I have moved my cooking school, Ecole de Cuisine Los Angeles, to 9626 Venice Blvd, Culver City 90232. The location will also house a small food emporium, cafe, bookstore and restaurant. My flameware cookware will also be for sale in the retail section of my building.
Q: Chef Zadi, I have been looking for a place to purchase a tadjine for stove-top cooking my matloua3. The one I had in Algeria was cast aluminum and was great for swirling the bread around to cook the sides and give it a nice round shape. Any ideas of where to find a pan like this in America? Maybe you could add this to your Amazon store? Please please?
A: You can use just about any saute pan, cast iron pan, round griddle, etc. to make matlou with your technique. I think it's a matter of personal preference for the weight and feel of the pan. So, it's bit hard to recommend one that's right for you. At home, I use an everyday saute pan and it works just fine for me.
Q: Could you please give me the link to where I can purchase this griddle? It looks perfect for "matlou" and "m'semmen" :)
Q: Are there large gassaa pans like this one available in the American market? The only one I have is a large wooden one I brought back from Algeria.
A: Yes, they are. They are actually extra-large round cake pans used for making very large cakes like wedding cakes. They are sold in specialty pastry shops. I have also seen them at large Armenian markets in Los Angeles. Amazon also has extra large cake pans.
It has been said that the measure of the Maghreb (the west) is couscous. There is an invisible culinary line somewhere in Libya separating couscous eating North Africans from the rice eating Arab Mashriq (the east).
The culinary difference here is not merely of basic starch. The cooking technique for couscous (steaming) informs the entire cuisine. North African cuisine is sauce driven and there is an overall preference for moist heat cooking methods. Tagine cooking is all about controlling heat and moisture.
The word couscoussier is a French word derived from North African kiskas, which refers only to the steamer insert. The pot itself is called a gdrah and the soup or stew cooked in it, over which the couscous grains or pasta steam, is called marga or tagine. Couscous is also steamed over plain water. There is no special occasion or holiday without couscous.
This ingenious method of cooking allows for two dishes to be cooked over a single source of heat, a very important feature in a region that has historically dealt with cooking wood shortages. Some couscoussiers have two stacking steamer inserts. Couscous grains or pasta are usually steamed two or three times. Steaming grains such as bulghur, quinoa and millet produces a lighter, fluffier and more elegant finished product than boiling does.
A lot of celebrity chefs and food personalities in France and in the United States publish couscous and tagine recipes. I'm going to select a few to review. I will not review for authenticity. I'm actually quite happy to see people adapting North African ingredients and technques to their own culinary lexicon.
I'm reviewing a random sampling of recipes. I simply googled "name+tagine or +couscous and clicked on the first search result.
Gordon Ramsay's Lamb Tagine and Couscous
The first thing I ask is why does he season the couscous so much? He cooks it in stock and adds herbs. When couscous is served with a flavorful tagine, it should be plain and simple. This is like cooking pasta in stock and adding herbs to it before saucing it with a bolognese. Why would you do that? It's overkill, too much going on in the dish. I see it all the time. (No comment about the way he cooks couscous).
Berber identification can be regional, cultural, linguistic or political, although in contemporary sociopolitics, it is more often linguistic. Self-identification tends to be more regional than the general term “Berber,” for example Shawi from the Aures Mountains or Setif province, Tuareg from Niger or Tuareg from Algeria, or Riffian from the Riff mountains in Morocco.
There are blond haired Berbers with blue or green eyes, black Berbers and everything in between Berbers. Berbers who look like other Mediterranean or West African peoples. Berbers were the first peoples to be called Africans (Ifriqiya).
There is a significant concentration of dolmens—megalithic burial monuments for the prominent dead—in northeast Algeria and the north of Tunisia; some date back to late Neolithic times This area is where Libyco-Berber writing originated, and it eventually became the nucleus of the Berber kingdom of Numidia. The Ancient Egyptians made several references to early battles with Libyan tribes (Berbers).
Further south in the Sahara, for thousands of years abundant rainfall replenished lakes and rivers. Human settlements with domesticated livestock clustered around water sources and lush green valleys. A dramatic climate change occurred during the fourth and early third millennium BC: global shifts in rainfall patterns initiated a gradual drying of the Sahara. Desertification was complete by 3000–2500 BC.
