Melt-in-your-mouth Masterpiece – The Moroccan Tagine

Moroccan Tagine

My trips to Morocco have been an assault on the senses – the beautiful sights, the honks and toots of traffic, and most of all, the combination of delicious smells and tastes. Food has to be one of Morocco’s greatest attractions, and travelers tuck into its most famous dish, the tagine, with a rabid hunger, letting the sumptuous combination of savoury flavours with a sweet twist delight their taste buds.

The Moroccan tagine is the name for the kind of pot the dish is cooked in, and for the food itself. Often made out of clay or ceramic, the pot is made up of two parts – the lower piece is essentially a deep plate, which holds all the food, and the upper part is a cone-shaped lid. The tagine was first designed in this way to trap the condensation coming from the simmering food, and then that condensation runs down the slanted edges of the lid, back to the food. This locks all the moisture into the ingredients, ensuring that none escapes. Clay tagines often give the food an earthy taste, whereas the ceramic dishes are glazed, and both are placed over coals for the cooking process, emphasising the traditional process of tagine cooking that has been around for centuries.

The dishes themselves are sold all over the markets in Morocco, from traditional plain clay ones, to hand painted, decorative ceramic tagines, of varying sizes. The miniature tagines are sometimes used to hold herbs and spices, or they can be used purely as ornamental.

The food itself is often likened to a stew; it involves slow-cooking meat, vegetables, and spices, along with the special addition of fruit, such as prunes, raisins, or apricots, which gives it the distinctive Moroccan taste of savoury with a sweet tang. Chefs often use nuts like almonds to add another twist of flavour, and cinnamon or honey are also popular choice to sweeten up the dish. The spices are, of course, another secret to any good tagine, and chefs often use ‘ras el hanout’, which means ‘top of the shop’ in Arabic, which is a combination of the best spices the vendor has to offer. These can range from anywhere between 10 to 100 different spices, and differ from seller to seller, making each tagine every bit as unique as the next one.

Tagines are cooked for hours on end, to lock in all those flavours and make sure that the meat is extra-tender. They are left on coals for long periods of time, to let all the moisture be retained in the food, and make sure that the each part of the tagine has had the chance to infuse with the rest. You will often find bones in the stew, which isn’t a mistake. Sometimes the bones are left in because the marrow contributes to the liquid to make a gravy-like texture, and as the tastiest meat usually sits next to the bone, you’ll want it to be in there to contribute to the flavour. In a well-cooked tagine, a bone will be of no inconvenience as the meat will be so tender that it falls right off.

Something has to be said about trying your first tagine in Morocco. You order it in a restaurant, eager to see what all this hype is about, crumbling with anticipation. It’s bought out to you in the decorative pot, the lid on, hiding the treasures within. You can hear the sound of bubbling liquids beneath, and as you lift the lid, the smells escape and flood your nose before you’ve even had a chance to look at the food. The reveal of the tagine is almost as thrilling as the consumption, and that first bite will melt in your mouth like nothing else you’ve ever tasted before.

Photo credit: Moroccan Tagine

Emma

Emma Higgins has been writing and traveling on and off since 2009. Her blog, Gotta Keep Movin’ is full of stories and advice from her trips, which include Europe, India, Morocco, South America, the USA and Canada. Her main focuses are budget travel and volunteering, and she has been involved in sustainable farming in Argentina, animal shelters in Peru, and even tried her hand at making goats cheese in British Columbia. Follow her travels on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Categories: Food

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