Tajini dishes offer you the opportunity to cook healthy, in traditional Moroccan style, obtaining healthy recipes, with rich and intense flavors. They are made of clay, with a design that allows cooking mainly in steam, ideal for slow cooking and with good resistance over time, if they are prepared and used correctly.
The term tajine refers both to the vessels made of conical clay, traditionally used in Africa, and the Moroccan recipes to cook in them. Nomads in North Africa used tajines as a portable oven, which allowed them to cook food wherever they went. At present, they are used all over the world, by slow cooking enthusiasts and those who appreciate the special taste, obtained by baking or boiling in clay pots.
What is the tajine vessel
Tajine or tagine vessels are easily recognizable due to their characteristic conical shape. They consist of two parts: a round base, wide and low, and a conical and high lid, provided with an opening at the top and edge that seals the interior. Together, the two elements create a kind of clay oven, which is initially placed over the open fire.
How to prepare for cooking
Like cast iron pans, ceramic pots, such as tajines, need to be seasoned or prepared before using them for cooking. Being made of a porous material, it requires coating with vegetable or animal fat, and maintaining a high temperature, to ensure the coverage of the pores and thus prevent food sticking. This treatment also ensures the elimination of the clay taste, specific to non-porcelain variants.
The first step in seasoning is to keep the whole vessel submerged in cold water for at least two hours. Ideally, leave it overnight. You can use a sink, a large pot, a basin or even a bathtub, depending on the size of the product. After the necessary time has elapsed, remove the vessel from the water, drain it and dry it.
There are two variants of tajine vessels: glazed and unglazed. The latter requires at this stage the coating with a layer of oil that can be added with a brush or cloth, taking care to wipe off the excess so as not to burn in the oven.
Then place the container inside the oven, while it is cold, and then set the thermostat to 150oC. Let the dish bake for two hours, then turn off the oven and wait until the temperature inside has dropped enough to be able to remove the tagine with your free hand, without opening the door too often. This last stage of slow cooling is an important part of the seasoning process, so do not rush to remove the hot pot.
The use of tajine vessels
If you want to try a new recipe or simply like Moroccan food, you will definitely want to know how to use this type of dish correctly. You can use it both in the oven and on the hob, provided that you do not place the bottom of the pot directly on the heat source. This requirement translates into the need to purchase a heat diffuser, if you use an electric stove with a ceramic hob, the gas versions being already provided with a grill and thermal diffuser on which to place the container.
When using tajine in the oven, it is important to place the dish while it is still cold and then set the thermostat to 160-180oC. Tagine dishes do not need more heat, as they retain it very well.
To get the best results it is important to take into account the small details. For example, it is recommended to avoid lifting the lid of the tagine while the food is cooking. If the dish is properly maintained, you do not have to worry that the food will stick, as for the spices that were not included from the beginning, you can put them when the food is ready.
There are two ingredients you need to be very careful about when using a tagine dish. The first is the oil you need to prevent vegetables and / or meat from burning (even when cooking over low heat) and the second is water. If you are new to Moroccan recipes, you may feel the need to reduce the amount of fat (even vegetable) included in the list of ingredients.
Do not be convinced by this temptation and respect the weight exactly. As a guide, we can tell you that a recipe for four people can contain up to 150 ml of oil, with or without the addition of butter, which you must definitely put.
The water is at the other extreme, because the shape of the tagines does not let the steam out, but recirculates them, using them to thermally prepare the ingredients. So be careful not to add too much water, because you will get an aqueous sauce, with a less pleasant texture, especially when everything is cooked over medium heat and the sauce does not have enough minutes to bind.
In addition to salt, ground black pepper and olive oil, traditional Moroccan recipes may include: garlic, ginger basil, saffron, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, white pepper, onion, turmeric (sometimes even curry), cumin, cinnamon and parsley.
Chicken is one of the most popular foods for cooking on low heat. For tajini chicken, even whole olives, green or Kalamata or even both varieties of olives at the same time, are used in the same recipe.
Concentrated chicken soup or lemon juice are ingredients that supplement the liquid content of a recipe. On the other hand, to get that oriental scent, many skilled chefs use dates, figs and raisins in recipes. Most recipes can include roots or tubers: potatoes, carrots, parsnips.
Unlike chicken, lamb is prepared according to a recipe that will include edible argan oil, along with tomato juice. Honey, coriander, almonds, dried apricots and lamb or beef soup will be added to enhance the specific taste, along with the other spices listed above.
For the couscous you will add pepper salt and a fairly large amount of butter (some recipes suggest a 1/4 pack).
Maintenance and cleaning
If you are among those who usually quickly add cold water from the sink to the hot pan, a few minutes after removing from the heat, to soften the sticky food residues, we recommend that you never do this with a tagine. First of all, you probably won't need it, because when used correctly, the ceramic material is non-stick, so it doesn't keep food scraps after use.
Second, exposure to sudden temperature variations can cause the material to crack, making the vessel unusable. So avoid putting cold water in a hot tajine or hot water in a cold pot and do not place the hot pot on a cold surface or vice versa, a cold tajine directly on a heated burner or in an already hot oven. Wait between 30 minutes and 1 hour, until the pot has cooled enough.
Dishwashing detergent is absorbed by unglazed clay, so do not use it on such a dish. It is best to clean the tagine, regardless of the finishes, using a mixture of warm water with salt or baking soda to remove residues. Leave the dish to dry and grease it after each use; therefore, you will add olive oil to keep its non-stick characteristics.
Although very rare, it can happen that residues stick to the inside of the dish that cannot be removed by simply washing with warm water, especially if you leave the food too much to do. You can solve this problem easily: add water, leaving the food burnt and glued to boil for 15-30 minutes. Add water to the bowl to one-third the capacity of the base and then top up with a little baking soda.
There is a possibility that even this variant will not give optimal results. In this case, we recommend leaving the bowl full of water overnight to soak it.
The format of the tagine predisposes it to the formation of mold, if it is not stored correctly. It is therefore important to let it dry well, before putting it in the closet, and to place the components, base and lid, separately, to allow air circulation inside.