North Africa continued to be a part of Mediterranean trade and cultural exchange. In 1100 BC, seafaring people from Phoenicia (on the coast of modern-day Lebanon) began colonizing Berber settlements along coastal trade routes. The Phoenicians founded Carthage in the ninth century BC in what is now Tunisia. Berbers wrested control of Carthage from the Phoenicians in the sixth century BC. They established trading posts in Sicily, Spain, and on the southern coast of what is present-day France.
In 264 BC, Carthaginians intervened in a local dispute between Messena and Syracuse in Sicily. Rome, intent on empire expansion, objected to their presence in Sicily. The first Punic war was fought to establish strategic control of Corsica and Sicily, and then escalated into a clash of empires, which finally ended with the Third Punic War. Carthage was surrendered to Rome in 146 BC.
The same year, Romans established the province of Africa Proconsularis in Tunisia, northeastern Algeria, and the western coast of Libya. By middle of the first century AD, Roman hegemony of North Africa was firmly rooted. North Africa would become the breadbasket for Rome.
The kingdom of Numidia (west of Carthage, in present-day Algeria) and the kingdom of Mauritania in present-day Algeria and Morocco become Roman client states. The Romans called Numidians “Berbers” from barbara (or barbarians), a broad term for non-Latin-speaking peoples. The people of Mauritania were called “Maures,” from which the term Moors is derived.
A few weeks ago, I taught a fresh pasta class. I included a semolina egg pasta recipe. The students in the class had never seen semolina flour before, even though all of them had eaten plenty of dried pasta all their lives.
Under Italian law, pasta secca (dry pasta) can only be made with durum wheat flour or durum wheat semolina. This is the same flour used to make semolina couscous. In fact, an Italian mill is a major supplier of semolina to Algeria's SIM couscous company, the world's second largest couscous manufacturer.
Leftover couscous is often eaten for breakfast with a little sugar and raisins or currants and a glass of lben (buttermilk or kefir). If you think about it, this isn't different from having semolina porridge, cream of wheat, grits or polenta for breakfast. Except that breakfast couscous is not cooked down into gruel.
Brik is a common street food breakfast dish in Algeria and Tunisia. The gossamer thin pastry sheets are made from a semolina based dough. The result is a delicate, crackling crisp fried pastry that is unlike any other pastry in the world.
Common breakfast dishes are semolina pancakes or crepes drizzled with honey, called baghrir or ghraif.
Layered semolina flatbread or melloui (similar to a paratha)
And quick semolina bread (harsha) often perfumed with anise seeds or orange zest. Harsha can be baked in the bottom of a flameware tagine (you guessed it). Traditionally, harsha is also made as griddle cakes. Baked harsha is a bit like cornbread, but milder in flavor and more tender. In fact, some traditional North African harsha recipes are made with cornmeal. Prepared as griddle cakes, well, they are basically pancakes.
American home cooks might want to experiement with different flavors for baked harsha. It would delicious with poppy seeds and lemon zest for example. Or brushed with blood orange syrup.
Algerian Berbers in the east of the country, have a particular fondness for semolina. Semolina couscous and semolina flat bread called "kesra" or "aghrum" are staple foods. One or the other is eaten at almost every meal.
My mother made semolina couscous or semolina bread everyday. I do not remember a single day of my life in her home without semolina. Algerians sometimes say that if you have semolina and a tagine, you will never go hungry, because you can always make kesra.
Kesra is cooked on a flat round griddle. In Algeria clay griddles are also called tagines (remember tagine simply means pot or pan) and metal ones are called tawa. You can use a Mexican comal for tortillas or the base of a flameware tagine to make this bread.
Algerian tagine for kesra bread.
Kesra and other breads are eaten with marqas (saucier tagines), soups salads, lentil dips, bean or chick pea soups and salads.
In North Africa, semolina flour is also used to make baghrir (breakfast pancakes), for warka pastry leaves, and of course pasta. There are many traditional North African pasta shapes, especially in Algeria and Tunisia.
Semolina couscous is actually a type of pasta. It is a Berber creation and the staff of life in the Magrhreb (also spelled Magrhib) countries of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Clever Berbers also invented the couscoussier, the vessel in which couscous is steamed. It's basically a tall pot with a steamer insert.
