Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Moroccan stew *aka* Beef tagine

Rich, warming, heavy with lighter spice notes, definitely a winter dish - I discovered this recipe last winter, and over the summer dreamed of when the mists would be chill enough (and I well enough) to cook it again. It's one of those dishes that as soon as you discover it, you want to get people round and feed it to them all the time because everyone must taste this. WARNING: You need to spice-rub the meat the night before (or that morning) and it needs three hours in the oven, (after about 10-20 minutes prep time, depending how fast you chop). So if you're not at home in the afternoons, this is a weekend cook, but it makes masses (serves 8, I reckon). It's also part of the cooking-for-one week 2, so line up your 250ml tupperwares to receive! (It freezes like a dream.)
It's Jamie Oliver's beef tagine recipe; I've only made a few changes. Instead of on the stove, I cook it in the oven, 120 degrees fan oven (140 normal oven). He says to chop the squash in 5cm pieces - I'm convinced that's a conversion error, and do mine 2.5 cm / 1 inch. I also halve the amount of squash, from 800g to 400g - I've tried both, and found 800g just overwhelmed everything else. I've made it with courgette and with pumpkin; both work, but I prefer courgette, in the end - I often find the denser squashes too much, but I think that's a personal thing.

You will need...
  • 600g stewing beef
  • SPICE RUB: 1 goodly tablespoon (don't stint, err on generosity) each of paprika, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, and ras el hanout
  • 1 large / 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • a small bunch of coriander
  • 400ml of stock (I use bouillon powder + hot water)
  • a tin of chickpeas
  • a tin of chopped tomaotes
  • 100g of prunes, roughly shredded
  • 400g of squash, chopped into inch-sized chunks (that's 2.5 cm more or less)
  • 2 tablespoons of flaked almonds
  • and to serve it with, couscous
And to cook in: a nice big casserole dish with a lid, or a big pot if you're going to do it on the stove top


Gather your spices.

My cumin is whole, so I'm toasting it until steam appears, and then I'll tip it into a cold bowl, and then...

I'll grind it up. Hopefully letting it cool a bit first.

The five spices: aren't they beautiful?
But actually, this bowl is too small. So once I've mixed them up,

I'll toss them in a larger bowl, to rub the meat onto them. By very happy happenstance, this is the Moroccan bowl!

The meat is heavily coated with the spices, as much as it'll take; this is one of those nice hands-on bits where you get in there and get dirty and use your hands. You leave the meat like this as long as you can - overnight, a morning, 2 hours - 2 hours at least.

The ingredients assemble, my meat being suitably spice-rubbed. Turn the oven on to 120 degrees (fan) or 140 degrees (normal).

Finely chop your large onion (or two small) - don't forget the chef trick for onions.

All nice and fine. Glistening and white. The onion chef trick has changed my life.

Attack your coriander plant, if that's what you have, or plunder the whole of your bunch of coriander, if that's what you bought.

I had a young supermarket plant, rather than a mature bunch, so separating the leaves from stalks was fiddly - with a grocer's bunch, the stalks are thicker so you can just chop the whole bunch from about halfway down and rest assured that that's done it with as much perfection as is required. The leaves will go in at the end, the stalks near the start. This isn't really as much as they should be, the plant was spindlier than I realised. A good grocer's bunch would've done better, but hey.

My coriander "stalks" (there should be more, but this is not an ideal world) and onion ready to go.

Heating up plenty of ghee (or oil, or butter - but I'm an evangelical convert to ghee, these days) on medium-hot

And fry the meat in it briskly for 5 minutes or so.

That's about enough time to wash the Morcocan bowl!

Oooh, looking good, so time to...

Add the onion and the coriander stalks, and fry for another five minutes or so. While that's happening, this is a good moment to...

pop the kettle on for the stock.

Here is my beautiful beloved casserole dish, which sees most action making curries, but is equally welcoming of Moroccan stews. It is the queen of all dishes: thick clay to hold in heat, heavy glaze to never, ever, ever stick no matter how it's treated, the perfect size... If heaven made pots, they'd be like this. (Except possibly royal blue, but let's not quibble.)

