Friday, August 8, 2014

Potatoes "roasted" in a Clay Tagine

Have you ever cooked in a tagine?

It's a unique cooking vessel that was originally designed for cooking over hot coals, leaving a little space above the coals so the tagine heats slowly and evenly. But you can also use the tagine on a normal gas or electric stove, or in your oven.

You can also use the tagine as a serving piece rather than a cooking piece - the shape is interesting, and they come in a lot of colors and designs to fit your decor.

I recently received a lovely clay tagine from StyleVisa, and I've got one to give away as well. Clay tagines need some special care compared to the ones made from metal, but clay tagines are much more traditional. Like cast iron, a clay tagine needs to be seasoned, and I've got instructions for you right here. It's pretty simple.

The shape of the tagine is designed to collect steam and send it back to the base, so you can cook with very little liquid. This creates a unique cooking environment that concentrates flavors.

Cooking in a tagine is similar to slow-cooking or braising, but it's not exactly the same.

But ... if you've braised or used a slow cooker before, you'd have an easy time converting your recipes to a tagine. Just use a LOT less liquid.

And, with a tagine, you need to cook on extremely low heat. The first time I used a tagine, I was surprised how vigorously it boiled on low heat. To get a simmer I had to go really, really, really low. Really low. Seriously low.

If you don't have a heat diffuser for your stove, you can improvise. I used my cast iron pizza pan with this tagine, which has the added benefit of acting as a spill catcher, just in case an overfilled tagine wants to bubble over.

When people think of tagine as a recipe, the first thing they'd probably blurt out is lamb. And I've cooked plenty of lamb in a tagine. This time, I decided to cook potatoes. I had some pretty red, white and blue potatoes that I got from Frieda's Specialty Produce and I grabbed some chives and rosemary from my herb garden.

And this is what happened:

Red, White and Blue Herbed Potato Tagine

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 pound potatoes (mixed colors are great), quartered
1/2 cup water or stock
2 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped (I used rosemary and chives)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Put the base of the tagine on your stove on top of a heat diffuser (I used my cast iron pizza pan). Add the olive oil then sprinkle the onions over the bottom of the tagine. Put the garlic clove in center, then arrange the potatoes on top of the onions. Add the water or stock, then sprinkle the herbs over the top and add the salt and pepper.

Put the lid on the tagine and turn the heat to low. Depending on how small your potatoes are, it should take 45 minutes to an hour to cook them through. Lifting the lid will lose the steam and drop the temperature, so you don't want to do that very often - but it's a good idea peek once at the beginning of the cooking time to make sure your liquid is simmering rather than boiling, and then check again to make sure the liquid hasn't boiled out completely about half-way through the cooking time.

On the other hand, you don't want the potatoes swimming - when they're done, you want to see a little browning and crisping on the bottom. If you do need to add liquid, make sure it's hot - near boiling - to match the temperature of the pot. If you like, give the potatoes a little stir in the pot. I can't help but fiddle.

When the potatoes are done, if there's any liquid left, just remove the lid and continue cooking until the liquid is gone.

When you move the tagine off the stove, place it on a folded kitchen towel or a wood surface - not something cold, like a granite counter, or you risk having it break from thermal shock.

You can serve the potatoes in the tagine, or transfer them to another plate for serving.

If you like, drizzle with a little more olive oil, sprinkle with some extra salt, or fling a few fresh herbs at them.

Disclaimer: I received a tagine for my own use, as well as one to give away, from StyleVisa.