Anyone who visits north Africa’s biggest tourist magnet (Morocco) will usually come away with a healthy appreciation of eating without utensils while vowing to never ever again eat couscous or tagine. These two staples dominate just about every English menu in the country and while you’ll be heartily sick of them both by time you leave (while nursing an extremely bloated belly thanks to swapping a fork for bread) tagine (in particular) is a remarkably flavoursome and versatile dish. If you find yourself in a rustic backwater you’ll be treated to a front row show featuring tagine masters in their element. Using the curved clay pots (which have a semi shallow base and a long hat-like lid) they layer meat and vegetables carefully while placing the pots over intense heat, pouring water in the top every 15 minutes until the dish is cooked through. Chicken or beef seem to be the main meat staples of a traditional tagine while a mix of cumin, paprika, salt and coriander (stirred into copious amounts of olive oil) make up the flavour.
The key to tagine success (according to a guide from Skoura) is to get the layering right. Plaster the base with onion and oil, follow it with meat and then in a pyramid fashion place the vegetables around it in order of cooking time.
This recipe comes from our friend Mohammed who’s tagine was simply mouthwatering.
Chicken tagine (serves 5-6, cooking time: 1.5 hours)
500 grams of chicken breast
4-5 medium sized potatoes
3 medium tomatoes
1 large tagine pot
Roughly slice the onion and place it on the bottom of the pot then drench it in about a quarter of a cup of olive oil. Peel and slice the vegetables (slice the carrots and zucchini long ways with each piece about half a centimetre thick) and slice both the potato and tomato in thick circular chunks. Leave the chicken in big chunky pieces and place on top of the onion.
Place the carrot on top of the chicken (lengthways creating a pyramid effect), followed by the carrot, zucchini and then tomato. Mix a tablespoon of cumin and paprika in two thirds of a cup of olive oil and then drizzle the mixture over the pyramid of chicken and vegetables. Roughly chop parsley and place on top of the tomato. Place the lid on the tagine and put on a low-medium heat. Pour a half a cup of water into the top of the tagine and repeat this four times with a quarter of a cup every 15 minutes. On average tagine takes about 90 minutes for everything to be cooked through. You’re aiming for a soft consistency and very tender meat at the bottom abed caramelised onions. Check the tagine regularly as more water or less may need to be added.
Serve with bread (this is traditionally used instead of forks to scoop out the tagine).
If there’s one thing Spain is famous for (in the food department) it’s that flavoursome and colourful rice dish – paella. Even the smallest pueblos sprout at least a couple of cafes serving up this dish and depending on where you are in the country depends on its main ingredients. There are seafood paellas, rabbit and chicken versions and even a “negros” style using squid ink in the rice.
Our first taste of Spanish paella was at a roadside cafe (it was served in a large round flat pan with two handles – called a paellera) in northern Catalan but it was in Barcelona that we learned the ins and outs of nailing this dish. While staying at Fabrizzio’s petit hostel John, who hosts paella cooking classes) revealed the secret family recipe (developed by his brother in law Santiago) and the end result was paella perfection. The trick, he said, was to get the rice just right, but its a skill that can take weeks and weeks of practice.
So here it is: Santiago’s Paella Recipe
This Paella recipe is flexible so if you don’t have the exact ingredients, substitute them for something similar. Getting fresh shellfish can be a problem, but you can use frozen fish as well).
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cooking Time: 30mins
• 400g paella rice (short-grain)
• 4 big prawns and 8 mussels (for decoration)
• 200g of assorted seafood: shrimp, mussels and or squid
• 2 Chicken breasts or thighs (chopped into mouth sized chunks)
• 800ml fish stock
• 1 onion (diced)
• 200g green beans
• ½ red bell pepper
• 1 small can of tomato purée
• 2 garlic cloves
• Saffron (2 large pinches)
• Salt and black pepper to taste
• A dash of olive oil
Start by putting some olive oil on a shallow frying pan (if you have a paellera, even better) and stir fry the chicken breasts until golden.
Add the onion, whole garlic cloves, green beans and the assorted seafood. Gently stir it and let it simmer for 2 minutes.
Follow with the tomato purée and the saffron, and now add the rice.
Keep stirring for a couple more minutes and add the fish stock. When it starts to boil, let it cook for another 20 minutes on a low heat until the rice is cooked.
Now put the prawns, mussels and the red peppers on top for decoration. Let it rest for another 5 minutes out of the fire and cover it up with a tea cloth (Not foil, so it allows it to breathe).
Add a dash of white wine to enhance the flavour.
Serve with lemon wedges, juice them right before you start eating it, and enjoy your own very special homemade paella!