Moroccan dinner by Matt Perreault (29937)

Moroccan tagine is, alongside cous cous, a major feature in Moroccan cuisine.

The name tagine comes from the tagine dish – a large, earthenware dish with a large, conical lid. As the food heats up, the condensation builds within the dish and rises to the top of the lid, from where it re-circulates back into the food within. This keeps the flavor in and the contents beautifully soft and tender through the cooking process, and offers diners a taste of the 'real Morocco'.

The tagine meal is a meaty, spicy casserole with gravy.

Moroccan Tagine Dish

When buying a tagine dish for Moroccan cooking, it is worth noting that Moroccans buy unglazed earthenware tagines. These are soaked well in water and then seasoned with oil before use, and, Moroccans believe that repeated use helps to improve the flavour of the tagines they cook. However, unglazed dishes are hard to find outside of Morocco, and have a tendency to crack and break if not soaked properly before use. A heat diffuser is also absolutely essential if you are considering using this kind of tagine on the stovetop.

If choosing a glazed tagine, then again, you will need to use a heat diffuser if using on the stovetop. If you are buying a glazed tagine in Morocco, be sure to check that it may be used to cook with, as some are only intended for serving food, not for cooking with.

All tagines can be used in the oven – however, the large lid may require some re-arranging of oven shelves to get the dish to fit. In Morocco, the tagines are either sent to the hamam (Turkish baths) to cook in the fire, or are cooked over charcoal. If you don't have a tagine, you can use a casserole dish with a tight fitting lid to cook a tagine meal, but in my opinion, the end result isn't quite so good. A chicken brick would be a good alternative.

There are many recipes online for Moroccan tagine; here is one my Moroccan mother in law gave me for Moroccan Chicken with Olives. The key to making great tagines comes from slow and careful cooking and liberal use of spices – not only do the spices add all the lovely Moroccan flavor, but they also help thicken the gravy. Typical meats used in tagines are chicken, lamb and beef. Preserved lemons are also a key feature of most tagines – these can be found in delis and specialty Middle Eastern food stores, or you can make your own.

The most famous and authentic flavor combinations for a real Morocco tagine are:

  • Chicken with olives and preserved lemon
  • Beef with prunes and sesame seeds
  • Lamb with apricots and chickpea

Tagines need to cook slowly, meaning they can be made up to a day in advance and reheated, which often improves the flavor. When ready, the meat often falls apart, it's so tender, thanks to all the moisture being trapped inside the tagine dish. It also means that once the preparation is done, there is very little effort required, meaning it's ideal for dinner parties or when you are having guests over and don't want to be chained to the kitchen.

Other articles on Morocco you may find interesting: