Give a fig!

In Recipies on December 20, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Tangines are elegant, but unneeded to make a great tangine dinner.

A friend of Bedouin ancestry introduced me to tangine cooking twelve years ago.  These pungent-sweet stew-like dishes are ubiquitous in North Africa and they are a Moroccan staple.

“Tangine” refers to the type of cooking vessel used.  A tangine has a deep, dish bottom and a tall, conical top.  The idea behind the design is that moisture from the cooking in the deep dish rises along the sloped sides of the top, condenses, and returns to the food below to keep it wonderfully moist.

The Phyne Dyner does not own a tangine and one does not need a tangine to cook great tangine recipes.  I use a semi-ancient “Club Aluminum” Dutch oven and get splendid tangine every time.  If it burns in your belly to own a tangine, they can be found online for $100-200.  But, in my opinion, most Phyne Dyners would only want one to add authenticity in bringing the dish to table…they make an elegant and dramatic presentation.

Jews living in Arab countries often prepare tangine-like stews for Shabbat suppers and to keep piping-hot when cooking is forbidden on Shabbat.  These dishes are called “cholents” (the Eastern European name), but they bear little resemblance to the often starchy and typically bland cholents of Eastern Europe.  I have made some splendid tangine/cholent variations with their pungent spices offset by the sweet accents (How appropriate for Shabbat!) of cinnamon or cardamom.

This recipe is one I gleaned from the PBS program, “Everyday Cooking”.  It is simple and uses everyday ingredients.  I chose it because it does not rely on “exotic” spices and I have gotten spectacular results (and rave reviews from guests) every time I prepare it.

Tangines are “elegant poor people food” in their native lands and this recipe can be adapted to use whatever you have available. For example, substitute orange segments for the figs and stir in some cardamom.  Or, try apple slices with cinammon!  Make it “stick to your ribs” by adding a can of chickpeas (garbanzos) before baking.  In Africa, pumpkin or squash makes up for the lack of meat.  Splurge on some lamb or goat instead of chicken!  Sweet spices and figs are, in my opinion, far better than mint jelly as flavor-foils for lamb.

You get the idea.

So, break out that old Dutch oven and serve up some classically authentic tangine.  If yours is “stove-top safe”, this is a one-pot meal!  Fast clean-up means more time to linger with wine, and friends, after dinner.

4 large chicken thighs, skin on

8-10oz “Mission style” figs (or any dried figs) cut into large pieces

1 ½ very large onions, chopped (about 4-5 cups)

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp paprika

¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

¼ C vegetable oil

salt and fresh-ground pepper

Heat the oil in the Dutch oven (or skillet) over medium-high heat.  Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper.  Place the chicken thighs, skin-side up, into the hot oil and fry them until they are golden (5-6 minutes per side) and remove them to a plate.  You are not cooking the chicken, only making it crisp and golden on the outside.

Pre-heat the oven to 400F.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and, very carefully, spoon out excess oil and grease, leaving about 1-2 tablespoons in the Dutch oven.  Sauté the onion for about 3-4 minutes, until it is translucent, not browned or golden. Then stir in (loosening the brown bits in the bottom of the pan) the garlic, paprika, and cumin.  I like my tangine to have a traditional “bite”, so add the cayenne if you like.  Cook for an additional minute.  Add one cup of hot water and then stir in the figs.  Lay the chicken, skin-side up, on top of the mixture and then push the chicken into it, but do not completely cover the meat.  Cover tightly.  Bake for 45-50 minutes.  Check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer.  Add more water if the pot looks dry, but 1 C is almost always enough water from the beginning.  Continue baking until the temperature of the meat at its thickest part reads 170-180F.

Serve alongside basmati rice or couscous, generously spooning some of the onion-fig mixture over the chicken.  Try this with the Persian Great Beans and Chickpeas as a side!


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