Tajine versus Casserole - Do you really need a Tajine Pot?
The wonderful Moroccan meat and vegetable dishes called Tajines derive their names from the special pots that they are cooked in. These elegant pots look beautiful, but, ever sceptical, I wanted to know if I really need to buy a Tajine pot to make those authentic Moroccan dishes? This was a question I put to several friends, and non of them knew the answer, so I rose to the challenge of testing the Casserole dish against the Tajine in a one-off experiment to make a chicken dish based on the Moroccan tagine.
My casserole dish is a heavy, enamelled cast iron one trademarked 'Cousances', very similar to the more famous 'Le Creuset' mark and I borrowed a Tajine, from a friend who used to live and work in Morocco and set to work with my chicken, vegetables, olives and lemons to see what the difference would be. Here's the Recipe: Easy Chicken Tajine
What is a Tajine Pot?
The traditional tagine pot is a glazed or unglazed heavy clay pot used in north Africa, especially in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Lybia. It consists of a base unit which is a flat, circular dish with low sides, and a tall, cone-shaped top with a knob on the top that is used as a handle. This top is designed to circulate steam back to the bottom of the pot and into the cooking food. Originally the food was cooked in an unglazed pot on an open, wood fire and the glazed versions are intended to be used on the table for serving.
These days you can also buy tagines with heavy cast
iron bottoms that can be fired on a stovetop at high heat, so that you can
brown the meat and vegetables before cooking. The tajine can be put into the oven, but is designed to be used on the top of the stove and to cook the food slowly at a low temperature.
What is a Casserole Dish?
It is an ovenproof dish invented by the French; the word casserole is French for a “stew pan,” possibly originating from the traditional large earthenware dish designed for slow cooking on a fire. It also goes by the name of Dutch Oven.
The casserole dish or casserole pot can withstand long cooking either in the oven or on the hob and keeps the food from burning or drying out. In order to achieve this, the casserole dish is thick and often enamelled or glazed and has a heavy base. Plain glass is a common material for casserole dishes, but they are also made from thick enameled metal, such as Le Creuset, and glazed earthen or stoneware.
The photograph below shows my favourite casserole pot inherited from Madame Besse, the former owner of our house in Videix, Limousin, France. It's sitting on its tripod, used to cook food on the open fire but since moving in we have installed a wood burning stove. In the winter I put the casserole on top of the wood burning stove where I can leave it all day to slowly stew and simmer. Great for tajines and dishes like boeuf bourguignon.
Le Creuset pots are my other favourites and the picture below shows one of my Le Creuset style red / orange pans.
Emile Henry Flame Top Tagine Pot
The chicken tajine v chicken casserole experiment
I gathered together the ingredients for a Les Trois Chenes version of a chicken tajine. I browned the chicken in a frying pan, although you could do this in either the tajine or the casserole! Then I divided the ingredients between the Emile Henry tajine pot and my favourite Le Creuset casserole pot.
I added water and put them both in the oven for the same length of time and waited to see what the results would be.
When cooked, both the tajine and the casserole were gorgeous. The taste, texture and colour were both exactly the same and, as far as I or my guests could tell, there was no difference at all. So I conclude that if you just want to eat your food - don't bother to buy a special tajine pot. (Remember, though, I did not have the 'real', unglazed dish and I did put both of them in the oven!)
Where the Tajine pot did come up trumps, though, was presentation. How lovely to place these beautifully shaped and wonderfully coloured pots on the table. It reeks of exoticism and Morocco.
If you have the cash to buy this dish and a place to stash it, I recommend that you splash out and buy the most beautiful one that you can, get a good recipe book and wow all your friends. You could even play that fabulous eastern music, add a brightly coloured cloth with a few 'eastern' patterned tiles to act as place mats and have a thoroughly Moroccan themed dinner! This video will help to get you in the mood. (YouTube Video MaRKoRAK27)
Tajine or Casserole?
Keen to learn more about tajine and Moroccan cooking?
- Moroccan Food and Cooking
Moroccan cuisine is the perfumed soul of the culture, and this covers the food, ingredients and tableware, with links to over 60 recipes.
- Moroccan Cooking Lessons in the Fez Medina: Learn Traditional Moroccan recipes with Chef Lahcen Beqq
Cooking classes, vacations, holidays in Fes, the Fez Medina, Morocco. Learn Traditional Moroccan recipes; tagine, couscous, pastilla, harira, salads.
Tajine pot or cassarole - what do you think?
Fiona Ridley on June 12, 2010:
ahh...so the fact we dropped the lid of ours at Luton airport on way back from Morrocco should cause me no grief at all....I'll just carry on with the Le Creuset, thanks for an interesting experiment!