Tagine Dreams–Bringing Morocco to Me

Morocco is one of those countries that–for whatever reason–has been on the top of my to-visit list. I don’t know much about the country besides what I’ve read in books or the newspaper; don’t have relatives living there–no real connection besides Paul Bowles, a camel bone mirror, and episodes from Bourdain and Zimmern’s shows. But there is something to be said about the history of Moorish Spain, the architecture and designs that are unique among the Muslim world, design of the tile-work and their brightly contrasting colors, and–of course–the food that continues to draw my attention to this North African country. I love uniqueness of the classic Moroccan furniture and art and even simple household items like mirrors and vases.

A Moroccan tagine has been something I’ve wanted for a while but couldn’t possibly justify buying. Why spend money on something I’d rarely use, right? But–lo and behold–as I came home from a business trip a couple of weeks ago, I found a package at the front door. My awesome wifey had ordered an Emile Henry tagine as a gift for me!

Side note: For readers interested in etymology, tagine is a North African Arabic word, but apparently derived from an ancient Greek word tagēnon–the word for saucepan. And tagine is both the cooking vessel and the name of whatever is cooked inside it.

The tagine is a beautiful rust red color, fittingly called burgundy because it was made in Burgundy (or Bourgogne), France. The version she bought is 10.6 inches wide, and 2.1 quarts capacity, light (relatively) but strong and had substance. For a couple of people–maybe even up to four–this was a good size.

The conical lid–which gives the tagine it’s distinctive shape–allows the steam to circulate and keeps the food moist and tender while cooking. I decided the first dish I’d make with my newest toy would be fish tagine, a classic Moroccan dish with white fish cooked on top of a bed of potatoes, onion, tomatoes, and bell pepper. I served it with a side of couscous.

What drew me the most to the dish is the use of chermoula sauce that covers the fish and vegetables beneath. It’s an herby sauce, blended with a mind-blowing mix of spices–tumeric, paprika, ginger powder, and more–my own souk at home. I’m sure there’s a variation of the sauce for each Moroccan grandmother that’s cooking, but I found one that used harissa that looked delicious and simple to make.

(Having to use such a variety of spices can seem intimidating, but luckily Allspicery had everything I needed and was able to blend it all in the portions I needed. Short of being in a Moroccan souk, this was second best!)

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With the spices in hand, the dish was absurdly easy to put together and make, and came out of the oven fragrant, moist, and delicious–a tiny slice of Morocco in my kitchen. The fish was moist, the potatoes cooked through, and the broth simmering. The only thing I’d change is the fish. This time, I bought black cod, and while it turned out fine, it was a bit too delicate. Next time, I’ll try sea bass or snapper.

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 lb whole fish, preferably white

  • 1 potato, thinly sliced into disks

  • 1 bell peppers, seeded and sliced into rings

  • 1 tomato, sliced into disks

  • 1 onion, sliced into discs
  • ½ cup of water
  • Chopped cilantro for garnish

    *Make sure there are enough slices of the potato and vegetables to cover the bottom of the tagine.

Ingredients for chermoula sauce:

  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 3 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 4 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 2 tablespoons of harissa
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • Juice of a lemon

Instructions:

  • In a bowl, mix all the chermoula ingredients together and stir until smooth.

  • When you are ready to prepare the tagine, preheat the oven to 390 °F.

  • Cover the fish with half of the chermoula.

  • Pour in maybe a table spoon of olive oil into the base of the tagine and make sure it coats.
  • Layer the potatoes, bell peppers, onion, and tomatoes slices across the bottom of the tagine–I put the potatoes first (that is, at the very bottom) because they’re the most dense but it doesn’t really matter the order besides that.

  • Mix the rest of the chermoula with a ½ cup of water and spread across the vegetables making sure all the vegetables are covered.

  • Place fish in the center of the dish on top of the vegetables.

  • Cover the tagine and place in oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the vegetables and the fish are fully cooked.

  • Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve hot.

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