When The Cookbook Guru announced that its March/April book under review was Paula Wofert’s The Food of Morocco, I told myself “no tagines” even though we are fond of a spicy, meaty dish. Well, it seemed too predictable – and too commonly reproduced, often mangled from its original to adapt to the busy modern kitchen. Just throw in a bit of exotic spice with some stewed meat (generally lamb, but beef or chicken as well) and a handful of dried fruit for a bit of sweetness, et voilà tagine. Better yet, make it in one of those cute conical hat tagine pots, serve with a mound of couscous and pass it off as authentic. Très chic.
Yet, after reading Wolfert’s introduction on tagines, I realized how wrong (and terribly cynical) I was. A tagine is the name for that shallow earthenware pot with the conical hat lid that gave rise to a particular slow-cooking technique. The shape of the pot is designed to preserve the moisture of the food as it cooks. Hence, it is a method rather than any particular recipe. It is like the daubière (another clay pot) of France that gave its name to a slow-cooked stew – daube – where every Provençal household has their own version. Or, even the domed Croatian peka for which a myriad of succulent slow-cooked meat dishes are called.
In The Food of Morocco, I counted at least 39 different tagine recipes – lamb, beef, poultry and fish. In addition there are the vegetarian tagines that are often called maraks. Some of those many recipes had dried fruits and nuts, others had olives, peppers or preserved lemons. All of them were prepared with different complex mixtures of spices – one of the hallmarks of Moroccan cooking. What I discovered was a wide range of tagines that I hadn’t really explored before. The following is an unusual one for me, made with squid and peppers.
Too bad I don’t own one of those cute conical hat tagine pots. But, never fear. Paula Wofert offers alternatives – a Spanish clay cazuela or failing that, a standard heavy bottomed lidded pot like Le Crueset.
Squid Tagine with Peppers
There is some advance preparation involved. First is making a supply of saffon water for those of you who do not have this ingredient to hand (i.e. most of us), but it is definitely worth it. I’m finding all sorts of uses for it – in pastry, buns & breads, pilaf & paella, couscous, fish soup…. Then there is the roasting, crushing, mixing the spicy paste for a marinade which goes by the generic name of chermoula. Again, definitely worth the effort. In fact, the whole recipe is worth the effort!
According to Paula Wolfert, this can be kept in the refrigerator up to 1 week, but can also be frozen in icecube trays and taken out as needed. 1 icecube is said to be approximately 2 Tablespoons.
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 250ml water
In a dry warmed frying pan, lightly roast the saffron threads until they begin to darken. Put into a mortar and grind to a powder with your pestle. Boil the water and add it while it is hot, but not directly off the boil, to the ground saffron. When the yellow saffron water has cooled down a bit, decant into a jar and store in the refrigerator.
The generic name for any number of spicy marinades, often used with fish. It is the marinade that actually makes the dish special.
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
- 1 Tablespoon saffron water
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (depending on how much heat you want)
- 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Lightly roast the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan – just enough so that the heat begins to bring out the aroma. Place these along with the peeled and roughly chopped garlic pieces and the salt in a mortar. Crush until it forms a paste, wetting it with the saffron water. Add the other spices and the olive oil. Mix well.
Cut the squid (see ingredients below) into rings and place these in a shallow casserole. Spoon on all the chermoula and mix until the squid is covered. Place clingfilm over the casserole and put into the refrigerator. This can be done in the morning you intend to cook the meal or even left over night. Note that Paula Wolfert does not give instructions as to how long the fish should marinade.
Wolfert’s recipe was for baby squid, but I had a packet of “squid tubes” in the freezer. I know, it is an unappetizing way to describe the tubular bodies of larger squid, but the supermarket did not ask my advice on marketing – shame, but that’s the way it is. These “tubes” are ideal for making fried calamari rings and relatively inexpensive (always a consideration at the fish counter). As a consequence, I’ve increased the cooking time from 1 hour to 1-1/2 hours. A few other minor liberties were taken with the ingredients – such as increasing the amount of lemon and corriander.
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 450 to 500g squid
- 2 medium onions
- 2 long red peppers (or substitute sweet bell peppers)
- 400g tin of plum tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 large lemon
- 4 Tablespoons chopped fresh corriander (cilantro)
Chop the onions and peppers into small pieces. On a medium heat, get the olive oil in your pan (or tagine)p u to temperature. If you are using a clay pot, please note that a heat defusing pad should be used. Fry the onions for a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add the peppers, stir and place the lid on for about 5 minutes.
Take the marinaded squid and add this to the pot, scraping out any marinade to add. Add the tin of tomatoes, crushing any large or whole tomatoes. Sprinkle on the sugar and, half of the chopped corriander and the juice from 1/2 lemon (reserving the other half for later). Stir and bring up to high heat. Once it has boiled for a few minutes, reduce the heat to a simmer.
If you are using a tagine pot, simply place on the conical lid. If you are using anything else, take a sheet of baking parchment, wet it under the tap, then crinkle it to cover the simmering stew and then place the pot’s lid on. Cook for 1-1/2 hours. Squid is best either flash cooked or slow cooked to render it tender. If not, the texture might be like rubber bands – like the cut “tubes” resemble.
After 1-1/2 hours, remove the lid and the parchment paper. If the tagine is too wet, simply bring the heat back up and cook for a few minutes to thicken the sauce. Add the juice from the reserved 1/2 lemon. Stir and serve, sprinkle on the other half of chopped corriander. Wolfert suggests serving with plain boiled rice, but couscous or bulgar wheat flavoured with lemon will also go well.
* I suspect there are as many tagines as there are stews. *