Lamb Tagine with Apricots: The Aroma Will Woo You
You don’t need a tagine (the pot) to make this tagine (the recipe), but tagines are so beautiful that if you don’t have one, you might want to put it on your wish list (good ones are not inexpensive). Happily, you can easily make this dish in a Dutch oven or high-sided skillet.
Tagines are primarily a Moroccan dish and, like so many dishes from this country, the fragrance of the spices as they cook is dizzying — wonderfully, delightfully and intoxicatingly so.
I don’t think there’s very much that’s authentic in this recipe, which was given to me by a friend-of-a friend in France, Francoise Maloberti, but never mind — the pleasure you’ll get from it is plenty authentic.
LAMB TAGINE WITH APRICOTS AND ALMONDS
Makes 4 servings
2 chicken bouillon cubes or 1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1/4 pound moist, plump dried apricots
About 6 tablespoons olive oil
About 1 3/4 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, fat removed, cut into cubes about 1 1/2 inches on a side
4 medium onions, peeled, trimmed and coarsely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled, trimmed, germ removed and finely chopped
One 14 1/2 – ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, or 4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and crushed
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, cracked (I do this in my mortar and pestle)
2 pinches saffron
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
About 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Couscous or rice, for serving
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
If you’re using the bouillon cubes (it’s what Francoise uses), drop them into a medium-size bowl and pour over 1 3/4 cups of boiling water; stir to dissolve. If you’re using chicken broth, bring it to the boil, then pour it into the bowl. Add the apricots to the bowl and let them soak and plump while you prepare the rest of the tagine.
Put the base of a tagine, a heavy, high-sided skillet or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and pour in 3 tablespoons of the oil. Pat the pieces of lamb dry between sheets of paper towels, then drop them into the hot oil – don’t crowd the pan; work in batches, if necessary – and brown the meat on all sides, about 4 minutes. Lift the meat out of the pot and onto a plate with a slotted spoon. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Pour out the fat that it’s in the pan, but leave whatever bits may have stuck to the base.
Return the pan to the stove, adjust the heat to low and add 2 more tablespoons of the olive oil. When the oil is warm, stir in the onions and garlic and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, just to get them started on the road to softening. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and continue to cook, stirring often, for another 10 minutes, adding a little more oil, if needed. Add the chicken bouillon/broth to the pot as well as the coriander, saffron – crush the saffron between your fingers as you sprinkle it into the pot – ginger, cumin, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of the chopped cilantro leaves. Stir to mix and dissolve the spices, season with salt and pepper and spoon the meat over the base of vegetables. Top with the plumped apricots, seal the pan with aluminum foil and clap on the lid. Slide the pan into the oven.
Bake the tagine for 60 minutes before carefully lifting the lid and foil and scattering the almonds over the meat. Recover the pan and allow the tagine to bake for 15 minutes more. (This seems like a tease to me – you open the lid, get a deep whiff of the tagine, see how beautiful it is and then have to wait another 15 minutes before you can dig in. Sometimes, I skip this step and just save the toasted almonds to sprinkle over the tagine at serving time. I give you permission to do likewise.)
Serving: Of course, this should be served as soon as it comes from the oven. If you’ve cooked it in a tagine, sprinkle the remaining cilantro over the meat, bring the tagine to the table and serve directly from the pan. If you’ve used a skillet or Dutch oven, transfer the tagine to a warm large serving platter and dust with cilantro. While you could serve the tagine solo, it would be a shame not to offer something to go with the wonderful sauce. I serve either couscous (cooked without spices in chicken broth or water) or white rice.
Storing: Like almost all braised dishes, this one is a good keeper. You can make it a day or two ahead and, when it’s cool, cover it well and keep it in the refrigerator. If you make the dish ahead, I’d suggest you only add the toasted almonds when you reheat the tagine for serving and, of course, hold off on the last dusting of cilantro.