A tajine or tagine (Arabic: طاجين tajin from the Arabic: طاج) is a historically North African Berber dish that is named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. A similar dish known as tavvas is found in Cypriot cuisine.
The traditional method of cooking with a tajine is to place it over coals. Use of the tajine can be compared to stewing.
The Tajine Pot
The traditional tajine pot is made of pottery, which is sometimes painted or glazed. It consists of two parts: a base unit that is flat and circular with low sides and a large cone- or dome-shaped cover that sits on the base during cooking. The cover is designed to promote the return of all condensation to the pot.
Tajine is traditionally cooked over hot charcoal leaving an adequate space between the coals and the tajine pot to avoid having the temperature rise too fast. Large bricks of charcoal are purchased specifically for their ability to stay hot for hours. Smaller pieces of charcoal are reserved for cooking brochettes (barbecue) and other grilled meats.
Other methods are to use a tajine in a slow oven or on a gas or electric stove top, on lowest heat necessary to keep the stew simmering gently. A diffuser – a circular piece of aluminium placed between the tajine and burner – is used to evenly distribute the stove’s heat. European manufacturers have created tajines with heavy cast-iron bottoms that can be heated on a cooking stove to a high temperature. This permits the browning of meat and vegetables before cooking.
Tajine cooking may be replicated by using a slow cooker or similar item; but the result will be slightly different. Many ceramic tajines are decorative items as well as functional cooking vessels. Some tajines, however, are intended only to be used as decorative serving dishes.
Moroccan & Algerian Tajines
Moroccan and Algerian tajine dishes are slow-cooked savoury stews, typically made with sliced meat, poultry or fish together with vegetables or fruit. Spices, nuts, and dried fruits are also used. Common spices include ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and saffron. Paprika and chilli are used in vegetable tajine. The sweet and sour combination is common in tajine dishes like lamb with dates and spices. Tajines are generally served with bread. Because the domed or cone-shaped lid of the tajine pot traps steam and returns the condensed liquid to the pot, a minimal amount of water is needed to cook meats and vegetables. This method of cooking is practical in areas where water supplies are limited or where public water is not yet available.
What Tunisians refer to as a “tajine” is very different from the Moroccan dish. Tunisian tajine is more like an Italian frittata or an eggah. First, a simple ragout is prepared, of meat cut into very small pieces, cooked with onions and spices, such as a blend of dried rosebuds and ground cinnamon known as baharat or a robust combination of ground coriander and caraway seeds; this is called tabil. Then something starchy is added to thicken the juices. Common thickeners include cannellini beans, chickpeas, breadcrumbs or cubed potatoes. When the meat is tender, it is combined with the ingredient which have been chosen to be the dominant flavouring. Examples include fresh parsley, dried mint, saffron, sun-dried tomatoes, cooked vegetables and stewed calves’ brains. Next, the stew is enriched with cheese and eggs. Finally, this egg and stew is baked in a deep pie dish, either on the stove or in the oven until top and bottom are crisply cooked and the eggs are just set. When the tajine is ready, it is turned out onto a plate and sliced into squares, accompanied by wedges of lemon. Tunisian tajines can be made with seafood or as a completely vegetarian dish.
In rural parts of Tunisia, home cooks place a shallow earthenware dish over glowing olive wood, fill it, cover it with a flat earthenware pan, and then pile hot coals on top. The resulting tajine is crusty on top and bottom, moist within and is infused with a subtle smoky fragrance.