traditional cooking tagine: le souk ceramique


Cooking with a traditional clay North African tagine.  Learn how to select, prepare use and maintain this clay cooking utensil.

Article by: Barbara Bowman

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The Traditional Tagine

The traditional tagine is a two-piece clay vessel consisting of a base and a tall, conical lid.  In Arabic the word tagine describes the meal as well as the cooking vessel in which the dish is prepared.  Additionally the term refers to both cooking and serving tagines.

Foods cooked in the tagine are quite healthful because low temperatures destroy fewer nutrients and very little oil is required in the preparation.  The long, slow cooking process is similar to the modern electric slow cookers.  Aside from being nutritious, the clay from the tagine imparts an earthy flavor to the dish.

This style of cooking is common in North Africa cuisines of Tunisia, Morroco and Algeria and dates back centuries.  The tagines were placed over charcoal and left to cook slowly for hours.  Common recipes include lamb tagine,  tagine chicken and numerous vegetable tagine dishes.

Cooking Vs Serving Tagines

Tagines come in two basic varieties, the cooking tagine and the serving tagine.  It is important that you purchase the correct type of tagine for your needs.

The Cooking Tagine
Cooking tagines may look the same as a serving tagine so it is important to purchase your tagine from a reliable source.  If you are buying online make sure the description states that the tagine was designed for cooking.  Cookable clay tagines are made from a different clay body that is a refractory clay (clay with a melting point above 1600°C); designed to take the heat of cooking without shattering.  While many of the cooking tagines tend to be simple solid colors and overall less decorative that is not always the case. 

Some cooking tagines have "steam release" holes in the lid.  Hand made, rather than manufactured tagines may not have a steam hole because the lid does not fit tight to the base and steam can release during the cooking process. Manufactured tagines are more apt to have tight fitting lids and require the steam hole.

The handmade cooking tagines, as well as any earthenware ceramics will craze with use. Crazing gives the surface a "crackled" appearance but does not affect the functionality.

The Serving Tagine
Serving tagines tend to be more decorative and don't usually have a steam-release hole in the top.  Do not try to cook in a serving tagine because most likely it will break.

Lead And Cadmium Free Glaze
Some tagines may contain lead or cadmium.  Make sure you purchase your tagine from a reputable source that can provide independent lab testing showing the product is lead and cadmium free.  If someone gives you a tagine or you buy one on an auction site you should assume it is not lead free and use it accordingly.

example of serving tagines by le souk ceramique

Cast Iron / Ceramic Tagines
The traditional tagine is hand-made from eartheware clay but there are other options.  Le Creuset, produces a tagine with a cast iron base and a glazed ceramic top.  The cast iron base provides excellent heat distribution and can be used on gas or electric cook tops.  Emile Henry manufactures a line of heavy-duty glazed-clay tagines that can be used directly on gas or electric cook tops.  Unlike the hand-made version the Emile Henry tagine is less prone to crazing.

Tagine Sizes
Tagines are produced in a variety of sizes from very tiny "spice" or "individual portion" up to large family-size pots.  A cooking tagine should be a minium of about 8" to 10" and up to 12".

How To Season Your Tagine

Preparation will depend on the type of tagine.  Here are some general instructions but always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Traditional Clay Tagine

  • Soak the base and lid in cold water for 12 to 24 hours. 
  • Allow to air dry for a few hours. 
  • Rub the inside of the base and the inside of the lid with olive oil. 
  • Place the tagine in a cold oven and bring up to 300 F for 2 hours. 
  • Allow to air cool and then your tagine is seasoned and ready.

Cast Iron / Ceramic Tagine

  • Wash the pan in hot soapy water, rinse and dry thoroughly. Non-stick surfaces should be wiped with cooking oil to condition them.
  • Before use wash the ceramic top in hot soapy water, rinse and dry thoroughly.

Ceramic Glazed Tagine

  • Before use wash the base and lid in hot soapy water, rinse and dry thoroughly.
  • To season before first use, boil 1 qt of milk in base and simmer for 5 minutes; allow to cool, then dispose of milk.

Cooking With A Tagine

The Basics

Food is place in the base of the tagine, the lid placed on top of the base and the tagine is placed on a cooktop or in the oven.  As the food cooks the steam rises and is trapped in the lid so the food remains moist. 

  • Before the first use make sure to prepare (season) your tagine. 
  • Bring the tagine to room temperature before use.  Don't sit a cold tagine on a hot surface.
  • Traditional clay tagines should only be placed over low heat on an electric or gas stove.  Most tagines recommend using a heat diffuser with the tagine.  Excessive heat will crack the pot.
  • The tagine gets very hot.  Use proper mitts when moving the tagine. 
  • If you are serving in your tagine make sure to place a thick hot pad or trivet on the table under the tagine.  Failure to do this may damage your table.
  • Don't sit a hot tagine on a wet OR cold counter top as this may break the tagine.

Preparing The Food

  • Fats such as olive oil should be added to the pan and heated slowly. 
  • Cut meats and vegetables in even size pieces to insure uniform cooking.
  • Seasonings can be combined with meats prior to placing them in the pan.
  • Foods should be cooked slowly.  If you need to additional liquid to the pan during the cooking process make sure it is warmed or at least room temperature.  Don't add very cold water to a hot pan.
  • Most dishes should be simmered slowly. 

Oven Cooking

  • Most tagines can be placed in an oven but not above 350F. 
  • Exercise caution when removing the tagine from the oven.  Make sure to prepare a place to sit the hot base before you remove it from the oven.   Your counter top should be protected with a thick towel or trivet.

Open Flame

  • Most tagines should not be used over an open flame such as a charcoal BBQ.  Refer to the manufacture recommendations for your tagine.
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Tagine Recipes

How To Maintain Your Tagine

Proper maintenance will be determined by the material in which your tagine is made.  Here are some general tips but remember to always follow the manufactures instructions that came with your tagine.

Traditional Clay Tagine Maintenance

  • Hand washing is best.  Make sure the tagine has cooled to room temperature before placing it in water.  Clay subjected to abrupt temperature changes will break.
  • Use neutral smelling soaps as perfumes may be absorbed by the clay.
  • Do not place in a dishwasher.
  • If the tagine has not been used for a couple of months then you should repeat the basic seasoning steps.
  • Don't use any metallic cleaning pads on the tagine.

Ceramic Stoneware

  • Ceramic pieces such as the Emile Henry flame top product can be placed in the dishwasher.  It is suggested they soak for about 20 minutes before washing to remove any baked-on food.
  • Always allow the pot to cool before cleaning
  • Don't use any metallic cleaning pads on the tagine.
  • Re-seasoning is not typically necessary.

Cast Iron With Ceramic Lid

  • Allow the pot to cool before cleaning.
  • Wipe over the whole lid with a hot soapy cloth paying particular attention to the unglazed rim – this should be cleaned after each use to prevent any build up of grease
  • The lid and base can be placed in a dishwasher but must be completely dry before storage.
  • Nylon pads can be used on stubborn spots but never metallic pads.




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