Ancient art of the tagine

by Andy Bryenton

The ancient Moroccan Berber cooking method known as tagine brings to mind the smell of exotic spices and the taste of tender lamb mixed with slow-cooked vegetables. The iconic conical two-piece pot is easy to use and delivers an earthy, aromatic winter meal.

With the rise of international cookery, it’s not hard to find one of these vessels for sale. The low base collects and concentrates the flavour, while the conical ‘hood’ condenses steam back into the dish to cook it all the way through for a tender result. To begin layer red onions sliced into rings across the base of the tagine. Add in crushed garlic to taste, then drizzle over ¼ cup of olive oil. Now the ‘bed’ is ready to receive a hearty helping of spiced meat.

Arrange beef or lamb pieces, coarsely chopped, in a ‘cone’ in the middle of the tagine. Chops on the bone can be used, arranged bone-side down to avoid scorching the meat. Season with Moroccan spices, either store-bought or a blend of salt, pepper, ginger, paprika, cumin, turmeric, saffron and a little cayenne pepper. Keep some aside for the veggies — layer an outer ‘cone’ of carrots, celery, capsicum and even potato or kumara.

Garnish the very top with olives, lemon slices, coriander sprigs or (for lamb) a little rosemary. Now you’re ready to cook. Add two cups of water or stock for a large tagine as described, and place over very low heat to very slowly bring to a simmer and keep it there. Note that the clay tagine pot should not touch the heat source; use a diffuse over electric elements.

A beef tagine will take approximately three hours, four for lamb, checking and topping up the liquid level at the two-hour mark. The results will fill your kitchen with a delicious scent well before the tender, spicy finished dish is unveiled for all to enjoy.