Did you know that tagine is not couscous?
And that couscous is served with a different dish entirely?
David and I didn’t!
That was until we lived in Morocco for three months and ate tagine or couscous almost daily.
If you are, I’m not surprised because here in the US, the “tagine” served on most restaurant menus is actually couscous.
Really confused now?
That’s okay. You won’t be for much longer!
Tagine is cooked in a tagine pot over low heat with layers of meat or fish covered with layers of vegetables, herbs, and spices. The only liquid in a tagine is the cooking liquids from the protein and veggies. For serving, the tagine is served right out of the bottom portion of the tagine pot.
Moroccan couscous is served with a stew similar to the tagine. The entire dish is prepared in a couscous pot, which allows similar layers of proteins, veggies and lots of broth to cook underneath a steamer basket, which holds and cooks the couscous grains. For serving, the couscous is poured into a large flat clay bowl, similar in look to the tagine bottom. Then the meat and vegetables are arranged on top, and the broth poured over the entire dish.
Learning how to cook tagine and couscous from several Moroccan cooks was a fantastic experience. We ate beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian tagines. And several variations on couscous.
So we thought that we would share everything we learned so that you know the difference between a tagine and couscous.
What is the Difference Between a Tagine Pot and a Couscoussier?
Traditionally, tagine cooks in a conical-shaped two-piece terra-cotta pot called a tagine pot. It’s sort of like cooking with a crock pot. You layer in meat and veggies, then put the spices on top; close the lid and allow the dish to steaming and simmer until cook through.
Couscous cooks in a couscoussier, a taller metal pot with a slightly bulbous base, a steamer and a lid. The meat and liquids cook below causing steam to rise through the couscous, cooking it during the cooking process.
For those without a tagine pot or couscoussier, you can still cook tagine or couscous. A large heavy cook pot, dutch oven or crock pot works well for cooking a tagine. And couscous can either be made using a large cooking pot fitted with a steamer basket or rice steamer.
The biggest trick is keeping the steam in the pot for steaming in the couscous. Either you need a tight fitting lid or do as the Moroccans do and seal the pan with foil to make sure the steam stays in the pot.
How Do You Eat Tagine and Couscous?
Moroccans eat using pieces of torn bread, or khobz, for scooping the tagine and couscous into their mouths from a community pot.
Silverware is not used by the locals for eating either of these two dishes, but if you are uncomfortable, you can ask for some.
Pronounced “hobs,” khobz is a round flat Moroccan bread baked in several different flavors. While some people still cook khobz at home, most get it fresh daily from the local bakery where it costs an average of $0.10 for a round loaf.
What Ingredients are in Tagine and Couscous?
Both tagine and couscous use similar ingredients and are seasonally based. The recipe depends on the chef or if there’s a special occasion.
Proteins include beef, chicken, goat, sheep, lamb, turkey, and different types of fish. While you can find pork in the Western grocery stores like the Carre Four, Morocco is a pork-free country because of religion. Because you’re braising the meat, choose the cheapest possible cuts. No need for expensive cuts here!
Commonly used vegetables include zucchini, carrots, potatoes, eggplant, fennel, winter squash, tomatoes, garlic, and onions. Which are always topped with fresh parsley and coriander! When choosing what vegetables to pick, think of ones that hold up well to long, slow cooking.
Chickpeas, nuts, raisins, dates, preserved lemons, olives, prunes and caramelized onions are also very common additions.
And the final ingredient is the spices. Those are discussed more below.
What Spices are in Tagine and Couscous?
Both dishes are made using mixtures of cumin, paprika, saffron, black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, ground ginger and chili powder.
The amount and which spices used depends on the protein and vegetables used and the cook’s recipe. Recipes vary by region and of course, by the cook.
Both dishes are spicy but not chili-pepper spicy. Just spicy from the number and quantity of spices used. The Moroccans believe in flavor in their food. No bland food served there!
How to Make Your Tagine
Tagine is VERY easy to make. It’s such a simple dish that tastes so complex and delicious.
It’s as simple forming a pyramid by layering.
If using meat, place on the bottom of the pan. Always use a cheap cut of meat. Nothing fancy here! The slow braising breaks down the fibers, making them melt-in-your-mouth tender.
Second, build a pyramid over the top of the meat with the veggies by laying them on the meat. Arrange some of each vegetable all the way around the pot. Top with chopped herbs and any other ingredients that you want.
Finally, mix your spices with a small amount of water and pour over the top, place the lid on the pot and walk away.
If you’re using fish, place the fish on top the vegetables, then top with the rest of the ingredients.
Making a tagine is as simple as that.
Check out the video above for the layering process. I’ve also included the basic beef tagine recipe that I learned from our Airbnb host Aziz, while in Morocco.
So what do you think? Are you ready to make a tagine? Or just ready to visit Morocco and have one made for you?
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