside and out.
Rub the inside of the vessel with one large garlic clove (peeled). Fill it with water, add 2 Tbsp. of white vinegar and place the lid on. Place the Tagine on top of your stove, on a diffuser, and let it simmer on low heat for 60-90 minutes.
Allow the Tagine to cool down completely. Rinse it and rub it with olive oil or argan oil. Use it or store it away until needed.
To remember every time you use a Tagine:
Pre-heat on very low heat for 15-20 minutes, then increase the heat to medium and start cooking.
When your Tagine is hot, do not place it directly on a cold surface like your kitchen counter or the floor. There is a chance that it will crack.
Do not pour cold liquids into a hot Tagine.
Do not place a cold Tagine on a pre-heated stove.
If you follow these simple rules, you can use the same Tagine for a lifetime.