Fish Tagine with Chermoula and Moroccan Rice Pilaf

If you haven’t figured this out by now, I really dig my tagine. At first I thought it was just a funny-looking Dutch oven, but I’m discovering that its unusual design is the reason everything that comes out of this North African cooking pot tastes so good.

The tagine’s wide, shallow base lets you start a dish uncovered on the stove top to brown meat and veggies or reduce stock like a sauté pan. Once your stock/sauce is ready, you can just add your remaining ingredients, put the lid on, and keep cooking on the stove top or move everything off to the oven for longer cooks.

Either way, the conical top allows air to circulate above the food without the flavors escaping. The food both steams and roasts (aka braising) at the same time. Yes, you can get a similar effect in a Dutch oven, but because the tagine is wider and shallower, more of the food gets braised rather than boiled.

Finally, it’s hard to beat the presentation when you set the tagine in the middle of the table, pull the lid away, and let all of the wonderful aromas billow out in a cloud of steam. That said, watch your fingers around that steam! I always open it by grabbing the top with an oven mitt.

The Chermoula
A fancy name, but this is just a flavorful Morrocan herb and lemon based marinade that’s traditionally used on fish, but would work well for veggies and chicken too.

1 1/2 pounds cod (or other firm, white fish) fillets
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Put the garlic cloves and salt in a food processor and pulse until the garlic is minced. Add the cilantro, paprika, cumin, ginger, cayenne pepper, oil, and lemon juice and give everything a whirl until it is well-combined.

Put the fish in a zip-top bag and cover with the marinade. Toss to coat and stash in the fridge while you’re putting the pilaf together.

 Moroccan Rice Pilaf
1 cup long grain rice
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 dried cranberries, chopped
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads

Heat the butter and oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and peppers and cook for 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook until the onions are translucent and the rice begins to color.

Add the cinnamon, salt, ginger, cumin, turmeric, cilantro, apricots, and cranberries and stir to combine. Add the stock and saffron to the rice. Bring the stock to a simmer, and taste for salt. Adjust the seasoning. Cover the rice, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently and undisturbed, for about 25 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.

While the rice is cooking, put the tagine together.

The Fish Tagine
The marinated fish and all of the chermoula
1 large onion, chopped
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup black and green olives, pitted
2 tablespoons olive oil

Pour the olive oil into the tagine base and heat on the stove top over a medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they start to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, ginger, salt, pepper, turmeric, and lemon juice and bring to a low boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the fish, all of the chermoula, and the olives.

Cover the tagine, and cook over low heat for about 15-20 minutes, or until the fish flakes with a fork.

To serve – put down a bed of the pilaf, top with a fish fillet, and cover everything with a scoop of sauce.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
There are so many flavors going on in this dish that I have no idea where to start. I love the way the fresh green tang of the chermoula pulls the sweet and savory ingredients together.

The dish did end up a little thin. I’d use half the amount of tomatoes next time.

The Nutrition:
6 servings (4 ounces of fish, 1/2 cup of pilaf, a few olives, and a cup of sauce), 443 calories, 11 Weight Watchers points. This is a filling dish, but I’d use less fat and more fish next time.

One Fire – Many Meals

No recipes this time, just some thoughts on making the most of what’s left of our fleeting daylight and fall grilling weather.

I got inspired to rethink how I plan meals on the Big Green Egg after reading the Kingsford U: Grill Once Eat Twice post over at Nibble Me This. Chris makes the point that it takes the same amount of time and fuel to to cook two chickens as it does to cook one chicken, and you end up with more tasty grilled chicken for future meals.

Even though I’m usually just cooking for the two of us, I put this idea into practice by typically doubling or tripling most recipes on the grill. The extras end up in my lunch, or as dinner later in the week, or they get frozen off  for those nights when nobody wants to cook.

