Buying A Tagine
Finding the right tagine for you
Tagines are both the name of a type of pot (pictured above) and the slow-roasted meals that are prepared in them. Originally, the pots were designed to be used over a campfire, however (with certain precautions) they can be used in a modern kitchen on the stovetop or in the oven, or merely as a decorative serving piece. Technically, you don't need a tagine to prepare tagine recipies; you can use a dutch oven with a tight fitting lid to trap in the steam. I think, though, that tagines taste better when presented in a beautiful, traditionally shaped, colorful pot. Somehow, the visual helps infuse the stew with authentic flavor.
There are several different kinds of tagine available in the marketplace today, ranging from the traditional to the high tech, from ceramic to metal.
Among the ceramic tagine there are several catagories:
- Decorative - used for serving only
- Traditional - ceramic
- Modern - ceramic, iron, or steel
Decorative tagine can be very beautiful, particularly as serving pieces. However, cooking in them is discouraged because they will darken if used for cooking.
Traditional tagine are most often brown, glazed pots. They generally need to be seasoned before use; see below. They should only be used on a stove with a defuser, and even then only over a low to medium heat, lest they crack.
Modern tagine come in a variety of materials to make them sturdier, with no discernable difference to the taste of the final meal. They can be every bit as beautiful as the traditional ceramic models, often featuring even more color varieties than the ones found in Morrocan markets.
All Clad, for example, makes a tagine out of stainless steal; surprisingly however, the All Clad is not designed to be used in an oven - only on the stove top. Le Creuset makes cast iron tagine in a variety of colors and styles. Emile Henry has a variety of ceramic tagine that it claims can be used directly on a gas or electric stove without a diffuser.
All cermamic pots are glazed. The lead content of glaze, particularly of that in traditional pots is a concern. Unless the pot comes with an assurance that it meets FDA requirements for lead, it should not be used for cooking.
One of the interesting things about the design of a tagine is that, generallyspeaking, they are designed so that the lid may be removed without a mit! The inverted small cone on top of the "chimney" usually does not get too warm. However every pot is different so proceed with caution so you don't look like that guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark with a circular image burned into your palm. Also, keep in mind that when you open the lid hot steam may rise out of it, so be prepared.
When bringing the tagine to the table, warn your guests that it is hot. Be sure to place it on a trivet; you don't want to burn your table. Also, have someplace set up in advance to recieve the lid when you serve. I've found, the hard way, that "water" that condenses on the underside of the chimney (and bottom edge of the lid) during cooking sometimes contains enough tumeric or safron to leave a ring on the tablecloth if it is put down directly on a table cloth.
Seasoning the tagine
Here I'm referring to seasoning the pot, not the stew. Before most tagine are used the first time they need to be prepared for cooking. This is called "seasoning", and its purpose is to remove the "taste" that may have been left behind in manufacturing the pot. The process is simple. Just boil a quart of milk in the tagine (remember to use a relatively low flame and a defuser).
The most common "recipe" for seasoning a tagine is:
- Soak the top and bottom of the tagine in cool water for an hour 1 hour.
- Rub the inside of both the top and bottom with olive oil.
- Place the tagine in a cold oven and set temperature for 350 degrees and let it "cook" for 2 hours.
Some manufacturers specify particular seasoning methods. Always follow the directions of your tagine's manufacturer.