For a good friend’s birthday, I went all out with a meal I’d never attempted before. Pilau. Bread. Brussel sprouts with garlic and balsamic vinegar. My take on a mint tzatziki (recipes forthcoming).
But the main event? A blow-your-mind-into-a-cloud-of-spicy-heaven pork tagine.
If you love an Indian curry, folks, you’ll love a tagine. These stews are a perfect, sultry marriage of slow-cooked slabs of rich meat, sweet preserved fruits, and fresh herbs. The thick broth is to die for when draped over fluffy rice or buttery couscous, which is more authentic (I didn’t have any at the time). I couldn’t stop eating. A roommate who declared that she wasn’t hungry when we sat down for the meal cleaned her plate to a sparkling shine. I can’t wait for you to try it.
You’ll start by bathing pork shoulder in chermoula, a sweet and zippy marinade used in Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian cooking. Then you’ll sear it to a golden perfection in a quick version of ghee, or clarified butter that’s used all over Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Asia. Traditionally, you’d then cook it low and slow in a tagine, a North African device that works much like a dutch oven, but has a beautiful conical shape designed to circulate moisture – steam rises and collects at the top of the dome, and the sloped sides bring the liquid back into your stew. I used a dutch oven because… I was busy making bread in my tagine. Oh, the irony.
Tagines are SO PRETTY.
For the chermoula (marinade)
– Small bunch (1/2 cup) each parsley and cilantro
– 1-2 tsp each coriander, cumin seeds, and black peppercorns
– 2 tsp sea salt
– 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
– 1 inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
– 1 red chili pepper (I used Thai bird’s eye), chopped and deseeded.
– 2 tbsp dark honey
– juice of 1/2 a lemon/lime
– 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
For the rest of the stew
– 3 tbsp butter (I used salted)
– About 2kg pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch slabs the size of your palm
– 2 onions, cut into wedges (they’ll practically melt as they stew, so size doesn’t really matter)
– handful each prunes and raisins (or as much as you’d like)
– large handful mint leaves, plucked whole
– Seeds of half a pomegranate
1. With a pestle and mortar OR in a food processor, make the chermoula by pounding/grinding to a paste the parsley, cilantro, coriander, cumin, peppercorns, salt, garlic, ginger, and chili pepper. Then mix in honey, lime/lemon juice, and olive oil. Pour your chermoula over the pork, and then massage the aromatic marinade allllll up in that meat. Cover and let marinate for at least 6 hours for the best flavor.
2. In a tagine or dutch oven, heat butter over medium heat. Make your ghee by allowing butter to melt and begin to foam until it turns a nutty brown color (but don’t let it smoke/burn). At this point, add pork and brown on all sides (tongs work really well for this job). You may have to work in batches and transfer your browned pork to a plate.
3. In the same vessel (which will now contained delicious sticky bits from the pork and chermoula), add your onions, any leftover chermoula, and a little water to deglaze. Return pork to the pot, add prunes and sultanas, and enough water to cover meat. Allow to stew for at least 1.5 hours, leaving the lid off for the last 30 minutes to reduce.
4. Serve by garnishing stew with a handful of mint and pomegranate seeds.
5. AHM NAHM NAHM NAHM NAHM.