Then later from clay
(Lamb photo shoot)
Not really. But local, pastured lamb from Riverside County is very good.
I first slaughtered, skinned, eviscerated, and butchered a lamb when I was 14 years old. I didn't recently jump on the artisanal butchery bandwagon.
I've been butchering for almost 30 years. That's a lot of practice time. I can do it fast and clean, not a spot of blood on my chef's whites. And a student I taught fabrication to was offered a job in a one star Michelin restaurant in Paris based on the fabrication skills I taught him.
My fabrication course students finished butchering and cooked all the different cuts of lamb into various international dishes.
My students made lamb stock, stuffed leg of lamb, lamb in the style of Thai "curry", lamb stew, rack of lamb, and of course lamb shank tagine.
When I first wrote about lamb mechoui five years ago, there were only a handful of posts about it on the internet. A recent Google search for lamb+mechoui shows about 30,700 results, including lamb mechoui for Easter and leftover Easter lamb rehashed as a tagine the next day.
I like authenticity, but I know cuisines adapt all the time. Cuisines are like cultures: moving targets. And the fact of the matter is, people immigrate to different countries all the time and they adapt recipes from the homeland to new ingredients and kitchens. They don't starve while waxing nostalgic about authenticity.
My parents left Algeria in the 1960's for Lyon, France where I was born. A few years later they moved to Montmerle-sur-Saône and my Kabyle mother continued to prepare simple, rustic Berber dishes.
For the First Annual Couscous Festival, Ronnie Gilman (my former student and friend) drove all the way to Texas to buy a custom smoker for our whole lamb mechoui. Ronnie is a cowboy. I am Berber. Neither of us doing anything small.
After smoking overnight, the lamb was falling off the bone tender. We served pulled lamb tacos, our version of Tacos Arabes. We sold out of four whole lambs in no time. A few people asked if they could take the roasted heads home for stock.
One of my general assistants hails from Sinaloa, Mexico. He made chicken tagine tamales for his family last Christmas. He reported back that they just loved it. That's how North African cuisine will enter American kitchens, it will be by adapting North African dishes, ingredients, and techniques to existing kitchen grammar.
2-3 Kg leg of lamb* (I cut the end cut off, a whole leg will not fit in my tiny home oven)
1 stick of butter
1 tablespoon of spices . I used a blend of cumin, coriander, fennel and white and red peppercorns
3 sprigs of flat leaf parsely, coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper (don't be afraid of the salt. this is a good sized piece of meat)
2 cloves of garlic minced
1) Preheat oven to 300F
2) Make a paste with the butter, garlic, herbs and spices.
3) Place the lamb in a large roasting pan. Make a dozen or so deep incisions into the leg, Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Stuff some of the seasoned butter into the incisions and pat onto the skin. Add 1 cup of water to the pan.
4) Baste the lamb every 20 minutes or so with olive oil and pan juices. Cook for about 3- 3 1/2 hours
Serve with bread, salad, and harissa.
* You can also use lamb shoulder
The Algerian Guinness World Record for the largest couscous included the world's largest tagine. 100 lambs and 1.5 tonnes (3,306.93393 lbs) of vegetables were used. The average weight of a lamb for butchering is 35-40 lbs; 37 lbs x 100= 3750 lbs. 3750+3306.9= 7056.9 lbs of tagine and that doesn't include the sauce.
According to Guiness, the world record for largest meat stew is a mere 5,132 lbs 15 oz. At the risk of starting an international food fight: the Algerians clearly also made the largest meat stew when they made the largest couscous.
I would need 2822 flameware tagines and approximately one cook per twenty-four tagines. Just kidding. The tagine component of a world's largest couscous attempt would require an extremely large custom made base.
North Africans, or more precisely, the couscous eating Maghrebis of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, often compete to make the world's largest couscous. The current Guiness World record is held by Algeria. 2,600 kilos or 5,732 lbs of semolina couscous was cooked in a custom made couscoussier which was 14 ft wide and 26 ft deep.
