Adapted from a recipe by Mamatkamal El Mary K
This week is Chris’ Birthday. Myr is taking him out for steak on Saturday, so she wants something heavy on the vegetables. Jan really liked the Chicken Cassablanca I made last week, so she wants a North African tajine (tu-jeen). I have some French green lentils that I have wanted to try out (A Taste of History idea). Chris (who just landed from a trip to Germany) got in the last word, he wants oxtails. This I can work with.
I have tried making tajines before, a meat stew usually made with fruit and lots of spices. A tajine is both the stew itself and the specialized vessel it is cooked in. The tajine pot is low and round and glazed on the inside of the base. This shape keeps all of the ingredients in a shallow layer, so that nothing gets buried while cooking. The lid is tall and conical. The conical shape causes all of the condensation to drain down to the edges of the dish, instead it of “raining down” on the cooking ingredients and washing off the sauce. I don’t actually own one, they are a bit too single purpose and big to fit in my kitchen. A tajine is essential a clay pot, with a specific form. I was planning to use my Romertopf, which is a deep rectangular clay pot and, if I did not over fill it, this pot should work.
Oxtails are essentially a bone joint with a little meat on the outside. They are not readily available in most U.S. supermarkets. Safeway sometimes carries a few packages, for the “ethnic” market. These packages are usually cut from a single tail. This means that one package could have pieces of widely differing sizes, from large near the cow to small near the tip. If you are making soup, the most common use for oxtail, this is not a problem. However, for roasting you want all of you pieces close to the same size, so that they will cook evenly. Unless you own a bone saw, you are not going to cut oxtails into pieces.
Fortunately for me San Jose has other options. At Marina Market I was able to pick from a selection of big meaty oxtails from near the cow. However, I realized once I was done that my Romertopf was now too small for my ingredients. I think it is more important to this dish that the ingredients be cooked in a shallow layer. You are not supposed the stir a tajine and if your ingredients are stacked on top of one another you cannot bring the slower cooking buried ones to the top.
It was time to rethink my plan. I have a large Dutch oven that has enough surface area to keep the oxtails in a single layer. The cast iron lid does not lock in the steam in the same way that the clay pots do. I would have to keep a close watch over my liquid level, to make sure that my sauce does not dry out.
In researching tajines I found several interesting things. While many tajines have meat, it is not a required ingredient. The same is true for fruit, common but not required. Lentils are a common addition, but Moroccans would usually use brown lentils (there may be some political implications in using French lentils that we should not go into, but it has been done).
I found one site that promised authentic Moroccan Shlooh tagines (the Berbers). K. El Mary has very strong opinions on what makes a tagine (if it is not the way her mother made it, then it is not a real “tajine”). She dismisses anything else as a “Dwaz or Marqua (Mar9a)” = المرقة – دواز, which is a sort of meat and vegetables stew cooked in a pressure cooker in less than 30 minutes or in more conventional cookware such as casseroles or pan.”
I can hardly criticize her attitude on this subject; everyone thinks their mother made it better. Jan and I were invited to dinner with some friends in China. The husband and wife nearly came to blows in the middle of the meal. “My mother always put peanuts in that dish!” “My mother never put peanuts in that dish!” I am sure that K. El Mary would think that cooking this stew in a cast iron Dutch oven makes it a Dwaz, not a tajine.
K. El Mary did have several tips for making authentic tajines which I will condense here: 1) Slow-cooking is the key. 2) Never stir during the cooking. 3) You may use all sort of meats and add your choice of vegetables. 4) South Moroccan Tajines require initial browning of the meat and then embellish it with combinations of ingredients. 5) You can make vegetarian tajines. 6) Do not add too much water! 7) Spoon the sauce over the vegetables to prevent them from drying out. 8) If your pot is boiling over, insert a spoon between the tajine and the lid.
While K. El Mary’s site gave me some ideas for possible ingredients, I found the techniques far more interesting. I added the dried apricots, not because they are necessary to the dish, but because I think they pair well with beef. I did not want to make her mother’s tajine, I wanted to create one of my own.
After dinner note: This was a very delicious dish, but while the oxtails gave it a great mouth feel and the meat was very tender, it was not low fat. This caused a problem for Jan, who’s lack of a gall bladder gives her trouble with digesting too much oil. A leaner cut would be one solution to this problem. A piece of beef chuck cut into 2 inch cubes might not produce the same unctuous experience, but should still be very tasty.
