Moroccan tagine is essentially a slow-cooked stew, made from meat (generally lamb) or chicken, but could contain anything from duck to fish. We had one with pulpo (octopus) that was sublime in Essaouria. The dish is usually cooked in a tagine pot, consisting of a glazed clay base and a large conical lid that’s designed to guide the condensation from cooking back into the pot.
In my last post on food I wrote about how there were many different versions of chakchouka – well, that’s nothing compared to the variations of tagine!
For this lamb tagine it’s best to use the shoulder, neck or shank of the lamb. One of the ideas of the dish – as with most stews – is to use the cheaper cuts of meat and render them tender through slow cooking. You won’t find two cooks who’ll agree on what exactly should go into a tagine as most follow their own family’s recipe, finely tuned in their ancestor’s kitchens over decades.
I watched Jamila at our Marrakech riad make this tagine and while I loved the results there are a couple of things that I’d do differently. But don’t tell Jamila – she’s a force of nature! I like to sweat the onions and the garlic down before adding the meat. Then I like to brown the meat as well. I think this adds to the flavour of the dish.
I made our final tagine at our Essaouira riad, having shopped that morning in the vibrant local markets – and what wonderful markets they are! I do realize the irony of cooking lamb tagine in a place known for its seafood, but there is fantastic lamb in the region – in fact the meat sold at the markets comes from just 15 minutes away where the cattle happily graze on the lush green coastal grass.
Leave plenty of time to make this dish because it can take longer than you might expect for the meat to achieve that fall-apart tenderness. Think slow-cooked lamb shanks. You can use a pressure cooker if you want, as it cuts the simmering time down to about an hour. Don’t quote me on that, though. Sad confession: when making this dish in Australia one time, we had to order in pizza because my tagine wasn’t ready at 10pm – even though it was on the stove at 6pm. To be safe, leave it for at least four hours from the onions hitting the pan to possible serving time – or have your local pizza place on speed dial and eat it the next day.
The best things about this dish are that, firstly, it’s dead easy, and, secondly, it will fill your home with the most delicious aromas! Serve it with some crusty bread or plain couscous.
- 500g lamb neck, shoulder (cut into 4cm pieces) or shanks if you prefer
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 large onion, sliced finely
- 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 mixed bunch of parsley and coriander (cilantro) tied into a bouquet
- 1 teaspoon ras al hanout
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon crushed saffron threads
- 1 teaspoon saffron powder (sometimes called “yellow Moroccan food colouring”)
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger or (my preference) minced fresh ginger
- 2 cups of water
- 1 cup of pitted prunes
- ½ cup almonds, preferably slivered
- ½ cup of freshly toasted sesame seeds
- Sweat the onions in olive oil over medium heat in a large pan until translucent. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant (about 5mins).
- Add the lamb and brown all sides of each piece.
- Add the rest of the ingredients on the list up to the pitted prunes, and stir.
- Pop the lid on top and simmer for at least two hours before checking for doneness.
- As the tagine gets close to being ready, the sauce should reduce to what appears to be syrupy onions and oil. This, readers, is a ‘good thing’.
- When you think you have about an hour to go, try it to see if it needs more seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Add the prunes and the almonds.
- It’s around this stage that some recipes add sugar or honey. Taste and add them if you wish although I never have.
- As you get close to serving, do your couscous then transfer the tagine to the tagine pot and crank the heat up a little. Try to find that damn bundle of parsley and coriander as you don’t want anyone eating that.
- When you’re ready, sprinkle the sesame seeds on top and place the tajine, and the couscous, in the centre of the table – it’s meant to be shared!
If you liked this, see my other posts in this series in which I search for and learn to make quintessential regional dishes, including a chocolate snack with a Michelin-starred chef in Barcelona, Rabo de Toro (oxtail stew) in Jerez, and Cassoulet in Ceret.