I think we should have a world's largest couscous in the United States. Couscous is a widely available starch found in any number of national chains, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's, Mediterranean specialty shops and health food stores,
The most couscous that my crew in Los Angeles and I have steamed at once was 1000 portions worth. That's about 200 lbs of dried semolina couscous. We used six large Asian fish steamers. They are available at Chinese or Southeast Asian grocery shops and at Action Sales.
Steaming enough couscous to feed a small army is not easy. First of all, if you are steaming a very large batch in a very large steamer, the weight of the couscous grains can cause gumming and burning at the edges. Second, it takes a very long time for the steam to reach the center. In the meantime, the couscous around the edges can become overcooked and pasty.
We came up with a method that produces light fluffy couscous in large bulk. We wetted the couscous with cold water three times. Each time we let the couscous absorb all the water completely and rubbed the grains to separate them before adding another batch of water. Total soak time was approximately one hour.
It's important to add the water in batches. If all the water is added at once, the couscous will become water-logged. After the third batch of water, the couscous should almost look like it has already been steamed once. The "grains" (really a type of pasta) should look and feel lightly "cooked".
This long soak cuts down considerably on steaming time for extra-large batches. During the first steaming the couscous will start to compress from it's own weight. It will start to look and feel densly packed inside the steamer. It's important to stir about 20 minutes into the first steaming to release the pressure to ensure even cooking.
After the first steaming of 40 minutes, we placed the couscous in large hotel pans and sprinkled with ice cold water. The second steaming took about 20 minutes and the third steaming took about 15 minutes.
Four people, six large steamers and three hours later, we had 1000 portions of couscous.
Let's do the math. If we wanted to steam 6000 lbs of couscous to break the current world record without any custom made equipment, we would need 120 people and 180 steamers. That sounds very doable, doesn't it?
Now to come up with a way to make enough tagine for 6000 lb of couscous...
Besides couscous, North African cuisine is, perhaps, best known for fragrant tagines seasoned with an array of spices, fruits and nuts. For the most part tagines with heavy sauces are actually special occasion dishes. They are for special guests, holidays, and tourists. Who can eat like that on a daily basis? You would gain too much weight and the heaviness would become monotonous after awhile.
Last year I taught an Algerian cooking class to a mixed group of home cooks and culinary school graduates. As my regular readers know, I rarely get fixated on special equipment for tagine cooking. However, there are a few tagine recipes that showcase the benefits of cooking in clay or flameware with results that are difficult to duplicate in aluminum or stainless steel.
This is a very simple recipe with a short list of ingredients. The result is a beef or lamb stew with North African attitude. Total comfort food. Serve with bread, simple salad, harissa on the side, and grilled or roasted vegetables.
2 lbs of beef or lamb stew meat cut into 2 1/2 inch cubes
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup tomato concassé or good quality canned tomatoes (I like Pomi brand)
1 tablespoon tagine spices (4 parts ground cumin, 2 parts ground coriander, 1 part ground turmeric)
Salt and peper to taste
Harissa or cayenne to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a tagine. Place tagine on stove top, turn up heat to medium. When the tagine starts to bubble, reduce heat to a low simmer.
Cooking time will vary depending on the cut of meat*, 2 hours. Check the tagine every 30 minutes or so, add a little water and stir if the sauce is reducing too much.
When the meat is done, the onions will have melted into the sauce and tomatoes will be barely discernible. The sauce should be a thick gravy with a hint of earthy spices. This "throw it all in one pot" method does not work with any other type of cooking vessel for this dish.
This is one of the features of North African cooking: common ingredients transformed into familliar but distinctive dishes by varying cooking techniques, ratio of ingredients and cooking times.
The surprise hit of last year's couscous festival was my rabbit tagine. I say "surprise hit", because when my crew and I were planning the menu we were uncertain about whether or not a general audience of Los Angelenos would be open to eating rabbit. We were happy to be proven wrong.
Rabbit is available at Bristol Farms, Harmony Farms, Large Chinese supermarkets, and live halal poultry butchers.
1 whole rabbit, cut into 8 pieces
1 teaspoon ras el hanout
salt and pepper to taste
1 medium sweet onion, brunoise (or finely chopped)
1 cup rabbit stock (or chicken stock)
1/3 cup of pitted prunes
1/4 cup toasted marcona almonds (or regular almonds)
Season rabbit pieces with ras el hanout, salt and pepper. Place in cold tagine (clay or flameware) on stove top, turn up heat to medium, cook for 15 minutes, turn rabbit pieces midway through cooking.
