What is a Tagine, (or Tajine) Pot?
What is a Tajine Pot?
I was introduced to the tajine relatively recently by a friend who had lived for many years in Morocco and Tunisia. The food she had prepared was rich and tender, and I was impressed with the elegant and exotic tajine pot that was placed on the table, the top removed with some ceremony to reveal a fragrant, steaming dish of chicken cooked with vegetables, lemon and olives. France has close ties to north Africa and dishes from Morocco and Tunisia are popular here, so, always on the look out for new and interesting food to offer to our Bed and Breakfast guests, I immediately started to do a little research into the history of this clay cooking pot.
The tajine was originally a heavy, unglazed clay pot with a round, shallow-sided base and a conical lid with a knob on the top that acts as a handle. The shape is very beautiful, but it is functional as well as aesthetic, being designed to send the steam from the cooking food back down into the base and so keep the dish moist.
Traditionally the tajine was used by nomads in north Africa as portable ovens for making stews over charcoal fires. It would sit above an open fire and meats and vegetables or fruit would be cooked slowly over a very low heat.
Today the tagine is often made from cast iron or other materials, it is usually glazed and you can even buy an electric version.
Need a recipe to start with? Try this Easy Chicken Tajine
Tajine Gift Guide
- Gifts for Cooks- Tajine Cooking Pots
A tajine pot must be one of the most elegant and authentic gifts for cooks! And one of the most useful for cooks and non-such-keen-cooks alike. So what exac
The dishes cooked in a Tajine, take their names from the pot. Tajines are superb for cooking meats, especially lower grade meat, as it is braised for a long time over a slow heat. The meat commonly used in Morocco is lamb, the preferred cuts are the neck, shoulder or shank cooked until it is falling off the bone, but you can use any meat including poultry. Lift the lid as infrequently as possible to avoid dissipating the aromatic steam, so try not to lift the cover until the dish has finished cooking. Vegetables, olives, lemon, honey, and spices such as ginger, chili, saffron, cinnamon and cumin are added to the meat, although you can also use your tajine to cook vegetarian dishes.
"No matter what the month, there is a tree somewhere in Morocco bearing fruit for the tagine pot. The combinations may seem unlikely at times, but I guarantee you will find them delicious: lamb with olives, quinces, apples, pears, raisins, prunes, dates, with or without honey, with or without a complexity of spices.” Paula Wolfert
Sweet tajines are often celebratory
dishes and you can add a variety of dried and fresh fruits with the usual
spices: prunes, dried dates, raisins, and dried apricots are wonderful and always on hand in
the store cupboard. Gooseberries, apples, red currants, apricots, fresh dates,
quinces, and pears are all great seasonal fruits. Add the usual spices and lots
of coarsely ground black pepper or crushed pepper corns to counteract the
Making a Tajine Pot
How to Choose a Tajine
Tajines are made in a variety of materials and these can be divided into those tajines designed for cooking, and those designed only to serve food. Please don’t use your decorative tajine for cooking – the results could be disastrous!
The traditional tajines were unglazed earthenware pots. They were used for cooking and not for serving the food. Many people think this is the only tajine worth buying and the only one that gives the food that unique tajine flavour but they don’t seem to be so readily available for sale. Perhaps this is a good excuse to book a holiday to Morocco? You could try these links as an alternative to travel.
The glazed earthenware tajines
offered for sale are designed to go in the oven up to 400°F and on top of the
stove but sometimes a trivet should be used and the tajine should not be put
onto a high heat. The glazes cover all surfaces except sometimes the bottom of
the base, the bottom lip of the chimney, and the top indentation in the chimney
are left unglazed
Crackling is normal in some ceramic pots so don’t worry about this.
Some can be put into the dishwasher, but others have to be hand-washed. There is a wide variation on specifications so always check the information given by the manufacturer to ensure that you buy the tajine that meets your needs.
Le Creusetmake an iron and ceramics tagine. The top is a craze-free glazed stoneware with a creamy white interior and the bottom is made of heavy cast iron, with a matte enamel surface. These can be used on the stove top or in the oven and are suitable for gas, electric radiant or solid plates, ceramic, halogen, induction and Aga, Rayburn type stoves
Use medium heat for pre-browning of ingredients, and low heat for cooking.
Decorative Tajines for Serving Only
Some tajines are made from clay, glazed and often hand-decorated, but are intended to be used only for serving. Don’t put these on the hob or in the oven!
The electric tajines are made with authentic clay pot lids, and sometimes bases as well. Some of these have plastic knobs/handle. These sit on a powered base unit which is thermostatically controlled. The heated base can be removed so that the whole tajine can be taken directly to the table. Please note that you can't put electric tajines in the oven.
How to Season Your Unglazed Earthenware Tajine
Earthenware tajines need to be seasoned the first time you use it. This will remove any earthenware 'taste' and strengthen your tagine.
- Soak the tajine in water for at least 1 hour.
- Then rub the inside of the base and lid with olive oil.
- Put the pot into a cold oven, set the temperature to 150C (gas mark 2) and leave for 2 hours.
- Remove from oven and leave to cool.
- When it is cold, wash it in warm soapy water and dry with a clean cloth.
- Your tagine is now ready to use.
Other Tajine Tips
- Care should be taken to protect your table when using the tagine as a serving dish as the base will be very hot
- Do not soak unglazed cookware in soapy water
- They should cook on the stove top over VERY LOW heat. Use a heat diffuser to keep the stew from cooking too fast.
- Hand wash earthenware tajines unless the instructions tell you otherwise.
- Before cooking in your new ceramic or iron tagine, you can break it in by filling it with a mixture of half water and half milk, slowly bringing it to a boil, and boiling for 15 minutes.
Should You Buy a Tajine?
Tajine pots are not so different from Casserole dishes/dutch ovens if you used glazed or iron tajines are going to put them into the oven and not on an open wood fire! I did an experiment to see if there was any difference between a casserole and a tajine when used in the oven. Have a look at the results in the article 'Tajine vs Casserole'!
Where tajines do come into their own is presentation. That beautiful shape definitely adds a certain eastern exoticism to your dinner table! At Les Trois Chenes Bed and Breakfast we cook with tajines from time to time and the food is delicious, but the pot is impressive too!
My Favourite Cooking Pot
The pot in the picture is my own favourite cooking pot. It was left to me by Madme Besse, the former owner of our French fermette, and she called it a ‘Fait-tout’, (or 'Do-everything!), but it seems to go under the names of Cocotte in France, casserole dish in England and Dutch Oven elsewhere. Here it's sitting on its tripod, which was used to cook over the open fire in Madame Besse's day. We have since installed a wood burner at Les Trois Chenes, excellent for cooking food slowly during the winter.
- Painting courses at Les Trois Chenes B and B, Limousin, France
Art & painting holidays in Limousin, only minutes from the Dordogne and Charente. We run a bed & breakfast and now have a new holiday cottage in Videix, Haute-Vienne, France only ten minutes away from the historic town of Rochechouart.