FOOD WISE: Tagine self-bastes food during cooking
By CHEF RENEE MORGAN
A couple of weeks ago, my friend, Cheryl, who happens to be a fellow chef I graduated culinary school with, called to invite me to spend a fun girls day together. She lives close to Lake Travis so it’s a bit of a trek but we try to get together every few months. She had just heard about this place where we could get an hour long foot massage for $25. Have you ever heard of such? Of course, I quickly said yes before she changed her mind. We decided to make a day of it. The massage, then lunch and maybe some shopping. I’d just finished several long days of catering projects so I was ready for a day of R & R.
The massage was heavenly, but that’s not today’s subject. More about that another time. We lunched at a lovely sushi restaurant in Steiner Ranch called Cho. Oh my goodness, if you are into sushi, I’d definitely try this place. Seriously, I’ve only had sushi at a couple of places in my lifetime that would even hold a candle to this place and I eat sushi every chance I get. Again, not today’s subject.
So, imagine the scene. We have been massaged until we are completely loosey-goosey. We have filled our tummies with beautiful sushi that melted in our mouths like buttah. And then, Cheryl turns to me and says, “You know, that kitchen store we love is just across the street and they are moving to a different location so everything is 40 percent off. Would you mind if we stopped by there?”
Mind? I was chopping at the bit. What do you get when two chefs go shopping at the city’s premier cooking/kitchen store, where everything is on sale? Trouble, that’s what! Trouble and an empty bank account.
We were like kids in a candy store. Our eyes practically glittered with excitement as we loaded up on extra long spatulas, tongs that had built-in spoons at the ends, gnocchi roller boards, Japanese tea sets. You get the idea. We kept handing off armfuls of loot to the store clerk to take to the register so we’d have empty hands for more treasures.
One such treasure I was lucky enough to procure that day was a very large Emile Henry tagine. I’d had a tagine meal at a Moroccan restaurant years before and had always wanted one. The thing is, a good tagine, and Emile Henry is one of the best, is quite expensive, so I’ve never felt I could justify the purchase. But now, this beautiful big green one was going home with me. I couldn’t wait to try it out.
Chef Jamie Oliver describes tagine as stew with an attitude. The term tagine describes both the food and the cooking vessel. The pot is a Moroccan or North African invention and is a two-piece earthenware or ceramic vessel consisting of a base, which is flat and circular with low-sides, and a lid, which is a large cone or dome-shaped cover that sits on top of the base during cooking. The shape of it allows condensation during cooking to travel up the lid and drip back into the stew, sort of self-basting the food continuously throughout the slow cooking process. This makes the tagine incredibly tender and moist. It also conserves water, which is extremely important in the African communities where it is used, since water is sometimes scarce. As you might imagine, since the tagine is a Moroccan cooking apparatus, this style of cooking utilizes many spices, making it smell amazing during cooking and taste even more amazing.
Tagines are quite easy to use and very durable. They will last many years if properly cared for. They can be used on a gas, electric or halogen stove top, or in an oven. The first thing to do when using a new tagine is to “season” it. To do this, pour a couple of cups of milk in the base and slowly heat it to the boiling point. Then turn off the heat and allow it to cool completely. After washing the vessel, it is ready to use. Other important things to remember include:
Never heat an empty Tagine. When heated, the ceramic expands slightly, creating small, thin cracks in the glaze, which despite what you may think is not a flaw, it proves the resistance of the Tagine to temperature changes.
It is made from a new kind of ceramic that can safely be used with any furnace or hob (except induction) and the way it distributes heat is ideal for the slow braising of Tagines and stews.
The glaze is strong so that metal utensils can be used.
It’s dishwasher safe and microwave safe (although who would stick a beauty like this in the dishwasher? I’d lovingly hand wash this any day).
As my first effort, I choose to make a beef tagine. Lamb is more traditional, but adorable hubby doesn’t like lamb. What is wrong with him? This dish smelled divine as it cooked. It was make-ya-slap-ya-mama tender and even better the next day. It was also very easy and only dirtied one dish, making clean up a breeze.
My chef friend, Cheryl, says she cooks a whole chicken in hers. I love my new tagine and can’t wait to cook in it again. In fact, I think it will be a great way to show off the next time I have company.
2 pounds beef stew meat, cubed
5 tablespoons oil
2 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 teaspoons dried ginger
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon saffron
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
1.1 pounds red potatoes, cut into quarters
8-10 carrots peeled and julienned (cut into long,thin strips)
4 tomatoes, chopped
9 ounces turnips, peeled and sliced
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large tagine until hot, then sauté meat until browned. Reduce heat and add the onion, garlic, ginger, cumin and saffron. Cook until onions are translucent. Add the potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, and turnips. Cover with water. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with tagine lid and simmer for 1 hour. Add a little water, as needed, and stir occasionally. Add parsley and cilantro before serving. Serve over rice or couscous.