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November 1, 2007

The gift of tagine (Recipe: chicken tagine with prunes and almonds) {gluten-free}

Updated February 2011.

Tagine

For a cook -- for this cook -- nothing is more fun than designing things to use in the kitchen.

In the past couple of years, I've designed and made a wooden spoon (to add to my over-the-top collection of more than 200 wooden kitchen utensils), and a wooden bowl, which I use for salad almost every night.

For the past year and a half, I've been working with Robert Fishman, a local potter, to design the ultimate cooking vessel for nomads, for those with a nomadic spirit, and for cooks who also love to entertain: a tagine.

Clay tagines originated with the Berbers, the nomadic indigenous people of North Africa. The pots were made of clay because the only material available was sand. After a long day of camel travel, these wanderers would make a campfire. When the fire burned down, tagines (the word for both the vessel, and the food prepared in it) were cooked on the embers. The conical shape of the lid was designed to retain the one commodity in short supply in the desert: moisture.

For modern cooks, tagine cooking means low-and-slow cooking, with very little fat or liquid compared with other cooking methods. The Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian dishes that form the basis of tagine cuisine feature an abundance of "warm" spices -- cinnamon, cumin, coriander -- along with garlic, onion, and sometimes lemon.

The tagines Bob and I have been designing can take up to a week to complete, from the first throwing of the lid and base, through surface decoration, air drying, glazing and two kiln firings of 24-30 hours each. We have tinkered with the shape, size, height, width and handle. In the end, of course, each is a one-of-a-kind cooking machine, and perhaps that's what I like best.

Bob gave me the gift of this particular tagine which, when you lift the lid, now carries the aroma of accumulated spices the way a cast iron pan holds the seasoning of everything that's been cooked in it.

I've had fun inventing or adapting recipes that are particularly well-suited to this type of low and slow cooking, but most of all, I've had fun trading my knowledge of food for Bob's knowledge of clay. Together, we've created something that others use and enjoy -- and what could be better than that?

Chicken tagine with prunes and almonds

Chicken tagine with prunes and almonds

From the pantry, you'll need: onion, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey.

This absolutely amazing tagine is typically served at Ramadan, but can be served at any time of year. Serves 6.

Ingredients

1 medium onion, minced
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp olive oil
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of major fat pieces, cut into 3-4 large chunks per thigh
10 oz pitted dried prunes
1 cup sliced almonds
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp honey, or more to taste
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp water

Directions

In a bowl, mix the onion, cinnamon, nutmeg and oil. Add the chicken pieces and stir to coat. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Place chicken, marinade, and all remaining ingredients in the base of a tagine. Cover, and cook over lowest heat for an hour, stirring occasionally, breaking up the prunes as they soften, until the chicken is tender and the prunes have reduced to a thick sauce. Be patient –- this will turn from a thin, watery sauce to thick and a nice dark mahogany color, towards the very end of the cooking time. Keep an eye on it and stir occasionally. When the sauce is thick and most of the liquid is gone, the dish is done. Serve with couscous or warm bread.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Chicken with preserved lemon and olives
Spiced lentils with squash and raisins
Lentils with spinach and preserved lemon
Chicken marbella

Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Moroccan nectarine and plum chicken tagine, from Closet Cooking
Chermoula chicken tagine, from Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once
Tender chicken in a spicy curry and prune sauce, from QlinArt
Chicken with prunes and bacon, from MY Colombian Recipes
Cinnamon chicken and orange couscous, from Anne's Food

Comments

I would love a tagine as a gift! Ours was broken about 4 years ago when we moved and unfortunately it has never been replaced.

Your tagine has such beautiful markings, a wonderful thing to do =)

Now that is cookware that doubles as art!

wow! hat off forever

My dear friend, aren't you talented or what?? :)

I love, love, love my Robert Fishman tagine. Cooking with it is so simple and satisfying - a true harkening to a "rustic" way of cooking that quickly and simply creates memorable food.

