For Moroccans, food is a big deal! A full belly is the key to a full and happy mind, and within the framework of this culture; a person takes immense pride in cooking delicious, fresh meals.
When in Morocco, you will find that the most accessible groceries in the local markets are the required ingredients to make a tagine. This can feel quite limiting to a Western visitor, who may be used to a wider range of options at their fingertips. Fear not, for there are many restaurants in Marrakech serving world foods from all corners of the globe. Moreover, an abundance of tagine recipes exist; and you can try them all!
“Tagine” refers to the vessel in which the meal is prepared, rather than the ingredients. The tagine is an earthenware (terracota) pot which has a conical lid to seal it when cooking. Traditionally the tagine pot would have been placed on an open fire but in the modern age they tend to be placed on a gas hob at a low heat, with a heat diffuser in between. These pots might be glazed, but often in a Moroccan household the presentation tagine pots are glazed, whilst the preferred pot for cooking is not. Over time, the non-glazed clay will absorb the spices and flavours of the meals prepared within it & this adds a beautiful depth to the flavour of the food prepared thereafter.
You might find recipes online which refer to a tagine as a “stew”, and although it is fair to draw comparisons; it is inaccurate to state that they are the same. A stew and a tagine are both slow cooked dishes, but where a stew might have a thick sauce made predominantly with water, a tagine is (in most cases) prepared solely with an oil base to the sauce.
In this post, you will find the recipe for a tagine with fish, the local Darija Arabic word for this is “mqualli”. You can use almost any type of white fish for this one, but we used shark meat! Shark is known locally as “l’kash” and is available in many of the small fish markets located within the walls of the old medina. When buying meat in Marrakech, you can always ask the fishmonger or the butcher to portion it into “tagine sized” pieces.
The ingredients (to serve 4):
- Approx 1kg of white fish (“hout” in Moroccan arabic) of your choice, in this case shark.
- 2 green bell peppers (fiflah heloa, meaning sweet pepper).
- 5 medium white potatoes (patatas – that’s an easy one).
- 3 large tomatoes. (matisha)
- 6 cherry tomatoes.
- 2 carrots (hizou).
- 1 fresh bunch of parsley (l’kzoh).
- Juice of 4 small lemons (hamt, meaning bitter).
- 3 cloves garlic (tuma).
- 2 hot birds-eye chilli peppers (harra, meaning burning hot)
- 2 tablespoons cumin (l’kamun).
- 2 tablespoons turmeric (l’ krqum).
- 2 tablespoons paprika (tt’Hmira).
- 3 to 5 tablespoons of vegetable oil (zeet).
- Begin by peeling and soaking the potatoes and carrots in a bowl or pan of cold water. Then cut the green bell peppers endways to create round, chunky slices. Add those to the cold water too. You can also soak the hot chilli peppers whole.
- Once the carrots have been soaking for a few minutes, cut out the middle section from the carrots. You can see how this is done in the photos within this article. In Moroccan food preparation, the centre of the carrot is always removed to allow the carrot to cook faster and become softer. Then proceed to cut the carrot lengthways into thin sticks.
- Wash and finely chop or dice the parsley.
- Peel and finely chop the garlic cloves.
- Rinse the tagine pot with cold water & leave a splash of water in the base.
- Wash the shark meat (or white fish of your choice) under the cold water tap & place the pieces in the centre of the tagine pot.
- Scatter all of the parsley over the top of the meat, followed by the garlic and a generous helping of vegetable oil.
- Squeeze the lemon juice from all 4 lemons over the ingredients in the tagine pot. Be liberal, the lemon juice really activates the flavours of the white fish.
- Sprinkle the spices onto the top of the ingredients and mix everything together by hand so that the spices, parsley and garlic are equally distributed.
- Remove the marinated meat from the tagine pot and place onto a separate plate or bowl for the moment. Leave some parsley and garlic in the oil at the bottom of the tagine pot.
- Cover the base of the tagine pot with the carrot sticks, these need to be closest to the heat source as they take longest to cook, then the green bell peppers to follow.
- Re-assemble the meat into the tagine pot, upon the carrots and green pepper. Then add slices of large red tomatoes over the meat, followed by thick slices of potato.
- Finally place the cherry tomatoes and hot chilli peppers on top of the other ingredients, and cover it with the tagine lid.
- Place on a low-medium flame for 2 1/2 hours. You can cook the tagine on as low of a heat as you like, but adjust the time accordingly. Once the tagine starts to cook, it is advisable to create a small gap for air between the base and the lid. A simple and effective way of doing this, is to place a large metal spoon in the opening.
- Enjoy the tagine with fresh baked bread and a cup of mint tea!
If you are interested in Moroccan cuisine, then you should consider participating in one of our fabulous cooking classes at Riad Star. We have an abundance of delicious recipes at the ready…
Contact us to find out more.