400g of stock - that's hot water plus about a teaspoon and a bit of Bouillon powder.

Rinse the chickpeas until all frothiness is gone, and they are new and fresh to the world.

You're now going to add the tomato, stock, and chickpeas to the fried meat & onions & coriander stems. This is the point that I tip the meat into the casserole dish. This time, I tried adding the tomato into the pan, to help loosen the sticking bits of spices. That didn't work as well as I'd hoped, but...

Once I'd tipped all that in the casserole dish, the stock was very happy to loosen all the spices.

Meaty stuff, stock, tomato, and chickpeas, all in the pot, and into the oven for an hour and a half. Set an alarm.

In the infinite time now available, I'll set about prepping the rest of the ingredients. First off, the squash. In this case, a pumpkin. (And next time I'll use only 400g, not the whole thing.)

All those beautiful pumpkin seeds?  SAVE THOSE. DO NOT CHUCK THOSE.

Chopping the scraped-out pumpkin into inch-sized chunks. Knife safety tip: you hold the thing you're chopping over the knife, so you can't possibly cut your hand.

The prunes need to be roughly torn apart, which is a delightfully sticky business.

Sticky pruniness all over my fingers.

All the remaining ingredients are ready: the pumpkin and prunes, to go in at the 1.5 hour mark, and the almonds and coriander, to go in at the end. In the background, the pumpkin seeds are having a lovely little swim, to help get the fibrous bits off. Toasted pumpkin seeds are generally gorgeous, and you can also make pepitas with them, which I might make soon so I can show you.

The remainder of the prunes are safely elastic-banded to go back in the cupboard. One of our old houses was a stopping point for postmen to drop all their bags off in the porch so they could come back and forth on their rounds. They left a generous scattering of red rubber bands which I scavenged for use. (These are not those rubber bands.)

Kitchen all tidy, prep all done, still an hour and some to go until it needs attention... oh, goodness! Is that a bottle of wine standing there? You could pour a glass of that and write some other blog posts.

When the alarm goes, realise you've barely touched your wine and that this is the one significant disadvantage of touch-typing: you use both hands. Add the squash and the torn prunes.

It's already looking wonderfully rich and splendid. Give it a good stir, put it back in the oven, and set the alarm for another 1.5 hours. (I actually set my alarm for 1 hour, so I could pop the already-cooked leftover broccoli in half an hour before everything's ready.) There's a lot you can do in 1.5 hours - clean the whole house & go for a half-hour walk, read 6 student submissions, write another two blog posts, hang a bunch of pictures on the wall - but part of slow cooking is slow living. Why don't you read your book and have another go at that glass of wine?

When it's ready, put the kettle on for the couscous, and

start toasting the almonds - medium heat, and pay attention to them, because they go from golden to burnt in the time it takes to walk across the kitchen. And it's not a big kitchen.

While the kettle's boiling, get your couscous ready - I do 1/3 of a cup per person, and use a cliplock tupperware. A bowl with a plate on top would also do. 

Add a touch of salt to the couscous - usually I'd add some bouillon too, but the stew has more than enough flavour going.

Pour in the same amount of freshly boiled water as couscous, and a splash of olive oil, and stir it well, and get the lid back on as fast as you can, so the hot water doesn't cool.

The couscous will just sit and absorb everything now. That's it. Mission Couscous accomplished.

The almonds are looking toasty - a bit unevenly, because I neglected to toss them while I was photographing couscous! But that'll do.

The stew is rich, fragrant, perfect, melty...

Serve the stew on the couscous, with coriander leaves and toasted almonds sprinkled lavishly all over it, and any veg you have about your person.

The next day I froze up the remainder - it had already served two and each of these tupperwares will serve two again. I allow about 250ml -300 per person. So if you're cooking for one, that's probably 7 meals!

You can thank me (and Jamie) when you taste it :)

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