This year my boss and his wife made gift bags of food for his staff. Everyone got cookies and (I think) candy, although I'm not 100% sure of that since I didn't get cookies or (possibly also) candy. Instead, my boss and his wife correctly deduced that I would not want a bag of cookies in my apartment, and made me a little gift bag with ingredients and a recipe for lemon and olive tagine chicken with couscous instead. (Except for the chicken, because who's going to give you a bag of raw chicken for Christmas?) I was very excited, because this was both very thoughtful and was an opportunity to try some new stuff in the kitchen.
The only problem was that I didn't have a tagine.
I mentioned this to a few friends, and almost all of them asked the same question: "What's a tagine?"
A tagine, like my Famous Covers Aunt May action figure, is a thing that exists.
Yes, you do, in all your horrifying glory.
Aunt May actually has nothing to do with this blog entry, but I had her out for another entry that I ended up not writing yesterday, so I figured, "What the hell. Let's go with it."
Anyway, a tagine is a Moroccan clay cooking pot, with a lid, in a very specific shape. Since you're already here, Aunt May, why don't you show it off?
Jesus, that's enough of that. People are going to have nightmares.
They had tagines at Williams-Sonoma, where Richard and Laura got theirs, but they were $60 dollars. The one at the World Market was $20, so I went with that one and decided to give this whole thing a try.
First, I had to take the "tagine spices":
and toast them in a skillet pan for three minutes:
I have no idea what's in tagine spices, but they smelled really good when they were toasting. Once they were toasted, I mixed them in a bowl with salt, freshly ground pepper, minced garlic, and olive oil to create a paste:
that I then coated the raw chicken in:
The bowl of chicken, with some bay leaves added, went into the refrigerator for three hours to marinate, and when the three hours was almost up I got to work on the rest of the preparation. First, I had to slice up some fresh cilantro:
and Italian flat leaf parsley. Then I scooped out a cup of olives from the jar that was in the gift bag, and got out the jar of preserved lemons:
I've never worked with preserved lemon before, but it seemed easy enough. According to the recipe, I needed to rinse, then clear out the pulp:
and slice the peels into strips:
Then I sliced up two onions, put them in a different bowl, and it was time to start cooking!
According to the recipe, I needed to heat some oil in the tagine and brown the chicken in it to start. I was a little worried about this, because the tagine is a ceramic, and you can't put most ceramics on stove burners without them cracking or exploding. I texted Laura, and she said she usually puts her tagine in an iron pan, and the pan acts as a heat buffer to spread the heat and keep it evenly distributed. I didn't have an iron pan, but I looked around for one that seemed thick enough and decided to give this a try:
I set the stove for medium-high heat, and when the oil was ready I added some of the chicken:
It started to sizzle, and we were in business! I was cooking in a tagine! Everything was going so well!
And then the kitchen rang with the sharp sound of the tagine cracking.
Approximately one second later it rang with the sharp sound of my swearing.
I removed it from the heat immediately and scooped out the chicken to double check. Maybe it was just some oil popping or something?
Nope. Cracked tagine.
Now I had the problem of a bowl of raw marinated chicken, a bowl of onions, and a bowl of fresh herbs, olives, and sliced preserved lemon peel to contend with. Thinking quickly, I threw away the onions because onions are disgusting and I had no use for them in my repurposed dinner. I would have omitted them to begin with but figured they were adding liquid to the tagine chicken by cooking down in the pot, and I didn't want it to dry out. Then I pulled out a skillet, tossed in the chicken and the quarter cup of lemon juice that was supposed to go in the tagine, and started browning the chicken. When it was mostly done I dumped in the other bowl and let it simmer for a few minutes:
while I made the couscous. So, I didn't get to make delicious tagine chicken, but I did make delicious Moroccan spiced chicken instead, and ate it with couscous with golden raisins:
Too bad about the tagine exploding.
Actually, Aunt May, I think that one was all me.