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On TANGIA: Morocco’s other famous dish

Turns out there is a soukful more to Moroccan cusine that tagine…

We brought these lovely new cooking pots into the shop without having the foggiest idea what to do with them. Brainwave: let’s ask the expert. The expert in this case is the lovely Paula Wolfert whose book on Moroccan cuisine has just come out in the US (yes – we will be stocking it when it comes out in the UK next year. So thank you Paula!

If you don’t want to use veal or beef – hey, we made this with shoulder of lamb and it was equally as delicious. And as Peckham Pulse refused to let us cook it in the sauna, we just used our oven.

Paula writes… The following story about the famous cooked-all-night meat specialty of Marrakech appeared in my earlier book on Moroccan food. Rereading it and reliving the experience amused me so much, I decided to include it here more or less intact.

Some years back I asked the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism to find a woman who could teach me to prepare tangia, one of the great meat specialties of Marrakesh. When I arrived the tourist office was in a state of pandemonium. The local director was frantically telephoning all over town calling all the women he knew, sometimes using two phones at once. He was chain-smoking a cigarette, thrashing in his chair, buzzing his secretaries and giving me embarrassed glances, because, as he finally explained, though everybody was quick to agree that tangia was a great Marrakesh dish, nobody was prepared to teach me how to make it.

Then, finally success— The director learned form one of his informants that tangia is a dish made by men, a dish of soldiers, sheepherders, and others separated from women. He pushed a button on his desk. His chauffeur appeared at the door.

“Do you know how to make tangia?”

“Of course I do, sir,” said the chauffeur.

“Then take this American woman and teach her how to make it!”

I was dumfounded, but I was also desperate and grateful. I had come a long way to learn to make tangia, had only a day for the task, and the hour was late.

The driver, Ahmed Labkar, was eager but stunned by his boss’s request. We drove first to a gate to the medina so he could retrieve his precious tangia pot from his house. As soon as I saw it my confidence was restored. It was shaped like a Grecian urn with a wide belly, narrow neck, and handles on both sides, and it bore the patina of heavy use. Ahmed handled it with great care. A well-seasoned tangia pot, he told me, was one of the keys to the success of good tangia. He further informed me that the best pots for this Marrakesh specialty were to be bought in
Rabat!

It was dark by the time we reached the Djemaa el Fna, parked the car and entered the souks to buy materials for the dish: 4-1/2 pounds shoulder of lamb, a small amount of saffron threads and ground cumin, a head of garlic (he later used 8 cloves), a preserved lemon, a bottle of vegetable oil, and salt and pepper.

Our next stop was the kitchen of the Maison d’Accueil directly beneath the Koutoubia Mosque, where Ahmed completed the entire preparation of the dish in less than 10 minutes. Aside from crushing the garlic and rinsing the lemon, his only chore was to stuff the ingredients into the pot and then cover the opening with parchment paper, tie it down with a string, and punch four holes in it with a pencil.

“Voila, Madame! It is now ready to cook.”

We next drove to a hammam—a public bath house–walked around to the back, and entered the furnace room area. Here a number of old men were lying around on piles of broken nut shells, smoking pipes and tending the furnace that heated the stones in the baths.

In exchange for one dirham (about 22 cents) our tangia pot was buried in hot ashes. Here it would cook, Ahmed explained, for a minimum of 16 hours. As we parted for the evening, his final words were: “I’m sorry we didn’t make it with camel meat—it makes a better tangia.”
The next morning I received word that the mayor of Marrakesh was waiting for me in the hotel lobby. Somehow during the night word of my mission had reached him.

Yes, he confirmed, indeed, tangia could only be made by a man, and it was also a dish that must be eaten out doors. He had come to offer me the use of a pavilion in the Menara gardens for the midday tasting.

Around noon Ahmed and I fetched the tangia pot from the bathhouse furnace room. We took it to the beautiful Menara gardens closed to the public for the day to insure my privacy, and ate it while reclining there w upon an old Moroccan carpet sent over especially for our use.

How did it taste? Very good indeed.

In the years since this experience I’ve had great success making tangia in a bean pot with veal, achieving a fine balance between the flavor of the meat, garlic, preserved lemons, spices, and preserved butter, or smen. Basically everything is packed into the pot at the same time, the top is covered with paper, and then the dish is cooked very slowly. In a good tangia the meat juices become wonderfully savory due to the mixing of salt, steam, aromatics, and the special flavor imparted by the clay-cooking vessel. Serve with warm bread.

Serves 4 to 5

  • 2 pounds boneless veal shoulder or 3 pounds bone-in veal shanks or beef short ribs
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Coarse salt
  • 1-tablespoon cumin seed
  • 2 tablespoons saffron water
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon ras el hanout
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/ 4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/ 4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/ 4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons homemade smen or unsalted butter
  • 1 preserved lemon, rinsed and quartered

1) Preheat the oven to 200°F. Cut the veal into 4 roughly equal pieces. In a mortar crush the garlic with the salt and cumin seed. Loosen with the saffron water and stir in the spices. Toss with the meat..

2) Place the spiced meat in a tangia pot or bean pot. Add all the other ingredients; use a wooden spoon to mix them gently; then press them down to a compact mass. Cover with a small sheet of crumpled wet parchment and a lid. Set in the oven and bake for 10 hours.

3) Let cool down; then pour the stew into a bowl. Skim off the fat, pull out the bones and reheat in a conventional pan just before serving. Serve in a warm serving bowl.

C\Paula Wolfert The Food Of Morocco. Ecco Press v New York, 2011

One thought on “On TANGIA: Morocco’s other famous dish

  1. We enjoyed tangia in Marrakech when we were there a couple years back. We went into a tagine shop in Essaouira and dumbfounded the shopkeeper when we asked to buy tangia pots. He left us in the now empty shop for 15 minutes whilst he went to a lock up to get them. They cost next to nothing, but cook lamb shanks with Moroccan spices perfectly in our Aga. Check out Jamie does Marrakech to see how to prepare tangia and also the fantastic mechoui lamb!

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