3 January 2012

Lamb Tagine and couscous

Quite often when we prepare party menus we are asked to include something a little more substantial than canapes. A dish we did recently and which went down well was lamb tagine accompanied with couscous. This is a delicious North African dish actually named after the vessel it is cooked in, a tagine which is usually ceramic bowl with a tapering conical lid and features dried fruit usually but not necessarily apricots. Sultanas, dates and prunes can also be used. It is a rich slow cooked lamb stew which is quite easy to do and you definitely don't need a tagine to cook it in, a simple casserole or oven dish with lid will do just as well.
The lamb cut we generally use is the neck fillet which we trim. (This is a succulent cut of meat which although slightly pricey is well worth it. We also use it in kebabs and brochettes where the marbling of fat melts and adds extra flavour ensuring the meat retains its wonderful tenderness and juiciness). You could also use shoulder of lamb.
There are many spices you can use, for a degree of authenticity we use Ras al Hanout a Moroccan mix of herbs and spices. We are lucky that we have the wonderful resources including the many Arab food shops of North End Road in Fulham relatively close at hand but this ingredient should be available however in any specialist shop or you can order it on line. Other spices which are commonly called for are ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, saffron cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin, chilli flakes etc etc
Below is a basic recipe and method but I would strongly recommend that after reading this post you Google lamb tagine where you will find many recipe ideas and variations and pick and choose the suggested spices which you most like. Like all casserole / stew dishes there is room for more than is little alchemy so don't be afraid to put your own stamp on it. You can even substitute beef for the lamb and prunes for the apricots.
Lamb tagine and couscous served in party size portions

1.5 kg lamb
1 red onion
2 garlic cloves
2 tins chopped tomatoes
300 g dried apricots
125 ml red wine
Worcestershire Sauce (Optional)
Tabasco Sauce (Optional)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Fresh parsley or coriander
100 g Toasted flaked almonds or pine nuts

Cut the meat into bite sized portions. Heat the butter and oil in a pan and brown the meat in batches. Set aside. Add the chopped onion and garlic and fry in the oil. Deglaze using the red wine. Return the meat to the pan and sprinkle with Ras al Hanout. Add the tomatoes and bring to the boil. Cover and stew for about an hour. If more liquid is needed add a little lamb stock. Add the dried fruit and Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce (if using) and season to Taste. Cook for a further 20 minutes. Serve with a garnish of parsley or coriander and flaked almonds.

The classic accompaniment is couscous which is again very easy to prepare, requires no cooking and can be done in advance. (Having said that you can "toast" the dry couscous on a dry pan prior to adding the liquid which gives an extra roasted flavour). Equal amounts of liquid to dry couscous are usual but brands may vary so follow the instructions on the pack. We generally use chicken or vegetable stock for extra flavour. After a few minutes fluff up with a fork. 
Strictly speaking it is now ready to eat but couscous in itself is pretty bland so we would recommend adding ingredients with strong flavours. Good options are spring onions. sun dried tomatoes, lemon juice, roasted peppers or root vegtables, olive oil, cashew nuts or peanuts, sultanas, paprika or cayenne pepper and of course plenty of seasoning. 

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