In my case, that odd-looking pot was an excellent vintage cast-iron skillet with a heavy lid, picked up by a couple of pals/curious culinary types at the Brooklyn Flea booth of The Brooklyn Kitchen.
A traditional tagine is a heavy clay casserole with a conical lid, the idea being that the steam generated during cooking rises into the cone and drips back down — call it braising times ten.
What’s being braised? This recipe — handed down to me by my cousin, a lady of substantial culinary heritage, though not Moroccan — incorporates lamb, chick peas, artichokes and mint in an aromatic stew. It takes a long time but doesn’t require babysitting, which creates an opportunity to make the extra mint into juleps.
A final word: if the butcher sticks you with more meat than you asked for, let him. You’ll thank yourself when you’re scraping the pot for bits to eat with the leftover yogurt sauce.
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. packed fresh mint, minced
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
2 – 3 pounds of lab shoulder cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes. (Four good-sized shoulder chops should be enough, even if you buy them with the bone in — presume one per person.)
1/3 c. golden raisins
1/3 c. cognac
2 14-oz. cans of quartered artichokes, drained
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 c. canned chick peas
Ground pepper to taste
1 1/2 c. chicken stock
1. Mix garlic, mint, lemon juice and zest, cumin, pepper flakes and salt in a bowl. Reserve some of the mint if you’d like to chop it for garnish later. Add cubed lamb and coat well with marinade. Cover and let stand 2 hours at room temperature.
2. Meanwhile, mix raisins and cognac in a small bowl and set aside to soak.
3. Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a skillet and brown lamb over high heat, in batches so as not to crowd the pan. Remove the lamb and saute the onion until translucent, adding more oil if needed. Add the artichokes, raisins, cognac, balsamic and chickpeas. Season with pepper.
4. If using a tagine, assemble the dish in the tagine at this point. Place the lamb on top of the vegetable mixture. Add stock. Otherwise do it all in the skillet and clap the lid on.
5. Cover and cook over low heat until lamb is tender. One-and-a-half to two hours.
6. Stir before serving. Serve over rice or couscous with chopped mint and yogurt sauce (recipe for yogurt sauce below).
This sauce is stuck between tzatziki and tartar — and was an improvisation. All that said, I’ll be making it again and I’m not changing a thing. BAM!
1/2 shallot, minced
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt (I like Fage)
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
Stir the ingredients until well blended. Serve.