Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Lamb Tagine

Eat tagine and you too could look like this.
Morocco Mole, popular sidekick of Secret Squirrel and also the first indication you've got malignant melanoma after spending too long in the sun in Marrakech

You can't do any recipe of North Africa or the Eastern Mediterranean without mentioning the name of arguably the most trendy cook of the moment, Yotam Ottolenghi. He has a reputation for delicious food which is simple and rustic. However, he also has a tendency to use authentic ingredients in his recipes which, although they may be common in a souk in Tripoli, are not so easy to come by in the UK outside of a few small, wanky, over-priced delis in Notting Hill. For example, you have more likelihood finding a 70s male celebrity without a sex-pest-shaped skeleton in his closet than finding freeze-dried organic gerbil spleens down your local Co-Op. Anyway, I've mentioned him now, so onto my own recipe for lamb tagine.

A tagine is the name of the cooking pot which is essentially a glorified casserole dish with a lid shaped like a slightly squashed witch's hat. The dishes that take their name from the pot are usually mildly spiced stews that are cooked long and slow. This is actually doing an entire cuisine a huge disservice since, if cooked well, Moroccan food is fucking fantastic.

As well as being famous for its subtle, aromatic, spicy flavours, Moroccan food also uses a lot of dried fruit. Now, forgive me for riding rough-shod over centuries of culinary culture, but I largely think that dried fruit has as much place in a savoury dish as Clostridium botulinum. This goes doubly for dried apricots which, though commonly used in Morrocan tagines, are the dessicated haemorrhoids excised from the infernal arseholes of the devil's own herd of Apocalyptic wombats, in my opinion. I mean, if you want to add fruit, why not go the whole hog and stick in a packet of Fruit Pastels while you're at it and maybe serve it up with custard?

Anyway, the upshot of this preamble of dissing the Yot and admitting how much I despise dried fruit in main courses means this recipe is about as authentically Moroccan as a fez made from polyvinylchloride in Taiwan and purchased on Blackpool seafront. You want authenticity, piss off to Agadir and eat there. Meanwhile, this recipe tastes fucking great and it's well worth the time and effort to make it.

2tbsp olive oil
500g cubed lamb
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic
100g mushrooms sliced
2 preserved lemons,
150g fresh tomatoes, peeled then halved
2tsp paprika
1 tbsp cumin
10cm cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
pinch of saffron
vegetable stock cube
500ml water
1 red pepper chopped into sticks
1 courgette cut into sticks

Spice: the final frontier

Heat the olive oil in a hob- and oven-proof casserole dish and fry the meat to seal it. Remove it with a slotted spoon and add the onions to remaining oil to soften. Add the spices and garlic for about a minute, mixing to make sure they don't stick to the dish. Throw in the mushrooms and fry for another couple of minutes.

Add a little of the water to a cup and mix up the stock cube.

For the preserved lemons, cut them in two and scoop out the middle with a spoon. Discard the flesh and finely chop the skins.

Return the lamb to the dish and add the preserved lemons, tomatoes, water and the stock cube mix. Bring to the boil, mix well then layer the pepper and courgette on top of the rest of the stew. This means that the vegetables steam rather than boil and totally disintegrate over the long, slow cook.

Cover and put into the oven at 145°C for 2-3 hours

Tagine ready to go in the oven
Note the vegetables layered on the stew. Also note this is a Pyrex casserole dish and not an actual tagine pot. I'm not that much of a foodie wanker

This serves two people easily. Dish it up with rice, bread or couscous, like the recipe I'm writing next  for orange couscous.

Preserved lemons are available from supermarkets. They are not the same as fresh lemons. They look like this:

You could put any combination of vegetables in this. Well, OK, not any combination. Lettuce would be a mistake, for example and cabbage would be a bad idea (cabbage is actually generally a bad idea in any situation, to be fair). However, carrots work well, as does aubergine, green beans or squash.

In best Rick Stein style, I could twat on about how I tasted something like this recipe, as cooked over a bottled gas stove in individual pots, in some street-side cafe in Marrakech a few years back. A place which had a spice shop round the back where I bought a large bag of saffron at a really good price, but that's really not the fucking point of this blog, is it?

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