I dreamt recently that I was in conversation with good friends but couldn’t remember anyone’s name…seems so familiar to my waking life, that maybe it wasn’t a dream. In the same way, I read a blog yesterday which lauded the effect of spices on both taste-buds and spirit, but I can’t remember the name of the author….or was that a dream. Yesterday afternoon, whether asleep or awake, I remember cooking an aromatic, flavoursome and colourful Moroccan tagine with couscous.
Cooking a tagine offers the added pleasure of handling utensils specifically made for purpose. The round dish of glazed earthenware, with a heavy conical lid that fits the dish exactly, is known as a tagine slaoui, or slaoui as a diminutive. The slaoui, in which the tagine is prepared and cooked, sits directly over the gas flame. In this instance I cooked a chicken tagine with preserved lemon, chickpeas, sweet potato, dried apricots, almonds, olives and merguez.
Although there are many formally written recipes, I tend to cook tagines “freestyle”, whilst remaining as faithful as temptation allows to the Moroccan concept. Sometimes I find that I am missing specific spices or herbs and I make substitutions which I judge by tasting. Tasting food whilst cooking is probably the most important part of making delicious food. It’s knowing what’s missing that is the problem and, by its very nature, this judgement has to be subjective. As one person’s “delicious” is another’s “unbearable” there can be differing opinions of one’s cooking from those at the dinner table. Like writing or picture making, you have to follow your instincts.
The unmissable starting point of a meat or poultry based tagine, is the chermoula which is a paste of herbs and spices, lubricated with lemon juice and olive oil, that is used as a marinade.
Chermoula paste by Neil Perry
½ bunch of flat parsley roughly chopped
½ bunch of coriander roughly chopped
2 Spanish onions peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsps ground cumin
1 tsp ras al hanout
1½ tsps ground turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsps sea salt
2 fresh lemons, juiced
Method: Simply place all the ingredients into a tall slim steel or firm plastic container and blend, until it is a rough paste, with a stick blender.
Coat the poultry or meat in a thick layer of paste and leave to marinate: overnight in the fridge if possible, but otherwise for as long as you can afford in your cooking timetable.
Chicken and merguez tagine: As there is no formal recipe for the tagine that I cooked yesterday, I will write it as I cooked it…on the hoof. We start at the moment where I take the six, chermoula coated, chicken thighs from the fridge. The thick bowl of the slaoui is already sitting on the gas and the olive oil within is hot and ready to go. I’ve found it best to scrape the majority of the marinade off the chicken pieces before putting them, skin side down, to brown in the hot oil. Previous experience has shown me that the chermoula paste quickly burns, creating a charred layer in the base of the slaoui, that does nothing to improve the final flavour of the dish. Once the skin on the chicken is golden brown put the pieces in a separate bowl, to rest, whilst quickly searing the merguez. At this point I scrape away any burnt remnants of the chermoula paste, add some fresh oil and return the chicken pieces to the slaoui. I then add some Pomegranate Molasses, cut up pieces of sweet potato, chick peas ( from a can), chopped preserved lemons, dried apricots, green olives and some good vegetable stock. A final sprinkling of sea salt, sumac, and black pepper is the cue to put the conical lid in place and let the juices bubble and commingle. A small hole pierced in the lid of the slaoui, near to the apex, to let out steam, whilst the moisture clinging to the interior walls of the cone simultaneously bastes the tagine. The merguez, which were browned earlier, can be added, as can a handful of blanched almonds, near to the end of the tagine’s cooking time which is around 1½ hours.
Cous cous steamed over vegetables in a highly flavoured broth; The complete couscousiere can be seen in the top picture, the steamer sitting on top of a lidded metal cooking pot. The vegetables in broth are cooked in this pot.