Now I’ve started working on a variation of this that I call one fire – many meals. The idea is that once you’ve gone to the effort to get the grill set up, you might as well try and pass as much food over that flame as you can.

For instance – the other night I made steak for dinner. While I was getting the BGE fired up, my dear wife said that there were also a couple of packages of chicken tenders in the fridge that she would like cooked up for salads and snacks. She had planned on baking them, but they would be ever so much better grilled, wouldn’t they?

Fire = good so, of course, they would taste better. My only question was how to go about cooking the steaks hot and fast and then modifying the heat so that the tenders would get a little char on them, but not get overcooked and dried out.

I pondered this while I prepped the steak with some fresh-ground sea salt and black pepper. I had the tenders laid out in a 9×13 pan and was hitting them with a little Dizzy Pig Swamp Venom when an idea clicked – I could leave the heat alone after the steak was done and resting and then cook the tenders quickly over the roaring flame and move then off to a baste á la  Adam Perry Lang, cut the heat, and let them finish there.

Not bad, but wouldn’t the heat move too fast through a metal pan and just scorch the tenders?  Probably. Hmmm, how about a Dutch oven? Yeah that’d work. Or, even better, use the tagine. Genius!

I poured a couple of glugs of olive oil into the base of the tagine and then added about 4 cloves of crushed garlic and about a teaspoon each lemon zest, thyme, and sage.

With the BGE running at about 650°F, I put the steak on for 2 minutes a side and then moved it off to a warm plate, covered it with another plate, and let it rest while I cooked the chicken.

The tenders went on in batches. With the heat this high, by the time I finished putting the last row of tenders on the grate the first row was ready to be flipped. Once they had some nice grill marks on each side (but where still pretty raw on the inside) I moved them off the heat to the tagine, making sure to toss them a bit in the oil.

When all the tenders were in the tagine, I swirled another glug of olive oil over the top, put the lid on, and moved the tagine to the grill.  I closed the lid on the BGE, shut the bottom vent down to reduce the heat, and went inside for a lovely steak dinner.

When I checked on them 30 minutes later, the tenders were done and basting in their own juices. I moved everything inside, removed the lid, and let them cool before packaging.

Cooking this way does take a bit more time and fuel, but not much more effort. You’re essentially letting your downtime and residual heat work for you. For this cook I spent maybe an extra ten minutes packaging off the tenders, but we ended up with a steak dinner, a dinner of tenders and veggies the next night, chicken salad lunches for a couple of days, and about a dozen tenders frozen off for chicken stew the next week.

Not bad for a little extra work.

Lemon Chicken Tagine

I saw this wonderful Lemon Garlic Chicken with Goat Cheese recipe over at She Cooks He Cleans and I knew I had to give it a try. I’m not generally a fan of “fusion” cooking – no sushi tacos here – but this blending of a classic chicken dish with some Moroccan cooking techniques really piqued my interest.

After a recent trip to our local Greek market, I had some excellent domestic feta and green olives stuffed with garlic in the fridge. I wanted to incorporate them into this dish and push it a just little further east along the Mediterranean.

You could certainly make this dish in a Dutch oven, but I’ve got this rockin’ red Emile Henry tagine, so of course I used that.

Here’s my adaptation:

12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
3 tablespoon fresh herbs, chopped fine (I used thyme, oregano, and rosemary. Some mint or cilantro would work well too.)
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
6 ounces feta, crumbled, plus more for serving
1 lemon, cut into 8 slices lengthwise
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 (14.5-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
1/2 pound green olives stuffed with garlic (or 1/2 pound green olives and 6 cloves of garlic)
1/4 cup dried apricots
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Over medium heat on stove top, heat olive oil in the tagine (or a Dutch oven). Add the onion and cook until it has softened and started to brown a bit (about 5 minutes).

Add the cumin, turmeric, paprika, and salt. Stir and cook until fragrant (about 2 minutes). Add lemon juice and stir to deglaze the pan. Arrange the lemon wedges in the pan. Cover with the garbanzo beans, chicken thighs, herbs, olives, fruit, and tomatoes. Top with feta.