Lower heat to a gentle flame (remember clay and flameware retain residual heat longer than aluminum or ssteel). Add onions, stir, cook for 5-7 minutes.
Add stock and cook for 45 minutes at a gentle simmer. Add prunes and cook for 15-20 minutes longer or until rabbit is almost falling off the bone. It's important to adjust seasoning for tagines towards the end of cooking. The sauces reduce and does the saltiness. About 10 minutes before the rabbit seems to be done, taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper and ras el hanout as desired.
Garnish with toasted almonds. Serve with couscous.
Note: If you don't have a clay or flameware tagine vessel, you can make this a dutch oven or stew pot. However, you will have to brown the rabbit pieces gently. Do not over brown rabbit as the skin does not have a protective layer of fat like chicken and it will become tough.
So, if you can make tagines using a dutch oven, a large soup pot, cazuela, casserole, etc.. What exactly are the benefits of cooking in an actualy tagine vessel?
The conical lid stays cool during cooking, moisture from the ingredients that are cooking condense inside the lid and drips back down, which in effect is a kind of self-basting mechanism.
I think it's easier for beginner cooks to prepare certain kinds of tagines in an actual tagine vessel for several reasons. The meats or poultry do not have to be browned first and there is less to fuss with in terms of fiddling with different temperatures during the cooking process.
Certainly, clay or flameware tagine cooking takes longer than a pressure cooker, but only a tiny bit of that time is actually spent working on the dish.
You can layer your meats on the bottom and vegetables on top, and leave the whole thing to slow cook while you read or play with your kids on a weekend. When the tagine is done, you will have a rich, thick sauce as if by magic. This is the beauty of tagine vessel cooking.
Tagines that are essentially pot roasts with larger cuts of meat and bigger pieces of vegetables tend to benefit the most from cooking in a tagine vessel. A quick cooking tagine like my seafood tagine can be cooked in any pot large enough to hold all the ingredients.
Pressure cookers were introduced to North Africa during the 1970's. They were widely embraced for two very important reasons: dramatic reduction of cooking time and fuel use.
A dish prepared in a tagine is called a tagine. The same dish prepared in a pressure cooker is often called a marqa (sauce), for the simple reason that pressure cooking usually produces more sauce (although, you could reduce the sauce in a pressure cooker by removing the lid and turning up the heat).
My lamb tagine for the LA Times involves five hours of prep and cooking time. A dish like this would definately call for a pressure cooker on weekdays when I am working or I would save it for slow cooking in a tagine on a lazy weekend.
Note that my recipe in the Times calls for browning the lambshanks because I am using a large stew pot to cook the tagine. I brown meat first when I use a pressure cooker. If I were cooking it in a clay tagine, I wouldn't brown the shanks (more later about why).
Converting tagine recipes for pressure cookers is pretty simple: brown meats or poultry first; add vegetables in order of cooking; remove cover towards the end of cooking and turn up heat to reduce sauce if desired.
Dishes like my seafood tagine take so little time to cook that pressure cooking is unecessary.
"Zadi, born in Lyon, France to Algerian parents, marries the flavors of North Africa with the precision of Escoffier. For lunch he served a seafood tagine with squid, clams, mussels and dover sole…"
I do different levels of North African cooking: The simple, rustic Berber cooking of my mother's kitchen; my adapted to an American home kitchen preparations; and chef versions. My seafood tagine cooking demo incorporated French chef techniques; that is afterall my training. I started working in France when I was 14 years old. It is in my blood almost as much as my Berber heritage. My impulse in the kitchen, even at home, it to cook like I am in a professional setting.
People have been asking me about tagine cooking vessels for many years. I have always been hesitant about recommending clay tagines for several reasons: concerns about lead. poor quality vessels, and fragility. The only clay tagine I have recommended in the past is a $24 Portuguese one. It's cheap enough to not worry about breaking, can be used on the stove without a diffuser and oven, reliably lead-free and it has a deep base. However, I rarely used it myself at home, certainly never at work, because it was too fragile.
