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There Moroccan cuisine is known all over the world - and particularly appreciated here in Italy too - for its delicious stews, prepared with the legendary tagine.
But what is the tagine pot? How does it work? Is it important to use a traditional pot to make a tagine?
Let us briefly answer these (and other) rather common questions.
What is the tagine pot
A tagine, or tajine pot, is a conical terracotta pot and, at the same time, the dish prepared in this cooking vessel takes the same name.
So the tagine is at the same time a dish - a dish based on stewed meat or fish - and also a cooking pot. Historically, the nomads of North Africa used the pot as a sort of "portable oven“, Which allowed them to prepare food at any time, even while on the move. Today, the use of this pot has remained in the tradition of Moroccan cuisine, and is a moment of interesting cultural exploration.
Aesthetically, the base of the tagine is wide and shallow; its lid has a conical shape and creates a sort of "seal" on the base. Together, the two pieces form a clay oven that was traditionally placed on an open fire for cooking.
As the food is cooked, in fact, the steam is able to rise into the cone, condense and then descend back into the plate. This cooking method is similar to that of casseroles, Dutch ovens, French ovens and cocotte, and allows you to baste the dish naturally and continuously, keeping the ingredients moist and the meat more tender.
Tajine pots were originally made with terracotta, while today you can find more often those made with other types of materials, glazed and elegantly decorated.
So our initial suggestion is if you want buy a tagine pot, you must first decide whether to use it for serving food or for cooking. Those designed for serving food are often more pleasantly decorated but… cannot be exposed to the heat of the flame!
Read also: How to cook perch
Tajine pot or casserole?
The unglazed tagine pots have an incredible ability to simmer food, allowing you to tastefully release all the natural and genuine flavors of the ingredients placed in the container, and finally get one aromatic and tender stew.
This is, after all, the main difference between one terracotta tajine pot enameled and an alternative among those we have chosen to summarize above.
The dishes cooked in tagines manage to preserve a particular flavor and, for this reason, tagine pots are the main reference tool for… cooking the tagine! However, this does not mean that the dish cannot be prepared in a Dutch oven or in a regular pot, although it will hardly taste the same.
How to use the tagine pot
Traditionally, tajine pots were placed over a fire or a bed of charcoal over a very low heat. Today it would be difficult to reproduce the same conditions every day and, therefore, to use the tagine pot at home, on a gas or electric hob, it will be sufficient to use a heat diffuser and start at a very low temperature, and then slowly raise heat if needed.
This precaution will allow your terracotta pot not to break if exposed to a thermal shock. Therefore, when the tagine is cooked and ready to be served, it will not be necessary to place the pot on a cold surface (such as a marble or granite worktop) because the thermal shock that we have tried to avoid during the heating phase, could be created in the cooling one! Instead, it is better to place the pot on a wooden plank to prevent it from cracking.
In summary, you can use your terracotta tajine container at home to prepare delicious dishes that are able to recall (at least, remotely!) Moroccan cuisine, provided that:
- the cooking pot is designed for cooking and NOT for serving food only;
- the pot was subjected to a first use of "test" before cooking the actual dishes;
- a heat diffuser is used during the cooking process on an electric or gas hob;
- you start cooking the tagine over a very low heat and avoid the thermal shocks mentioned above.
At this point, it also remains to clarify and understand if whether or not to use the tagine pot in order to prepare this dish.
In fact, if the intention is to occasionally prepare some traditional Moroccan dishes, the purchase of this container will probably be superfluous.
Even if the preparation of the tagine with other pots will not reproduce the same taste and the same texture of the food that would have been possible to obtain using the traditional Moroccan pot, it will still be possible to obtain a pleasant result.
Finally, as regards thepurchase of the tagine pot, we limit ourselves to remembering that on the web you can find numerous online stores specialized in this supply, and that also on the main marketplaces you can find appreciable alternatives.
However, make sure that the pots are expressly suitable for cooking. Many specimens are in fact only suitable for serving food, in order to give the presentation of the dish a more exotic aspect, but they turn out to be useless (and harmful, for your health) if you want to proceed with cooking over a fire or charcoal.