Just writing about this, one of my favorite dishes of all time, makes me drool. Slow-cooked lamb, meltingly buttery soft in a rich gravy sweetened by dates & honey, plump raisins, just tart apricots with a perfect blend of spices.
The saffron adds that unique ephemeral quality that makes it as exotic as it is delicious. Gosh! Simply a must-make for special meals with friends & family.
Similar to many dishes in India, the tagine or tajine is a North African dish named after the pot in which it actually cooks and is especially popular in Morocco.
The traditional tagine pot is formed entirely of heavy clay which is sometimes painted, glazed may be completely unglazed. It consists of two parts - a base which is somewhat flat and circular with low sides, and a large conical and hat-shaped lid that rests inside the base ring during cooking.
Foods like chicken & red meats benefit from the clay dish that insulates and slowly cooks and is made tender by steam. The lid, shaped like a pointed hat, allows the steam to circulate above and around the contents while cooking, promoting condensation and thus infusing the dish with flavor and tenderness.
It's traditional to pair red meat in tajines with dried fruits & nuts and in this version we've paired it with a real harvest of them - dates, apricots, raisins, and a lot of sliced almonds. Another traditional element is the use of argan oil from argan which is a type of Mediterranean nut. However, having none of that in my pantry, I've used all olive oil.
What's lovely is that after hours of cooking the dates melt into the gravy, the raisins plump up, the apricots turn to mush, the almonds soften and the meat turns buttery-soft. The result is this wonderfully rich gravy infused with spices, meaty juices, and just the right hint of sweetness.
If there ever was a dish that was made for kicking back on the couch on a weekend with a glass of wine, good friends for company or even a good book for that matter, this one's it. Served with a side of couscous tossed in with butter, fresh cilantro, parsley, and sliced almonds, it's dinner at it's finest!
This recipe is adapted from one by British Chef Antony Worrall Thompson a.k.a 'Wozza' who is famed for his TV shows & restaurant Ménage à Trois, which was widely known as the late Princess of Wales’ favorite restaurant in London.
Moroccan Lamb Tagine
Serves 4 - Requires overnight marinating
3 to 3-1/2 lbs boneless lamb (leg or shoulder), trimmed
Spice blend: Combine all the ingredients in a dry bowl and set aside.
Lamb: Trim away any excess fat and sinew. Cut into 1-1/2" cubes. Place in a Ziploc bag or large mixing bowl. With clean hands rub the spices all over the meat. Cover the bowl if using with plastic wrap and marinate overnight.
The next day:
Onions: Peel, cut, and discard ends. Grate with a vegetable grater and set aside. Finely chop any large leftover chunks.
Garlic: Peel, crush and roughly chop.
Dates: Pit and slice in half
Saffron: In a clean dry bowl, crush with the back of a spoon.
Method: Preheat the oven to 350 deg F
Heat 2 tbs olive oil in a cast-iron pan or dutch oven. Heat for a minute or so till the oil is very hot. Add the lamb in a single layer and on medium-high heat, sear the meat for about a minute or so till golden brown.
Turn over with a fork and repeat for the other side. Remove the meat to a plate and continue searing the meat in batches till all the meat has been used up. If more oil is needed in the pan between batches, add 1/2-1 tbs oil at a time as needed.
Using 1 cup of the beef broth, deglaze the pan allowing the broth to simmer for a few minutes and scraping the
Good to know:Make certain that your tagine can go from stove-top to oven. If your tagine is not stovetop safe, use a dutch oven for all steps before the oven.
Heat 2 tbs olive oil in the tagine. Over medium-low heat, saute the onions & garlic for about 10 minutes until the onions soften but do not discolor.
Add the canned tomatoes and stir. Add the meat to the pan along with the broth used for the deglazing the pan as well as the remaining broth.
Drizzle the argan oil (if using) and add the salt, raisins, sliced almonds, dates, dried apricots, golden raisins, honey, sugar & saffron threads. Stir to combine.
Turn up the heat and bring the broth to a simmer. If using a dutch oven, transfer contents to the tagine.
Carefully place the tagine in the lower third of the oven. Place the tagine cover (top) over the dish.
Bake for about 2 to 2-1/2 hours till the lamb is meltingly soft.
Remove the tagine from the oven. Taste and adjust seasonings. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and parsley and serve with a side of couscous.