So, when Clay Coyote approached me last year about branding my own line of flameware tagines (and couscous steamers), I was more than happy to finally endorse a tagine without any reservations. Flameware is much more durable than clay and can withold very high temps on the stove top (no diffuser needed), in the oven and over a brazier. I had finally found a tagine that I could use in a professional kitchen.
Emile Henry also makes a flameware tagine. However, the base is much too shallow for versatile tagine cooking. I am aware that some traditional tagines also have small bases. They are designed for specific kinds of tagines with thick, reduced sauces.
The fact of the matter is you can produce the same kind of unctuous sauces in tagines with larger bottoms. Tagines with larger bottoms are simply more versatile. They can be used to prepare tagines that demand larger quanitities of sauce, for example my seafood tagine. Large bottomed tagines can be used as casseroles, cazuelas, tians, omelette tagines and even for baking breads.
Now, back to my seafood tagine recipe. I incorporated bouillabaisse and French chef techniques, while keeping the flavors true to North Africa. I added ingredients in layers and reduced the broth by gently boiling.
Carrots and onions were cut into brunoise and sauteed in olive oil. I added a little harissa and spices to release their fragrance. Then I added fish fumet, followed by the seafood in order of cooking time. I finished with orange zest. Adding ingredients in layers helps create a dish with complex, yet distinct flavors. The elegant tagine.
Algerian cuisine is a sauce driven cuisine.
Lunch is often a fresh salad made from market fresh vegetables and a citrus and olive oil dressing or vinaigrette. The acid in the dressing makes the vegetables release their juices. Plenty of khobz or kesra (bread) is served to mop up all the good flavor.
And we tend to like our tagines with plenty of sauce for spooning over couscous and dipping with bread or even fried potatoes.
The inaugural dish for Inter(National) Tagine month is for my friend Marlena Spieler who posted this morning about meatballs on twitter. So, I told her that if she likes meatballs, she will love kefta (meatball) tagine. I'm going use the earthier, hotter spices characteristic of Eastern Algerian cooking, because Marlena likes big and bold flavors!
This kefta can be served with fried potato wedges or French fries. Optional garnish for the potatoes is finely minced garlic, finely chopped flat leaf parsely or cilantro and grated parmesan cheese. (Algerians like fried potatoes and parmesan cheese). You can also serve kefta tagine with bread or pasta. If you can't find North African khobz or kesra where you live, ciabatta, baguette, or barbari bread are good options. Pasta can be the more traditional fidwash (fideos) or spaghetti,
Salt and pepper to taste
April is (Inter)National Tagine Month. To kick off the month, I am inviting you to enter the world of North African cuisine.
Couscous, a global food, and tagines that accompany it, are often acclaimed to be one of France’s favorite dishes and extensively popular across Europe’s culinary landscape. Couscous, the traditional accompanient for many tagines, is widely available in the United States and can be found at national chains, specialty stores, and natural foods stores, making it easily accessible for frequent use. While couscous is a staple of some of North Africa’s proudest dishes, it is a strong compliment to any meal.
The most famous tagines are slow-cooked stews or braises of lamb, beef, chicken, or seafood accompanied with a medley of unique spices and vegetables. But there are many other kinds of tagines that I will share with you throughout the month of April.
The diversity and creativity of North African cuisine and specifically, tagine cooking is not only an important aspect of the North African culture, but an arising component of the diverse culture of the United States.
As the culinary experience grows to service a vast scene, more and more average cooks are starting to expand their recipe file and whip up multi-cultural delicacies. In celebration of National Tagine Month and in creating awareness of North African cooking, we are hosting a recipe swap on this website, www.chefzadi.com.
Chefs, tastemakers, foodies, bloggers, and enthusiasts have the opportunity to share their recipes with the world while gaining some extra tips, tricks and tagine secrets. The top 10 recipes of the month will go on to a cooking contest held at the 2nd Annual Couscous Festival in Glendale, Ca, September 2011, where chefs will exhibit their food, demonstrate their specialized techniques and judge the finalists. We would love to invite you to join our quest in bringing North African cooking to mainstream cuisine by initially establishing an unwavering presence in Los Angeles. We would love for you to participate in these initiatives by becoming a partner in this campaign.