Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Lamb and Date Tagine - Memories of Marrakech


Before CBeebies and Nappies ruled our world (sigh), we used to book a city break as our Birthday presents to each other every year (win/win!).  The only deciding factor for these breaks was "Does Easyjet fly there from NCL?", this was back when 'budget airlines' were actually 'budget'!  Unfortunately, with my Birthday being November and Mandy's in February, Easyjet only really offered one destination with the chance of sunshine, Marrakech.

We stayed at Riad Zolah and the policy there was that the first guests to book dinner for any particular night decided what the main dish on the menu would be.  I emailed to ask for Lamb Tagine so that became our first meal in Marrakech, and our best!  The staff were so kind and even sang a faltering version of 'Happy Birthday' as they delivered Mandy's complimentary Birthday Cake to the table!  If you ever go, i'd seriously recommend it. http://www.riadzolah.com/

It was the first time i'd eaten a tagine and the contrast between the meltingly soft lamb and the sweetness of the prunes was comfort food heaven. The depth of flavour in the sauce and the subtlety of the spicing was perfect.  When we returned from our break I spent a good few weeks trying to recreate the flavour of that dish but never quite captured it. Stupidly, we didn't eat at the Riad again but instead visited many restaurants recommended by 'Timeout'.  If the man/woman who wrote these recommendations has ever stepped foot onto the African continent i'd be surprised!

Tagines have slipped from my consciousness in recent years until I was given a Tagine as a Christmas present from my parents.  It's been in the boot of my car for the past 7 months until this afternoon when I decided that the Leg of Lamb in my fridge was going in the Tagine.

So I set about my usual recipe writing process (finding as many recipes from books/internet as I can and deciding which bits to keep/change/disregard etc.).  For me, writing a recipe is like playing a guitar solo; you've stolen each lick from somebody else at some point but all of those influences combined makes something new.  This is what it looks like for me:
To Pomegranate or not?!!  'Not' in the end!
With all of this swimming around in my head I set off on the drive home from work (Hartlepool to Hebburn). Just the right amount of time to decide on the finer details!  Here it is:

Lamb and Date Tagine

700g Leg of Lamb (Diced)
150g Medjool Dates (I was going to buy Prunes but these looked delicious!)
Handful of Dried Apricots
2 Onions (Sliced)
1 Clove Garlic (Diced)
2 Tbsp Ras el Hanout
Good splash of Red Wine
300ml Lamb Stock
1/2 Tsp Cumin
1/4 tsp Turmeric
Fresh Coriander to garnish
Salt

Sweat onions (in your Brand New Tagine - as long as it is designed for use on the hob!) until soft and golden - a pinch of salt always helps this process as it draws out the moisture.
Add Garlic and cook for a further minute or so.
Remove onions/garlic and then brown lamb (generously seasoned with salt).
Return onions to lamb and add spices, be careful not to burn the spices.  Fry for a minute.
Add red wine and reduce by half, then add stock, dates and apricots.
Place lid on Tagine and cook on the lowest possible flame for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until the lamb is tender. (Give it a stir every now and again to give all the pieces of lamb a shot directly above the flame, it's only fair!)
Garnish with fresh coriander and serve with couscous.


This is the best tagine I've ever made and I think the difference was the actual vessel itself (thanks Mam and Dad!).  I'd always been dubious about the claims that the conical shape returned much more condensation to the dish, but to see all of the collected juices bubbling away under the sides of the lid was amazing.  No flavour is lost when using a tagine and I wish i'd gotten it out of the boot earlier!  NB  That place in the boot has now been earmarked for the restaurant correspondent for 'Timeout' Marrakech, I will find you! ;-)

FoodandFrets
Twitter - @FoodandFrets

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