Chris and I went on an adventure to WhoFo yesterday, in hopes of finding something fun and entertaining to make for our Sunday supper. Chris wisely pointed out that I had purchased two individual-sized tagines at TJ Maxx (for $3.99 each, and they’re Staub) and we had not yet used them. A tagine is a little earthen dish with a lid that looks like a teepee/chimney that rests on top. It’s a favorite in North African cooking, most notably in Morocco. The way it works is pretty ingenious; a system of braising that allows for maximum return of condensation from the top of the teepee down to the center of the lower plate, resulting in mouth-meltingly tender entrees whose flavors have more marriages than Elizabeth Taylor.
We did some research on Moroccan cuisine and decided to try a chicken with Turkish apricots and almonds tagine, and a side dish of Moroccan carrot salad, both as a backup in case the tagine experiment went awry, and as a filler, so I could chow down without eating so many calories that I outdid my weekend run. I already had couscous, so that was easy. I don’t feel like I eat enough couscous. It’s so damned simple to make, and so delicious when done correctly, that it really should hit the plate more often. If you haven’t tried it, or have only tried it once or twice a long time ago, give it another shot. Bring 1 C water (salted) to a boil, stir in 1 C couscous, remove from heat, cover for 5 minutes, fluff with a fork, and add some seasonings (a squeeze of lemon and some parsley work very well).
At Whole Foods, Chris committed an act so heinous that it rocked the foundations of our marriage. We walked into the produce department, and there was a Nice Lady handing out samples of vanilla ice cream with fresh blueberry sauce. I really, really wanted to eat a sample of vanilla ice cream with fresh blueberry sauce. It was a fortuitous coincidence. But Chris? Nooooooooooo. He didn’t want any right that second, and said “we’ll get some on the way out.” I was very sad, but followed him into produce, looking wistfully at the ice cream and blueberry sauce. Sigh. Marriage is about compromise, and I only had a few things to pick up. Would you care to venture a guess as to what happened when finished our shopping and headed back to produce? THE NICE LADY WASN’T THERE ANYMORE!!! I cannot express to you the level of disappointment I felt about this. Chris looked a bit panicked, gauging my reaction. Then he apologized a lot, offered to make it at home for me (not the same!) and learned a valuable lesson: Never say no to ice cream, because someday it won’t be there, and then won’t you be sad? I was inconsolable, until I found some adorable Lululemon running shorts on sale. Nothing cheers me up like Lululemon.
Back to my Moroccan feast, though. This is the recipe I used. Epicurious is a great site for finding some of the more intricate and worldly dishes. Food Network has good stuff, but it’s a little more geared toward blue box mac n’ cheesers than gnocci with smoked gouda and fried pancetta. See what I’m sayin’? Chris made http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Moroccan-Raw-Carrot-Salad-231922 carrot salad (schlata chizo, if you want to be authentic) all by his lonesome, with a homemade harissa of serrano chiles, olive oil, garlic and coriander. We drank some red wine and just chopped, diced, and braised the night away.
Were we rewarded for our efforts? OMG yes. Herbal Essences shampoo orgasm-lady yes. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. That tagine was one of the most tender, flavorful, intense, comforting, spectacular chicken dishes I’ve ever had. It may be just Chris and me, but the notes of cinnamon, honey, and apricot dancing on my tongue with the deep, savory notes of buttery chicken, musky turmeric, bringing in the sweet and savory intermediaries of caramelized onion and garlic…wow. Just wow. I don’t know how this is possible, mind you, but the chicken skin was resplendent with spices, and somehow actually crispy, despite the moist, tenderness of the rest of the dish. It was otherworldly. I just got so excited describing and remembering it that I almost have to go change pants.
The carrot salad was a perfect foil to the tagine. While the tagine was sweet and sleek, the carrot salad was crisp and assertive. The freshness and light acidity cut right through the unctuous juices of the tagine, and injected a fair dinkum of spice as well. The WhoFo carrots were almost a different species from the HEB carrots. HEB carrots are kind of limp and grayish and woody in texture. The WhoFo carrots were as crisp and juicy as Honeycrisp apples, with a violent orange color that brightened up the murky looking chicken. To tell the truth, they brightened up my life a little, too. One spicy shred at a time.
I don’t often tell you to go make whatever I’ve made. I figure you can tell for yourself what you want to eat. But I implore you to give this a shot. If you don’t have a tagine, use a dutch oven, or any heavy, wide pot with a lid. We aggressively seared our chicken in a different skillet, deglazed with stock, and transferred them to our tagines–then the same with the onions and garlic–before putting the whole device in a 400 degree oven for about 90 minutes. It was a necessity since our tagines are oven-safe but not stovetop-safe. Make sure they’ve got enough liquid, or the onions and chicken might burn. And don’t peek, the chicken will need all the moisture from the braise to get really tender.
I was humbled by this recipe, and so glad I tried it. I’ll try it on my family next, if they decide to come visit their pathetically Texas-bound daughter for Thanksgiving. It’s the chef’n holiday. GuiltGuiltGuiltGuiltGuilt. You hear me momma? I know you read this.