Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tagine


For so many of us, our all-time favorite flavors are the ones that simmer on our parents’ stoves and rise out of the backs of ovens of our childhood.  I grew up in a house in the Northern California woods heated only by a fireplace upstairs and downstairs the big wood-burning stove that divides the kitchen from the dining room.  So the winter meals of my memory always have a slightly smokey flavor, and the deep warmth of hours simmering over uneven heat.  My mom didn’t start making Moroccan food until I was a teenager, and really has only developed her signature tagines over the past decade or so as I and other friends have built her a collection of Moroccan cookbooks and implements, but Moroccan tagines fit so perfectly with that vague and general memory of the meals of my childhood that I’m slowly reconstructing my memory to have them always having been there.  A tagine is traditionally made in a beautiful red clay deep flat dish with a conical top that is ideal for wood-burning stoves, but it can be cooked in any large pan with a good lid.  On a trip to Morocco a few years ago, I picked up Liliane Otal’s Connaître la cuisine marocaine, and her tagine recipes have proved to be the best both because their flavor is exquisite and because their preparation is extremely simple and relies on ingredients that can be readily found in the US.  Here’s my translation—including a few modifications—of one of her simplest and best: Poulet au miel  (Chicken with Honey)

Chicken with Honey
Serves 4

1 chicken (or the equivalent in your favorite combination of legs and breasts)
2 large onions, thinly sliced or roughly chopped
2 tablespoons honey
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
Olive oil
1 tsp salt
½ tsp. pepper

Cut the chicken into pieces (separating thigh and drumsticks, breasts and wings) and brown in olive oil in a tagine or large pan.  When the chicken is browned, add the onion.  Stir well and let cook a few minutes over low heat, until the onions soften and begin to become translucent.  Pour two cups of water over the chicken and onions.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cinnamon, letting the seasoning sit on top of the chicken rather than stirring it in.  Cover and simmer for at least 45 minutes and up to 1 ½ hours.  Remove lid, stir in the honey, and simmer, uncovered so that the sauce reduces, at least 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes.  Serve with couscous. 

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