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).
Eric Ripert's Chicken Tagine with Plums and Spices
His tagine recipe looks okay. The Madras Curry powder isn't necessarily a red flag. I know of North Africans in the U.K. who use it in tagines instead of making their own spice blends. Although, I do wonder why he includes it as optional in the recipe, since he already has enough spices in there. The real problem is with his couscous. Dried bluberries and cranberries in couscous? What is this, a breakfast muffin? And served with a rich, highly seasoned tagine? Again, too much going on. Too many flavors fighting with each other.
Daniel Boulud's Couscous Stuffed Squab
His recipe looks tasty. North Africans do season couscous with dried fruits, nuts and herbs when it's used for stuffing poultry or game birds. His tagine spice mix looks good too. My only suggestion is to toss out the mint. North Africans don't really use mint in this way. We save it for mint tea.
Jamie Oliver's Lamb Shank and Tomato Tagine
Overall, it looks okay. Again, except the mint and sauces for lamb shank tagines should be thicker. Where the presentation goes into overkill is the yogurt garnish. First of all, yogurt is not used in North African cooking like this and it doesn't add anything to the appearance at all. And why as a garnish? Just serve it on the side as a dip,
Nigella Lawson's Lamb, Olive and Caramelised Onion Tagine
This isn't a tagine. There's nothing particularly North African about this dish. In fact, there are elements that make it completely un-North African. The wine is the most glaring.
Emeril Lagasse's Tagine
Another "too much into one pot" recipe.
Martha Stewart's Lamb Tagine with Prunes
Lavash and pita are not North African at all. The first time I saw and tasted pita bread was in the U.S. And taking the meat off the bones is an extra step that doesn't really add anything to the dish.
Vegetable Tagine published in Oprah magazine
Imagine the color of the real finished dish with beets and eggplant in it. I don't think this recipe was even tested. The beets would color everything else red and the eggplant would be grey tinted red.
Mark Bittman's Chicken Tagine
He includes a disclaimer that his recipe is not traditional. I am fine with untraditional as long as it's good. Cooking bulghur in the tagine basically produces a gruel. Not very appetizzing. North Africans steam bulghur as couscous. Steaming takes longer than the traditional absorption method used for bulghur pilaf in the Middle East. But someone explain to me why preparing bulghur the Middle Eastern way would have taken longer than adding it directly to this "tagine? It's not a real short cut.
Bon Appetit's Chicken and Fennel Tagine
Ingredient combinations look fine. The problem is with the boneless thighs. It's obvious that boneless is used to save time. But if you want to save time, the flavor would be better with bone-in chicken thighs in a pressure cooker. Obviously, the magazine doesn't want to call for special equipment. I would use boneless chicken breasts and create a pan sauce using simple French methods. The finished dish would take no time at all and it would look at taste very bright and fresh tasting.
Again, I did not set out to criticize. These are random samples. But a pattern emerged of too many ingredients and too many battling flavors. This is the first in a series of reviews and round-ups.