Tagine d’Agneau

11 06 2009

I’m afraid anything I put up after the runaway success of the Cheesy Poof post (2000 hits in one day!?) is going to feel anticlimactic.  Still, I think it’s high time I get back to the business of blogging about food, as the adventures continue to happen.  I don’t want anyone to feel out of the loop.  Continuing with the North African theme,  there is at least one dish from the former colonies that has ingrained itself into the French culinary lexicon: tagine.

Braised lamb with Maghreb spice

And why not?  At its simplest, tagine is a dish of braised meat, named for the traditional cooking vessel, which is a conical earthenware dish.  The good news is that you can make a tagine in a dutch oven just as easily.  The meat is seasoned with cinnamon, saffron, hot peppers, preserved lemons, olives, dried fruit, or just about any combination thereof.  Recipes for tagines abound, employing all kinds of meat from chicken and rabbit to beef and lamb and sometimes even fish! (Never pork, though.)  As far as I can tell, no two recipes are alike.  It is, however, pretty much always delicious.  The one pictured above was Nick’s creation, a combination of recipes from Robuchon, Clotilde, and a French newspaper.  (Just to illustrate how much a part of daily French cuisine this North African dish has become.)  He used lamb and dried apricots, as well as olives and preserved lemons – which I recommend adding nearer the beginning of the cooking process than the end – and I woke up from my requisite Saturday afternoon nap to an apartment filled with heavenly smells.  We served it over barley couscous procured from the local halal butcher (along with the majority of the other ingredients – yay one-stop shopping!) which is much more complicated to cook than we thought.  Fortunately Robuchon had us covered there, too, and we followed his instructions for steaming the grains three separate times.  That is, the couscous is steamed three times, not that it took us three attempts!

Later, after getting my copy of The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz, which I devoured in a matter of hours (I can’t find white wine vinegar either!  Why doFrench jeans have zippers all over?), I found that he, too, had included a recipe for tagine.  I could go on and on about what a fun book it is, but I’ll just say that if you want to know what it’s really like to live in Paris, read it.  And then go make a big, fragrant pot of tagine.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


Harissa is the New Chipotle

1 06 2009

For June, instead of focusing on a French region, I’ve decided to cover some of the regions outside France that have influence on or have been influenced by French cuisine.  First off, the cuisine of the Maghreb, which comprises Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.  The traditional dishes of these former French colonies in North Africa are not at all hard to find or make in Paris.  Couscous is a staple of the modern French diet, and the once-exotic flavors of preserved lemons and harissa (a paste of ground chilis and other spices) are now relatively commonplace.

Hand-delivered harissa, Handmade merguez

I happen to work with a guy from Tunisia, and when I expressed an interest in spicy foods, harissa in particular, he offered to bring me some handmade harissa direct from the source.  How could I refuse?  Opening it, I was struck by its deep reddish-brown color and spicy-smoky scent.  This was a far cry from the bright orange condiment I see so often in Paris.  And it tastes wonderful.  Spicy, yes, but also rich and smoky with a pleasant deep sweetness.  Sound anything like everyone’s favorite smoked jalapeños?

On a recent trip to our closest Halal butcher (It bears repeating that those Halal guys really know their way around a roast chicken!), I noticed that they had handmade merguez for sale.  Merguez, for the uninitiated, is a spicy lamb sausage originating from, where else, North Africa.  So our Sunday morning meal was a done deal.  Merguez, scrambled eggs, and harissa – Breakfast of Champions!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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