I met Amanda of MarocMama last year and we’ve had lots of long distance fun ever since. We bond over big events in our lives and silly little things. We trade stories and ask after each other’s families. But most of all, we learn from each other.
Although I have owned a Moroccan Jewish Cookbook for at least a decade and love the Moroccan food I’ve tasted at restaurants, I’ve been intimidated by the prospect of cooking in a tanjine (also spelled “tagine.”) But with Amanda’s encouragement, I finally bought a beautiful tajine and I’m going to start using it.
She graciously agreed to explain the basics of tajine cooking and to provide a recipe to get me started. This post is Part One of her two-part guest post. On Friday, I’ll post Part Two – her recipe for Chicken Tajine with Carrots and Potatoes.
MarocMama’s Tajine Tutorial
Tajines are Moroccan cooking vessels that have existed for hundreds of years. Consider them the first slow cookers. Most cultures throughout the world have a similar vessel or cooking technique. I’ve known many people who have picked up a tajine, either on vacation in Morocco or from a retailer in the United States, intending to cook with it, but who are stymied once they get it home. So, they leave it sitting on the counter wondering, now what? If you’re one of those people, or if you have seen tajines and been puzzled by how to use them, here is a guide to get you started.
There are two main kinds of tajines – glazed and unglazed. A glazed tajine is shiny; it looks like it has a coat of clear nail polish over the top. Glazed tajines are often painted with decorative patterns. Before purchasing this kind of tajine, check with the seller to make sure that it can be used for cooking and is not purely decorative. An unglazed tajine looks like raw clay that’s been hardened, with no shine at all.
Most tajines that are purchased in the US are safe to cook in and have already been prepared for cooking. [Note from Laura: The French-made Emile Henry glazed tajine I bought did require seasoning. I followed the manufacturer’s instructions to simmer 1” of milk in the tajine for 5 minutes.] If you buy an unglazed tajine from Morocco (which I really think cooks the best) you do need to do a bit of work to get it ready.
First, rub down the bottom of the tajine with olive oil, making sure to rub everywhere, including the lip where the cone sits. Next, add warm water and let it sit in the tajine for at least 24 hours. Then air dry the tajine. Finally, fill the bottom with salt water and place the tajine into a cold oven. Turn the heat to 250F and leave the tajine in the oven for 30 minutes, then remove it and allow the tajine to cool. At this point the tajine is ready to use.
A note on cleaning, do NOT use soap on an unglazed tajine – the soap will get stuck in the clay no matter how much you try to wash it out. A tajine’s flavor deepens with age and use, and you don’t want soap included in the mix! Instead you can use just water if possible, or a mixture of salt and water to scrub out any charred bits. If you have a glazed tajine, it is fine to use soap, as the glaze prevents the soap from seeping into the material.
Tajines can be used either on the stovetop or in the oven. If you are using an electric stovetop, make sure to have a heat diffuser and don’t place the vessel directly onto the coils. Food should be cooked in tajines at low temperatures for longer periods of time. Increasing the heat to shorten cooking time can lead to cracks.
It couldn’t be easier to cook in a tajine. I’ll give you an easy recipe (to be posted on Friday), but here are a few pointers. First, place some type of fat, e.g. olive oil or butter, in the bottom of the tajine. Then add any vegetables in the order of cooking time; vegetables that take the longest to cook should go at the bottom of the tajine, with quicker-cooking vegetables on top. You can put items that don’t need cooking, such as olives, on the very top or you can add them during the last 15 minutes of cooking. After adding the vegetables the meat is added, followed by spices and finally liquid. While you may not think that the liquid specified (in a recipe meant to be cooked in a tajine) seems sufficient, keep in mind that steam and condensation will build up inside the tajine during cooking. You will see that the liquid is more than enough and that the meat and/or vegetables will be beautifully cooked.