I am saving up for such tagine!!!!!

Beautiful feast for the eyes with a bonus feast for the taste buds.

Lydia, Lydia, Lydia...You are killing me now. I can't take it anymore. I didn't know you were such an artist! I have been looking for tagines in the US since I came here three years ago, and all I could find was the Portuguese one which: 1- doesn't have the earthy, uneven feel that a real north African tagine has and 2- I am not even sure you can cook with it.
I went to Algeria two years ago and I wanted to bring my tagines with me, but unfortunately they were so heavy and fragile I couldn't fit them in my 50pounds per luggage. (Sniff) And your recipe sounds delicious but with some changes here and there...you know what because it's you and because you've been killing me lately with olives tagines and now prunes, I will send you the REAL prunes tagine recipe. The one we make at home.
I am happy to see your interest in North African cuisine Lydia. If you ever happened to be in Southeast Michigan someday Please, Please let me know and I will prepare you some authentic North African dishes.

Lydia, that is a beautiful tangine! I purchased a small tangine when Veron was in New York this summer, and I've been looking for an opportunity to christen it. Your recipe is the perfect opportunity to give it a try!

Amazing! And that recipe sounds divine. It reminds me of a dish my mother and grandmother used to make, although they didn't cook theirs in a tagine. I might need to purchase one after reading this post!

The tagine is simply beautiful - how proud you must both be! For those of us without such 'gifts', what do you recommend as a cooking vessel for the tagine (the recipe)?

Wow is that gorgeous. That would be a wonderful wonderful gift! Thank you for the education about tagines. It's interesting that the food cooked in them has the same name. How much does a tagine cost? I imagine it varies, as they're supposed to be made with cheap materials but a lot of work goes into that beautiful piece of art!

Andy, I know a few people who have tagines on their wish list. I was thrilled to get one!

Kelly-Jane, wish I could take credit for that, but the glaze is one of Bob's secret formulas.

Nupur, I agree 100 percent.

Lobstersquad, thanks! Bob should get most of the credit, as he does all of the work.

Patricia, I've had such fun being part of the process. Sometimes I think my sole contribution is, "yes, I like that" or "no, that doesn't work for me."

Mary, I'm so glad you're enjoying it. The first few dishes you made in the tagine (the only ones I've tasted!) were delicious.

Anh, they are very affordable, though you can find tagines in all price ranges. I hope to have mine for many years.

Pauline, I couldn't agree more.

Rose, I will make a special trip to Michigan to learn from you! I am fascinated by the cuisine of this region, and have had fun adapting some recipes to work in Bob's tagines, or in the short time I have to teach in a class. I love the rich combinations of spices, and the mixing of fruit and meat. Please share some of your recipes so that I can learn more; I'd be so grateful.

TW, if I could only make one recipe, this would be it. But, of course, once you christen that tagine, you'll be making more than one thing in it!

Dana and Alanna, these dishes can be cooked in a Dutch oven or a heavy, deep saute pan with a lid, too. The key is to use something heavy enough to allow for slow cooking.

Hillary, this was a wonderful gift indeed! Tagines come in all price ranges, from $20 up to $200. Design is an important consideration; some of the fanciest tagines have lids without a good handle, so getting the lid off the hot tagine is very difficult. Fantes Kitchenware in Philadelphia (www.fantes.com) sells several different kinds, and you can compare materials and prices.

Oh my goodness! What a beautiful tagine! I think it's the prettiest I've ever seen--and the fact that you helped design it makes it extra special. Now I know what to ask for as a gift for Christmas--a tagine. And the recipe looks perfect for it.

Lydia, I think you should auction off that pot! It is so beautiful I have no doubt that there would be a bidding war! The recipe sounds FANTASTIC! Cheers! Kathy

It is official, not only do you have the Perfect Pantry, but the perfect cooking accessories to boot. I had a Le Creuset tagine (hardly traditional), but yours is in a different stratosphere. I love the spoon and probably the bowl if I could see it!!

