Pressure cookers cut the cooking time conveniently but there’s nothing like slow-cooked meat — tender and moist and the sauce turns rich and thick. Just like the modern electric crockpot, a tagine is a slow cooker traditionally used in Northern Africa, including Morocco with which it is most often associated. Tagine, or tajine, is also the generic name for any dish cooked in this vessel with a conical cover.
What’s so special about a tagine, anyway? The benchmark of tagine cooking is the addition of very little liquid and allowing the meat (and vegetables) to cook in their own juices. Think Dutch oven as it operates in a similar fashion. With the tagine, the conical cover allows steam to fall back into the dish. Any excess pressure is released through a small hole on top of the cover.
Speedy bought this tagine for me on Mother’s Day, I’ve seasoned it and used it to cook a chicken dish, but I haven’t posted an entry on how to season a tagine.
But what on earth does season a tagine mean? We’re not talking of spring or summer here. We’re not talking of salt and pepper either. When we talk of cookware, seasoning means conditioning it, coating the cookware with a non-stick layer to prevent the elements of the cookware to interact with the food. Cast iron cookware is seasoned. So are cookware made of terra cotta (clay), especially if unglazed.
And how did I season my tagine? It was a three-step process.
1. I soaked the tagine — dish and cover — overnight in a pail of water.
2. The next day, I air-dried the tagine then brushed every surface with olive oil.
Some manufacturers require that only the insides of the dish and cover be seasoned but I decided it was safer to do it all the way. So, I brushed the underside of the dish and the outside of the cover with oil too.
3. I baked the tagine in a “cool” oven (300F to 310F) for two hours, turned off the heat and allowed the tagine (still inside the oven) to cool to room temperature slowly.
If you follow those three steps, your tagine is seasoned. Just wash in warm water and brush with oil once more before using.
The obvious question is whether the tagine needs to be seasoned only once. Well, yes, although if you use it often, it wouldn’t hurt to season again every couple of months.
To make your tagine last longer, here are a few notes:
1. Some tagines can be used in the oven AND on the stovetop; others are for oven use only. Check the manufacturer’s instructions.
2. A tagine is a slow cooker so it isn’t designed for high-heat cooking the way that woks are.
3. Wash in warm soapy water and do not use abrasive materials. If cooked food is stuck at the bottom of the tagine, soak in warm water before rubbing off gently.
4. Finally, always brush with oil before storing.