Karl’s Moroccan Oxtail Tajine
2 onions, separate uses
2 beefsteak tomatoes, separate uses
Small bunch cilantro, separate uses
¼ cup dried apricots
1 tsp. salt, separate uses
1½ lb. oxtails
1 Tbs. butter
10 cloves garlic, whole
3 Tbs. Karl’s Moroccan Spice Blend
1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
1½ cup beef broth, separate uses
Note: If you are using a Dutch oven you may need an extra cup of broth.
6-8 fresh artichokes, medium sized
1½ cups green lentils
1 cup couscous
1 cup beef broth
1 Tbs. butter
1. Chop one of the onions in a large dice and set it aside.
2. Peel, seed and chop one of the tomatoes and set it aside.
3. Take the bunch of cilantro and in one cut remove most of the leafy tops (you want about half a cup of the tops, but do not chop them at this time). Put the tops on a bowl of cool water to keep them fresh. Mince the cilantro stems very finely and set them aside.
4. Cut the apricots into large dice and set aside.
5. Sprinkle half of the salt on the oxtails and brown them well in the butter.
Note: If I had a real tajine I could do this in the base of the pot. Since I am using a Dutch oven After I brown the meat I removed it and set it aside on a plate until the sauce base is ready. If you are using a clay pot, soak it in water for 15 minutes and do your browning in a skillet and then transfer it to the pot.
6. Sprinkle the rest of the salt on the onions and add them to the pot. Sauté until just starting to pick up some color.
7. Add the whole cloves of garlic and sauté 2 minutes more.
8. Pull the vegetables to the edges of the pot and add the spice mix to the hole in the center. Heat the spices for 20 seconds and then mix it into the onions and garlic.
9. Add the diced tomatoes, cilantro stems, apricots, ginger and 1 cup of beef stock to the pot and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes.
10. Arrange the oxtails neatly in the clay pot and spoon the sauce over the meat.
11. Cover the pot and put it in a cold oven. Set the oven to 325°F and bake the oxtails for 1½ – 2 hours. About half way through check the fluid level and add more broth if necessary. Spoon the sauce over the meat. Do not stir!
12. While the oxtails are cooking, pare the artichokes down to just the bases (remove the leaves, stem and choke, Reserve the leaves and stems for a dip.)
Note: As easy as 1 – 2 – 3. 1) Remove and trim the stem, the tough outer leaves and the top 1/3 of the leaves. 2) Trim just the darkest green around the base of the cap and the leaves down to where they are completely yellow and tender. 3) Score the artichoke with a knife just above the cap and it will separate easily. Scrape the choke out of the cap and the tender leaves with a spoon.
Tip: Putting the artichoke caps and the leaves you intend to use in a bowl of water with a little lemon juice will keep them from turning brown.
13. Check the lentils for stones and rinse them.
14. Slice the remaining onion and tomato into rings.
Tip: you want as many slices of tomato as you have artichoke bases.
15. One hour before serving time, add the lentils by pouring them into the spaces between the oxtails. Poke them down, but do not stir. Add more beef stock, if the liquid level is getting low.
16. Arrange the artichokes attractively over the stew, cup side up. Spoon some of the sauce over the artichokes.
17. Lay the tomato slices on top of each artichoke.
18. Separate the onion in to rings and scatter them across all and spoon some of the sauce over the vegetables.
19. Re-cover the pot and raise the temperature to 400°F. Continue baking for 45 minutes.
20. After 20 minutes, open the pot and spoon some more of the sauce over the vegetables. If the fluid level seems low add all, or part, of the other ½ cup of beef broth. Do Not Stir!
21. While the pot is cooling bring 1 cup of beef broth to a boil in a medium pot. Add the couscous, butter, and salt to the water, and stir once.
22. Remove the couscous from the heat, cover and let it sit for 5 minutes.
23. Fluff the couscous and transfer it to a serving bowl and garnish with a sprig of cilantro.
24. Drain and chop the cilantro tops and scatter them over the stew just before presenting the pot to the table.
25. Remove the cover and serve with the couscous on the side. Moroccan Mint tea would be an appropriate drink to go with this meal.