Updated February 2011.
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
This absolutely amazing tagine is typically served at Ramadan, but can be served at any time of year. Serves 6.
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
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.
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
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