Your tagine is beautiful and your recipe looks delicious. I've been letting my tagine sit on its shelf for too long and you've reminded me of how much I enjoy using it. Thanks.

That is simply gorgeous!

wow, what a great looking tagine. The tagine(dish) also sounds good...too bad Ramadan has gone, it would have been nice to eat that for iftaar.Oh well, I can make it during cold days to enjoy it's warmth :)

Sher, there are so many tagines on the market these days, as Moroccan cooking becomes more popular, but of course I love this one because it is handmade and one-of-a-kind.

Kathy, hah! This pot stays in my kitchen -- literally, I keep it out all the time because it so beautiful. But it's funny you mention auction, because Bob has donated one to the RI PBS annual auction this year. The recipe is delicious, and can be made in a Dutch oven, too.

Callipygia, I promise to do a future post about the bowl and spoon. I do think of kitchen equipment as part of my pantry, don't you? What I like about my tagine is that it is modern (design, glaze, and deeper base for easier cooking), and yet traditional (made of clay, similar proportions, etc.).

Ann, time to get that tagine off the shelf. The moistness of the food cooked in a tagine is amazing. Please try this recipe -- it's easy and delicious.

Amy, thank you. I wish I could take credit for its beauty, but really all the credit goes to the potter.

Nabeela, I'm making this dish tonight for my cousin's birthday dinner, so I know you will enjoy it for any occasion!

That tagine is beautiful ...i want one too :)))

That is one gorgeous tagine. Very impressive.

Kate, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. It is beautiful, and I'm so glad to have it in my kitchen.

Mary, thank you. The best part is that it's so good for cooking!

For those who've asked, here is a photo of the wooden bowl: http://ninecooks.typepad.com/ninecooks/images/bowl.jpg

The only thing more beautiful than that tagine would be enjoying your meal from it. It's fabulous, Lydia.

Lydia this is a so really beautiful tagine, I love it, is so nice, I will to have one in the future.Beauty post and recipe.xxxGloria

What a great idea, and beautiful piece of pottery. I love tagines, the recipients and food, and really never tire of them. Best comfort food.

Love your tagine...mine looks horrible in comparison. Your Chicken with prune and almond recipe I have got to try!

Di

Susan, I made this dish tonight, to celebrate my cousin's birthday. It is so much fun to cook this way.

Gloria, thank you so much. I do hope you try tagine cooking.

Bea, I think I've just scratched the surface of this cuisine. In fact, Rose (see comment above) sent me a more authentic recipe for this dish, made with lamb and saffron. I can't wait to try it.

Di, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I am certain you'll love this dish, made in any tagine, or even in a Dutch oven.

Oh how I wish to own a good tagine. I've been disappointed twice now when I've had dinner at restaurants that serve tagine dishes. I suspect that it was just for show and that the food was actually cooked in a pot on the stove. :-(

Nora, I agree that many restaurants don't cook in the tagines in which they serve the dishes. And in fact the small, highly decorated (often blue and white) tagines are not made for cooking. But I do think you can taste the difference when a real tagine is used.

Both sets of grandparents were stationed in Morocco during WWII and oth my parents were born and raised there. Our traditional Chritmas meal is couscous (the whole thing, mutton, chicken, hot sausages, veggies and the couscous itself). Needless to say, I brought my "couscoussier" and tagine dish when I moved here...except mine is nothing compared to yours. Your talent is incredible!

Tartelette, I am having so much fun learning about Moroccan cooking. It's a real case of which came first... the food inspired Bob and me to create the tagine pots, but the pots have inspired us to explore the cuisine, too. I love the idea of a traditional couscous meal for the holidays, as I'm always trying to do something different (one year it was tapas for Thanksgiving, another year lasagna!).

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About The Perfect Pantry®

  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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