A tagine is both a ceramic cooking vessel and the name of the dish that is cooked in the vessel. Tagine cooking is traditional Berber cooking from North Africa. Tagines were designed to cook stews over hot coals using a minimal amount of water. A tagine is a two-part vessel. The bottom is round and shallow with sloped sides. The top fits into the bottom part of the dish and is conical in shape with a very small opening midway to vent excess steam. The top of the tagine is designed to collect the steam, condensate it and return the moisture to the dish to keep the stew moist.
Tagines stews start with a protein such as beef, lamb, chicken or fish. The protein is typically slow-cooked with spices, onions, vegetables and dried fruit such as dates, figs and apricots. The dried fruit give tagine stews delicious sweet and savory contrasts. A variety of spices pump up the flavor of a tagine, including: ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, paprika, cardamom, cloves and saffron. Just writing this paragraph makes my mouth water!
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Types of tagine cookware
Traditional tagines may be glazed or unglazed and come in a wide variety of sizes, from personal-sized dishes to larger dishes that serve 6 to 8 people. There are also tagines that are strictly meant for serving and not cooking. There are several high end tagines on the market that are designed to be more forgiving of high heat, Emile Henry and Le Creuset tagines have high ratings, but are also quite expensive, compared to a traditional tagine that can be purchased for $30 to $60. I have only used traditional clay tagines, but can appreciate the value of a tagine that could take higher heat.
Heat sources for cooking tangines
Traditionally, the Berbers slow-cooked their tagine stews over coals. You can cook a tagine on low to medium-low heat on a gas or electric burner or in a low temperature oven. Oven temperatures should not exceed 325 degrees and stovetop burners should be kept just high enough to maintain a simmer.
A heat diffuser is recommended when cooking on a burner to prevent the tagine from cracking. Likewise, a method for reducing the risk of cracking in the oven is to put the tagine into a cold oven and let it heat up with the oven, rather than pre-heating.
Seasoning a tagine
Like other clay cookware, tagines must be seasoned before using to harden the clay and prevent cracking. Traditional tagines should be soaked over night completely submerged in water. Dry the tagine off and rub the entire pot inside and out in olive oil. Place in a cold oven and turn on to 300 degrees. After two hours turn heat off and let tagine return to room temperature inside the oven.
Cleaning a tagine
Do not use soap on an unglazed tagine. Water and a bit of baking soda can be used to scrub the tagine. Dry thoroughly and coat any unglazed part of the tagine with olive oil. Store the top and bottom separately, or place the lid on slightly ajar so there is air flow between the top and bottom.
Substitutes for tagine cookware
If you don't have a tagine, you can use a lidded dutch oven or even a slow cooker to prepare tagine recipes.
My favorite tagine stew
My favorite tagine is Chicken and apricot tagine. Serve it right out of the tagine for a fun presentation.