I bought a tagine a while ago.
There was great build up to this event as I had dreamed about having the beautiful object in my kitchen and confidently slow-cooking all sorts of succulent, exciting meals in it on a regular basis.
I did my research, invested in a wonderful book by Ghillie Basan, and had even planned for ‘tagine Tuesdays’.
Obviously I read all about preserved lemons and made a few jars to use as accompaniments throughout the year!
It’s very simple to do.
A guide for making 8 preserved lemons is:
- 8 unwaxed lemons
- 8 tablespoons sea salt
- Juice of 4 lemons (you may need more, this is why I call it a guide)
I am assuming that you will use the average lemons you find at the supermarket as opposed to the small Meyer variety traditionally used in Morocco. Obviously, this means that 1 home-made lemon goes a lot further than 1 out of a shop-brought jar, so if a recipe calls for 1 lemon, bear this in mind.
- Slice the ends off as many unwaxed lemons as you can fit in your jar(s). Stand each lemon on one cut end and cut a cross three-quarters of the way through them, as if cutting them into quarters but keeping the base intact.
- Stuff 1 tablespoon of sea salt into each lemon and pack them into sterilized jars (see end of post). Seal the jar and store in a cool place for 3-4 days to allow the skins to soften.
- When this time is up, press the lemons down into the jar (they will now be much more obedient). Pour lemon juice over the lemons until they are completely covered. This is important as any fruit left uncovered will quickly decay. Reseal the jar and store in a cool place for at least 1 month.
- They are now ready to use! Rinse off the salt before using.
So, back to my story.
The tagine was delivered and I was right on the job! I enthusiastically got to prepping everything I needed for a beautiful chicken and preserved lemon tagine… except the tagine itself. Meaning the actual vessel.
You’re supposed to ‘treat’ tagines before first use to strengthen them, otherwise there is a strong chance of them cracking.
You are supposed to soak the lid and base in water for at least 2 hours or overnight, dry it, then (if it is unglazed), rub it with olive oil inside and out. The olive oil helps to seal the clay and adds flavour during the cooking process, so may as well be added to ceramic tagines too. Now it goes in a cold oven which is then turned up to 150°c and left for 2 hours. This is necessary as tagines can also crack when subjected to rapid changes in temperature, a fact that also makes it important not to add cold food to a hot tagine or vice versa. The last steps are to turn the oven off and leave the tagine to cool completely, then wash it by hand and coat with oil again before storing or using!
No need to tell you what happened to mine. I was gutted. Another mistake I made was to place the tagine over too high a heat as I was too impatient to wait for my food to come to a simmer over a low heat. My poor heat diffuser was redundant 😦
Clearly, patience is fundamental to success with this method.
But the contents were salvageable and very delicious. In a way this only added to the pain of my loss. It is too soon to replace it with another.
Similar to curing a tagine really. Preheat the oven to 180°c. Wash the jars in hot, soapy water and rinse in clean warm water. Place the jars upside down on a rack in the oven and allow to drip-dry. Leave for at least 20 minutes.
Sterilising jars and equipment is essential to the success and longevity of any preserves you make.
Again, don’t add anything cold to hot jars, or anything hot to cold jars or the jars will shatter.