Many restaurants are a melting pot of cuisines but one food that’s not seen often is the tagine.
This Northern Africa dish is wonderfully flavorful, easy to prepare and fairly healthy. The only downside is that you need a special pot with a pointed lid to make it, but if your customers enjoy tagines, it’s worth the investment.
RMGTspeaks to Pat Crocker, author of the recently published book, ‘150 Best Tagine Recipes.’
Why do you think tagines are a good addition to some restaurant menus?
People are seeking out flavorful dishes. I see it in Canada and when I travel in the U.S.—even at higher end restaurants. Tex-Mex flavors have integrated very well and the North American palate has expanded and is looking for a more defined approach.
Tagines are very specific in their flavors with the cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves.
For flavor and presentation together it’s a really beautiful method of cooking to consider. It’s a perfect for a Mediterranean menu and also an eclectic international menu—it keeps a restaurant current, keeps it forward thinking.
Why is a special pot needed for tagines?
The big thing about cooking a tagine is that it’s extremely moist and tender because of the pot’s pointed lid and the evaporation. It’s almost raining inside the pot.
The presentation at the table is spectacular. You can get individual pots, which would work great for a restaurant. You could order for one, two or four people and have those different sizes available. This also plays into the trend for individual dishes.
All the modern tagine pots are seasoned. The cast iron type is at the top of the line so they’re ready to go. Ceramic and stoneware are less expensive but are easy to use. Some are nonstick but I don’t typically recommend those.
Do you have any cooking tips?
- If you get a little condensation around the side of the tagine pot’s rim, lift the lid for a few seconds, and it will dissipate.
- Use modern tagine pots that are safe on top of the stove and use a low temperature for cooking.
- Follow the manufacturer's instructions for seasoning, cleaning and use.
- Tagine cooking is a moist heat method, so always consult a recipe for the amount of liquids to use in the pot.
What are the typical flavors in a tagine?
We use cinnamon, cardamom, clove, caraway, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, ginger, mastic, nutmeg, paprika, pepper, rose, saffron, sesame, sumac, and tamarind for sour.
If the flavors in a tagine are balanced you get salty, sweet (from fruit), a sour note (pomegranate, molasses, tamarind, or preserved lemons), turmeric. It’s all about getting the flavors balanced.
What other ingredients do they contain?
Tagines can be made to suit every taste. They can be spicy or mild and while traditionally vegetarian, tagines are made with fish, poultry, or sometimes lamb or beef (never pork in Africa).
Vegetarian dishes often contain lima, broad and fava beans, chickpeas, lentils. Pistachio nuts and almonds as well as sesame seeds add protein and flavor to tagine dishes.
The use of fish and seafood in tagine dishes has traditionally been reserved for festive occasions and usually by people of the Mediterranean coastal regions. However nowadays and in North America it is used more often. Firm fish such as cod, whitefish, sea bream, Pacific halibut or black sea bass, shrimp, scallops, mussels, or oysters work well with tagine cooking.
Tagines are served generally with couscous but rice is also used. Potatoes are often added. It’s all in one and it’s so easy. With fish tagines, the fish goes right on the top and kind of steams.
Why are tagines healthy?
The moist heat cooking technique requires less oil or fat without sacrificing flavor. And the traditional custom of using fresh local vegetables, some fresh or dried fruit, and very little meat is a very healthy way to eat.
By Amanda Baltazar