October 9, 2006

An attempt at lamb tagine

salad of peach, pluot and mustard greens
light lemon vinaigrette

mousse of roasted eggplant and capsicum
olive oil emulsion

chicken and eggplant bestila
crushed hazelnuts, cinnamon, allspice

lamb tagine with couscous
olives, tomato confit, pluots, golden raisins, preserved lemon

gazelle’s horns
hazelnuts, almond paste

I can still remember the first time I tried a tagine dish. John Slattery, a friend from days gone by, invited me over for dinner for his tagine back in 1998, when he explained to me the importance of conical tagine lid, how the miniscule steam vent created a low pressure steam braise for the stew, resulting in incredibly tender and flavorful meat. Back then, there were very few restaurants in the area serving tagine, so it was a real treat.

Fast forward 8 years… I decided it was time to give tagine, and Moroccan food in general, a try. The plan was for a lamb tagine, stewed with shallots, garlic, kalamata olives, roasted tomatoes and preserved lemons. We hadn't seen Jeff since the annual insanity known as Jeff-tember (people playing catch with flaming red hot coals, etc.), so getting together for dinner was long overdue.

Let’s chalk this one up to a “learning experience”… a couple of things weren’t running on all pistons:
  • the lamb wasn’t quite as tender as I had hoped- the flavors were unbalanced… like playing pinball on you’re your taste buds. The olives were unexpectedly salty, the lemon was a strange pairing with the lamb, and the delicate layers of seasoning (sweet paprika, cumin, tumeric) were muddled indistinguishably.
  • since I just bought the tagine pot that day, I didn’t have time to soak it in water prior to the first use to prevent cracking… so the majority of the cooking was done in a pot.
  • we only had time for instant couscous... actually, I've never made couscous the real way, by steaming, but someday...

So many of the flavors of Moroccan cuisine are bold, complex, and intoxicatingly decadent. I'll definitely be giving this another try, hopefully with a better overall balance next time.

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