Put some vegetable oil in the pot, over a low flame, and add cumin, sweet paprika, ras al hanout, and any combination of spices that you feel will be a useful addition. Yesterday I used some garam masala and a spoonful of curry paste, thus spanningthe distance between the Middle East and the Sub Continent. I also added a spoonful of an intense tomato sauce. a bowl of which I had in the fridge, so that Southern Europe could make its contribution to the whole. It’s not long before the spiced aroma begins to fill the kitchen marking the point where I add quartered onions and small chunks of potato and carrot, which are all thoroughly coated in the aromatic paste that has been created in the pot. A good litre of vegetable stock is added and the hard vegetables are left to simmer in the pot, with the lid on. After 20 minutes, I taste the broth, and season with salt and black pepper if I deem it necessary. Once the potatoes and carrots are soft I will add some chick peas, drained of their juices, from a can.
The cous cous, or semoule, is the last step. I allow 40 grams per person, when the couscous is an accompaniment to a tagine, more when it is eaten with just the vegetables and broth . Put the couscous in a bowl and pour over it a glass of cold water. Once the grains have absorbed the water, transfer them to the steamer section of the couscousiere, and put them to steam, lidded, over the bubbling broth for a good 20 minutes. Take the steamer and tip the steamed grains into a separate bowl. Season the hot grains with sea salt and lubricate them with a few tablespoonfuls of olive oil. Use a fork to turn the grains over and to mix in the oil and salt. Now return the grains to the steamer top which is placed atop the broth for a further 10 – 15 minutes. Once finished, tip the grains into a warmed bowl. This way you will have perfectly separated and very delicious couscous. You may well question as to whether the meagre allowance of 40 grams per person was sufficient. Don’t forget to put a bowl of rust red harissa on the table to add any piquancy that may be found to be missing.
I’ve never made tagine. The accoutrements do sound enticing. If someone cooked me a chicken tagine with chickpeas and dried apricots and sundry, it’d be a dream I wouldn’t want to wake up from. And whether you wrote this in real life or a dream: it is a good one! 🙂
Ha ha – I dream about cooking and shopping for food. If I’m feeling anxious I dream that I’m at the Boqueria and all the stalls are closed!
Your tagine feast looks amazing 😉
High praise, MD. Much appreciated:)
It’s been awhile since I’ve had a dish with exotic spices. You’ve inspired me.
Go for it:)
Are you partial to North African dishes? I’m a fan of Ethiopian/Eritrean food myself.
I very much like Middle Eastern food, but I don’t know anything about the food of Ethiopia or Eritrea, although I have recently seen someone blogging some recipes from Ethiopia. I shall have to check it out.
I love a good tagine. I love the mixing and pounding together spices and other good things to make a good fragrant spicy paste. I love the way the raw ingredients gradually warm and perfume the kitchen during long slow cooking. And best of all I love to eat the result. Two things: I’d never thought of using merguez: that sounds interesting. And did you buy your pomegranate molasses in France? I’ve never seen it here.
Strangley enough, I thought I had bought it here as the label on the bottle says “Melasse de Grenades”. Then I noticed the price was £1,49! I have, however, seen plenty of French web sites with recipes for and with Melasse de Grenade so I suspect it must be available in Middle Eastern shops here. Next timw you’re shopping in Marseille….:)
Thanks for that. Despite the large maghrebin population here we have no dedicated shops, but there is a market stall. I’ll look on Friday.
Your best bet is with a spice shop on line.
I’ve never had a tangine cooked dish, although my neighbour has one & spent some time in Morocco earlier this year. She entertains a lot and has a large extended family so she uses her spices regularly. By the sound of your recipe, I’d have to buy many things (ingredients) as well as a tagine, which might make it an expensive dish, although this week I happen to have all those ingredients of Neil Perry’s paste (except the ras al hanout – whatever that is).
I think we tend to eat/cook more Asian inspired dishes in Australia. This week I’m trying some Thai chicken rissoles with a chilli dipping sauce. Hope the photos turn out. Last night’s dinner of an egg & prosciutto salad with a fresh mint dressing was divine. I’ve never used fresh mint with prosciutto before.
