Having spent some time just admiring it, I set to and followed the instructions for the seasoning process, to the letter. We had to buy a big plastic bucket to put it in for the overnight soak in cold water, then it went into a low oven for 2 hours to dry out, then it got wiped over with oil.
Now the tagine is glazed - although not all over - and this caused some discussion on the Jenny Eatwell's Rhubarb & Ginger facebook page as to whether it required seasoning and whether it would break into tiny pieces during said seasoning process. Personally, I doubted whether you would be asked to season the thing, if there was any great danger of it breaking into tiny pieces during the process - but it put the idea in my mind. Now as anyone who knows me will tell you, if you put an idea into my mind, you have to know it's going to sit there and (potentially) worry me until events prove that I didn't need to worry in the first place. I'm happy to report that it survived the seasoning process, even though it did go through many changes of colour and the glaze appeared to have converted itself to crackle glaze at one stage. ~shrug~
Hence, the tagine had sat on the worktop (haven't got a cupboard it will fit into until we do some cupboard juggling - and speaking of which, does anyone know where you can get pot hanging hooks from? The ones that fit onto the wall, that you can hang your saucepans on?) ever since the seasoning process had finished. I knew that I had to get on and use it, in order to stop worrying that it would explode into a million pieces the first time I put it in the oven.
|All loaded up and ready for the oven!|
As it turned out, the liquid quantities involved here were absolutely perfect for my tagine. Perfect for the amount of couscous (which I was worried about) and perfect for fitting into the quite shallow bowl part.
The chicken cooked beautifully, sat on top of the couscous and underneath all the vegetables. It obviously semi poached, semi steamed as it went along and was lovely and moist.
At serving, the couscous appeared to be somewhat overcooked - but I'm really not sure if it would qualify as being overcooked or not. The texture had gone from being quite grainy to being soft and almost squishy - but with the spices, stock and the drippings from the chicken included in its flavour, it was really lovely. The lemon juice and pomegranate molasses had given it a lovely sharp top note, which was filled out by the savoury stock and chicken flavours.
The dates provided the occasional shot of sweetness, while the onions gave the counterpoint of savouriness to the dish. All in all, the flavours were quite complicated and although I was a little bit unsure to begin with, I very quickly found that it grew on me and I really enjoyed it.
Hubby could have done with a little more in the way of contrasting flavours throughout the couscous - such as some chopped apricots to provide that sharp/sweet thing that they do and maybe some browned crispy onions to provide a contrasting texture and flavour. All of which are very valid points that I'll try and remember.
Son and heir loved the dish and cleared his plate very happily - mushrooms and courgettes included!
All in all, I would consider this a success of a first go. It gives me more confidence to try more complex combinations in future! Oh - and maybe I won't be constantly waiting for the bang as the tagine disintegrates, next time. One can hope!
RAS AL HANOUT CHICKEN & DATE TAGINE (serves 3)
2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
2 tsp Ras al hanout spice mix
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (or a mix of drumsticks & thighs)
1 red onion, sliced
1 white onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 courgette, sliced
3-4 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
zest & juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
350ml chicken stock (I used one Knorr chicken stock pot)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
8 dates, pitted and chopped (use dried apricots as well or if you don't like dates)
a handful of flaked almonds
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped finely
a handful of fresh coriander, chopped finely.
1. Pour 1 tbsp of oil into a bowl and add the Ras al hanout spice mix, a pinch of sea salt and a good quantity of freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine.
2. Add the chicken and toss in the spice mix until evenly coated.
3. Place the dry couscous into the bottom of your tagine or a deep casserole dish.
4. Heat the remaining tbsp of oil in a deep frying pan over a high heat. Add the chicken and brown (on at least 2 sides, if using thighs). Remove to the tagine and arrange evenly over the top of the couscous.
5. Add the onions to the frying pan and cook on a moderate heat until softened and beginning to take on colour. Add the garlic and reduce the heat. Cook for another minute or so.
6. Add the courgette and mushrooms and cook until they are beginning to soften.
7. Add the cumin and cinnamon and stir to combine.
8. Add the zest and juice of the lemon, plus the pomegranate molasses, chicken stock and dates. Bring to the boil, stirring to de-glaze the pan. Taste for seasoning and add a little more if necessary.
9. Add the contents of the frying pan to the tagine and distribute the vegetables evenly across the top of the chicken.
10. Sprinkle the flaked almonds across the top and cover with the tagine lid - or if using a casserole dish, cover with foil. Place into a pre-heated oven at 160degC/325degF/Gas 3 for the next hour.
11. To serve, uncover the chicken and remove to a warmed plate while you serve the couscous and vegetables. Place the chicken either beside or on top and sprinkle with the chopped herbs.