Several months ago, I bought a tajine, intending to start using it right away. But when I took it out of the box, I found the tajine rather intimidating. It’s easier to preach “be brave” than to practice it. I gave myself all sorts of pep talks, ranging from the “you can do this,” and “what’s the worst that can happen?” encouraging words to the stern “suck it up” talk that all parents have delivered to a whining child at some point. Nothing seemed to make me actually move from caressing the beautiful tajine to using it.
After my husband got tired of looking at the unused tajine sitting on the counter, he put it away. That did it! Now I was determined to make him pull it back off the high shelf that I can’t reach (where he usually hides the chocolate I think) and get to work.
Amanda, my tajine godmother, helped me with encouragement, her tajine tutorial, and one of her recipes (below). I took the plunge last night. And as a good 21st Century godmother would do, she stayed by her phone, answering plenty of DMs (direct messages on twitter) as I cooked. I’m now officially a tajine-lover, with the missionary zeal of a recent convert.
A few notes before we get to the recipe:
- Cooking in a tajines requires little fat. This 3-4 person main course uses only 2 tablespoons of oil.
- Tajine-cooked food is soft without being mushy. Because you won’t get crispy skin using a tajine, Amanda suggested taking off the chicken skin before cooking. That makes the dish even more low fat.
- As Amanda mentioned in her tajine tutorial, tajines are really old fashioned, Moroccan slow cookers. Slow and easy are the keys. Once you put the food in the tajine and turn on the heat, there is almost no effort involved.
- The amounts of spices in this recipe looked like way too much to me. But Amanda assured me that she did mean 1 full teaspoon of pepper and tablespoons (not teaspoons) of cumin and powdered ginger. During the cooking process, the spices combine with the water and the resulting sauce is spicy, but not overwhelmingly so.
- This dish is cooked on a stovetop. If you are using a gas range, keep the flame on a low to medium flame. For an electric stove, place a diffuser between the tajine and the heating element. Do not exceed medium-low heat in either case, or you risk cracking the tajine.
- The recipe is Amanda’s and the photos are mine. I added the equipment list and expanded on her directions. For ease of reading, the directions do not distinguish between her explanations and mine.
- Two ingredients you may not be familiar with: preserved lemons and saffron threads.
I made my own preserved lemons; it’s easy and I’ll blog about it soon. For the moment, here is an explanation for how to do it yourself. Middle Eastern food stores often sell them. Although saffron is usually expensive (if you can find it) in US stores, in my experience it is more reasonably priced at ethnic groceries. I bought Spanish saffron at an ethnic food store that sells products from Mediterranean countries.
Chicken Tajine (Tagine) with Carrots and Potatoes
Serves 3-4 Cost – $5-6 Cooking Time: 2 – 2.5 hours
- ½ onion (about ¾ cup), minced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 lb chicken pieces (light or dark meat), with skin removed I used bone-in chicken thighs. In the batch she prepared, pictured at the end of the tajine tutorial post, Amanda used boneless chicken breasts.
- ½ lb potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 4-5 large carrots, peeled and quartered
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons cumin
- 1 tablespoon ginger powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 8-12 threads saffron, crushed
- 2 tablespoons juice of preserved lemon or fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ preserved lemon (rind only), rinsed and broken into several pieces
- 1 cup water
Equipment (besides the tajine)
- Cutting board
- Knife or knives
- Small bowl
- Measuring cup for liquids
- Measuring spoons
- In the bottom of a clay tajine add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, ½ minced onion and, 3 minced garlic cloves. Heat the onion and garlic (under a low flame or setting on an electric or induction cooktop) until they soften, about 7-10 minutes.
- Create a layer of potatoes and carrots in the bottom of the tajine and nestle the chicken pieces into the vegetables.
- In a small bowl, mix the black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Crush the saffron threads between your fingers and add them to the other spices. Add the olive oil, juice of the preserved lemon or the fresh lemon juice, and about ¼ c of water, stirring them well to combine. (I used fresh lemon juice instead of the juice of the preserved lemon in order to cut down on salt.)
- Pour the spice mixture over the top of the chicken and vegetables.
- Pour the remaining water (¾ cup) around the outer edges of the food in the tajine. Slip pieces of the preserved lemon throughout the dish.
- Cover the tajine and leave it unopened for one hour on low heat. At the one hour mark, check under the “hood” quickly and add more water if the food appears dry.
- Cover the tajine and continue cooking for another hour. Check again, testing the chicken. It should be fork tender and falling apart. There should also be liquid remaining in the dish. If the meat is not tender, continue cooking another 30 minutes. If all of the liquid has been reduced, add a little more water and allow it to warm up before serving.
In Morocco, tajine-cooked foods are traditionally eaten communally (directly from the tajine dish), with pieces of crusty Moroccan bread or French baguette. Amanda notes that among Moroccans, cous cous is a separate dish and traditionally is not served with food cooked in a tajine.
Because I made this dish during Passover (and observant Jews don’t eat bread or other leavened foods during that holiday), we ate the dish with rice instead of bread. Rice is acceptable for Sephardic Jews and some Ashkenazic Jews.