Put the cover on the tagine and move to the oven. Cook for 60 minutes. Remove the lid and check for doneness. The tagine braises the food, so the pan juices should be bubbling and the meat should be very tender. This batch wasn’t quite done at an hour, so I rearranged the thighs so they were covered in the juices, put the lid back on, and let it cook for another 30 minutes.

When done, carefully remove the tagine from the oven.

Tagine safety note: Take the lid off the tangine before removing it, as steam can spit out from under the lid (palm blister). Put the lid on a heat-proof surface and cover with a pot holder to remind you that it is still very hot (finger blister).

Serve straight from the pan with more feta to crumble over top.

The Verdict: ★★★½☆
Amazing mix of flavors – rich chicken bathed in creamy golden juices set off by the salty olives and tangy lemon. I continue to be amazed at how the tagine concentrates flavors.

So what’s with the 3.5 stars? I over-crowded the tagine with too many chicken thighs, so the dish steamed more than braised and I didn’t get the browning I wanted. Eight thighs next time. Also, I really don’t think the fruit brought anything to the party. It distracted from the nice mix of traditional herbs and Moroccan spices. I might add a little more heat to the dish with some black pepper and/or Aleppo pepper.

Many thanks to She Cooks He Cleans for their great recipe.

Chicken Tagine

As the proud owner of a Big Green Egg, I am sold on the joys of ceramic cookware and the consistently even and moist heat that they produce. So I was very happy when Emile Henry sent me a flame-proof tagine to try out.

A tagine is a North-African meal named for the cone-topped ceramic pot in which it is cooked. Typically it’s a heavily-spiced stew that’s slowly braised in the sealed pot so that all of the flavors meld together while the meat becomes amazingly tender.

This recipe of a rough adaptation of Adam Perry Lang’s Moroccan Lamb Stew from his Serious Barbecue book. I really like the idea of grilling the meat first to get it charred and crispy, adding it to the veggies, and then letting the tagine do it’s magic.

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine all of the spices in a small bowl and mix them together. Put the chicken in a zip-top bag, dust it with the spice mix, and toss them to make sure that all of the thighs are covered. Squeeze the air out of the bag, sealed it, and put it in the fridge to marinate for at least 4 hours, overnight is better.

1 large onion, sliced
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (14.5-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried parsley
4 ounces butter

Over medium-low heat, melt the butter in the bottom half of the tagine. Removed from the heat and add the remaining veggies and spices.

Set your grill up for a direct cook over high (500°F) heat.

Grill the thighs for about 3-5 minutes a side. They don’t have to be cooked through – what you are looking for are some good grill marks and some crispy bits. When the thighs are nice and brown, move them off to the bottom of the tagine with the veggies. Push the thighs into the mixture so that they are at least partially covered with liquid.

Set your grill up for an indirect cook at medium (350°F) heat. On the Big Green Egg this means removing the grate and dropping in the inverted plate setter. On a kettle-style grill you could just move the briquettes to the sides. On a gas grill you’d want to turn off the middle burner and reduce the heat on the side ones.

Set the bottom half of the tagine on the grill.

Cover the tagine, close the lid on the grill, and let the goodies braise for an hour.

Bring the whole works to the table, crack the lid open, and voilà – fragrant,  spicy, warm, and tender.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
I had not cooked with a tagine before, and frankly couldn’t imagine how if would be any different than using a Dutch oven – boy, was I wrong. The tagine really seemed to concentrate flavors. While the veggies cooked down quite a bit, they also caramelized more than I expected and didn’t turn all mushy.

The flavors were wonderful. No one flavor dominated, so it wasn’t overwhelming, but still very complex. I was afraid with all the sweet spices and honey that the dish would end up cloying, but it turned out to be very savory, warm, and aromatic.

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