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What Is a Tagine?
A tagine, sometimes spelled “tajine,” is a traditional Moroccan cooking vessel made of ceramic or unglazed clay with a round base and low sides. A cone-shaped cover sits on the base during cooking. The conical lid traps steam during cooking and returns the liquid to the clay pot, resulting in a moist dish with concentrated flavors.
Tagine is also the name for a Maghrebi, or North African, dish cooked in the tagine pot. Tagine is closely associated with Moroccan cuisine, where slow-cooked savory stews made with meat, poultry, or fish, are cooked with vegetables, aromatic spices, dried fruit, and nuts.
How to Use a Tagine
Follow this step-by-step guide to using a tagine.
- Season the tagine. A tagine should be seasoned before using to strengthen and seal it, and, if it is unglazed, to remove the taste of raw clay. To season, soak the lid and base in water for 2 hours. Dry the tagine and brush the interior and exterior of the lid and base with olive oil. Place the cookware in a cold oven and set the oven to 300°F. Bake for two hours, then turn off the oven and let tagine completely cool inside. Wash the tagine and brush once more with olive oil before using it.
- Make the base layer. The first step of cooking tagine is to place a layer of vegetables across the base of the pot, creating a cushion for the remaining ingredients. A bed of chopped onions, celery, or carrots will keep the meat from sticking to the bottom and burning during cooking. Chopped or whole garlic cloves can be added to the base for flavor.
- Add olive oil. Adding enough olive oil is important to make a rich sauce in tagine, most recipes recommend at least ¼ cup. You can find our complete guide to olive oil here.
- Add meat, poultry, or fish. In the center, add meat, poultry, or fish. Arrange in a mound in the center, leaving enough room to add additional vegetables around the edges. Arrange vegetables around the meat.
- Season with spices. Sprinkle spices generously over the meat and vegetables to make a rich, flavorful sauce. Spices that work well in tagine recipes are: cardamom, clove, cinnamon, ground coriander, cumin, paprika, mace, nutmeg, peppercorn, ground ginger, and ground turmeric.
- Garnish the dish. Presentation is an important part of making tagine. You can add color with strips of bell peppers, olives, or preserved lemon. Add tied bundles of fresh herbs like parsley, oregano, or cilantro.
- Add enough water or broth. Adding liquid such as water or chicken broth to the tagine keeps food moist while cooking. Pour water or chicken stock carefully into the side of the tagine, around 1 ½ cups for a small tagine, and 2 ½ cups for a large tagine. Adjust as needed according to the recipe.
- Cook the tagine. Avoid high heat to keep the tagine from cracking. Place it above the heat source, not directly on it (a diffuser is needed for electric stovetops). Place over low to medium-low heat until it reaches a slow simmer. The cooking time for recipes can vary with fish and chicken being shorter, and beef and lamb taking longer.
- Check the liquid. After 2 hours, check the level of the cooking liquid. If the liquid has already thickened, add another ¼ cup of liquid.
- Serving the tagine. Tagines double as a beautiful serving dish. Make sure to allow the tagine to cool down for 15 minutes before serving. Traditionally, tagine is served as a dish to share communally, using Moroccan bread to scoop and up the meat, vegetables, and sauce. Tagine is also delicious served over couscous.
7 Recipe Ideas for Your Moroccan Tagine
Now that you’ve mastered how to use your tagine, see below for some creative recipe ideas using your tagine.
- Moroccan lamb tagine. Tender seasoned lamb stew meat with chickpeas, dates, oranges, and almonds is a classic sweet and savory Moroccan dish. Serve over couscous to soak up its delicious sauce.
- Moroccan chicken with preserved lemons and olives. A fragrant chicken stew with spiced bone-in chicken thighs or chicken breasts cooked with tangy preserved lemons, sauteed onions, and savory green olives. Finish with sprigs of fresh cilantro.
- Moroccan chicken and apricot. The secret to this dish is using the North African spice blend, Ras El Hanout, made with cardamom, clove, ground cinnamon, coriander, ground cumin, paprika, mace, nutmeg, peppercorn, and turmeric. The spice blend adds a bold flavor to the chicken and makes a rich sauce. Dried apricots, tomatoes, and honey are added to the dish for a combination of savory and sweet.
- Kefta Mkaouara (Moroccan meatballs). A Moroccan meatball dish in a zesty tomato sauce. Eggs are often added to the dish at the end of cooking, resulting in poached eggs perfect for dipping with crusty Moroccan bread.
- Mqualli (Fish tagine). A classic fish dish with potatoes, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Any firm fish can be used such as swordfish, sea bass, or dorado. The sauce base is typically made with ginger, saffron, and extra virgin olive oil.
- Moroccan vegetable tagine. A vegetarian-friendly tagine made with chickpeas, carrots, russet potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Seasoned with harissa paste and a touch of sweetness from honey and golden raisins.
- Shakshuka. Shakshuka is a simple and delicious dish of eggs that are poached in a spiced tomato sauce that is cooked with onions, chili peppers and garnished with herbs. Shakshuka is traditionally cooked in a tagine, but it can also be made in a cast-iron pan or skillet. Try our recipe for shakshuka here.
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