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Which tagines are best for cooking?

March 5, 2009 | 10:15 am

Ourika_cooking_tagineI’ve been on a Moroccan tear in my cooking lately and coveting one of the traditional Moroccan tagine pots from a source I found on Paula Wolfert’s website, www.paula-wolfert.com.

Tagines, both the Moroccan dish and the vessel it’s cooked in, have become fashionable of late. And frankly, I’ve seen some awkward contemporary renditions of the traditional conical-lidded casserole. Even in Morocco, there’s a distinction between tagines used for cooking and those fancier ones reserved for serving the fragrant stews of chicken or lamb.

Tagines by BTC has the pots in many different styles, some typical of a certain region and all quite reasonably priced. Their glazes are all lead-free. I’ve got my eye on the Ourika cooking tagine, described as “the preferred tagine in the souks of Marrakesh.” I’m wondering about the size, though: it’s 9 inches wide and serves two ($24, plus shipping). Hmm.

Then maybe the wonky, hand-formed Rifi cooking tagine, “our preferred unglazed tagine of Northern Morocco and Spain,” which is a little bigger at 11 inches wide. There’s one even larger from the Middle Atlas mountains called the Mellali tagine. Both are $28 each, plus shipping. The site also has four styles of decorated tagines that are used only as serving dishes.

Mellali_tagine_2After poking around the site, I still couldn’t decide which to buy, so I asked my friend Philip Schuyler, a musicologist at the University of Washington who has lived in Morocco and is a great Moroccan cook, for some advice: “As for size, it depends on how you want to use it.

"If you're going to be entertaining, it should be at least 12 inches -- big enough for four (and possibly six), but not too big for two. Fourteen inches would be good for a bigger crowd, but I don't think you would want to go to 16 inches unless you are planning to host a circumcision.”

Scratch the big one then.

Shipping by ground from Tagines by BTC's warehouse in Miami is a reasonable $7.95 per item.
For tagine recipes, you can’t do better than “Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco” by Paula Wolfert (William Morrow Cookbooks: 368 pp., $19 paperback). I also love “Moro: The Cookbook” by Samuel and Samantha Clark of London’s Moro restaurant (Ebury Press: 256 pp., $27.50 paperback).

— S. Irene Virbila

Photo of tagine used by permission of Tagines by BTC