I’m a great lover of herbs & spices.
The Thai food sounds delicious. Ras al Hanout is often labelled as Tagine Spices or Spices for Couscous: it’s a blend of cumin, turmeric, paprika, and a few other things. You could easily make it yourself. Tagines are not cheap, but you might find one on ebay.
Altho’ almost totally ‘under the radar’ as far as commenting goes at the moment/in the foreseeable future, I could not resist this 🙂 ! I too live Down Under and my personal experiences tell most of us cook a lot of Moroccan/Tunisian food. One very definitely does not need the special pot [I don’t have one] and the spices are available everywhere, even in the average supermarket though not of a very high quality there. Ras el Hanout [‘top of the shop’] can be had thru’ any of the large number of spice merchants ~ of course each mixture is different. And anything our Neil Perry does is bound to be brilliant and an utter classic! This is a lovely recipe, Roger ~ thank you!!
Excellent…glad you liked it:)
Roger ~ DO try Ethiopian cuisine: some very ‘noble’ elegant flavours there – in the East a similar country one does oft not think about is Myanmar or Burma [actually i like the ‘old’ name] – oft quite gentle but fascinating spicing especially of the meat dishes . . .
I shall have to check out a little more about both these cuisines…thanks for the tip.
That just looks delicious! Autumnal food 🙂
Pretty good any time of the year:)
Perhaps there is hope for me. I did choke down a hot curry this evening, prepared by our South African Rotary guest………the cilantro (coriander) part of this dish would render it unbearable, unfortunately.
Strange you should mention this, Andra. I had no coriander so used celery herb, which grows wild in the courtyard behind our garden. I think coriander can be overpowering and my wife feels the same as you do about it. It’s dreadful having to choke down food that you’re not enjoying…I truly sympathise.
This reminds me that I have run out of sumac! Delicious meal Roger 🙂
This sounds wonderful, Roger. I’m just now venturing into this realm of cooking and reading about dishes like this serve are just the encouragement I need. Thank you for that!
There are some wonderful tastes to be had there:)
It’s that fabulous couscous pot that I want.
I think a trip to a market in Morocco is calling you:)
this sounds and looks absolutely delicious. I’m finding that, following your blog is encouraging me to be more adventurous with cooking!
I’m very pleased to hear that I’m encouraging you to do this, Joss:)
There’s definitely something about cooking with exotic flavors that takes one into a sort of dream-world, altered sleep-state or something.. just like your writing does for me:)xx
Unless it goes wrong:)
Absolutely stunning Roger – a dream dish. And the chermula paste – I need to make it!
It makes a great difference. I’ve read that people make a container full of Neil Perry’s Chermoula to put on fish, meat or poultry. Apparently it’s very good stirred through yoghourt,etc.
This looks perfect for cool autumn evenings. We just had couscous last night, but I’ve never seen a couscousiere before. I’m sure it’s better cooked in that. Gorgeous shot of the tagine.
I had that little couscousiere for about 30 years and have never seen another one like it. I shall have to blog how I came to have it…quite a funny story:)
I look forward to it!
Roger! What a great post! I am so glad you made your own chermoula. Ah, heavenly spices.
So good isn’t it:)
Coleridge apparently composed “Kubla Khan” in a dream, so you are in good company. What did you think of Neil Perry’s chermoula recipe? I really like his restaurants in Sydney.
I very much liked the Chermoula, and use it often. Having never been to Australia I don’t know his restaurants, but I do hear good things from friends. I used to shoot a lot for BBC Good Food in London, and they were always doing features on his recipes.
Ah, merguez. Saucisses des dieux. Gorgeous recipe, Roger.
My mouth is watering at the sight …
It was very good:)
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I like the title:)
I’ve never made tajine in an actual tajine dish, but my grandmother makes the most wonderful chicken and merguez couscous. This post has just brought back some childhood memories from that!
I’m glad you liked it. We eat a lot of couscous at home. Cheap, delicious and comforting:)
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