Springtime, a Spring Chicken and Lamb Tagine
One thing I love about the French is their fascination with learning new English words or phrases. Take my boulanger, Jean-Marc, below. I taught him the phrase “poulet du printemps” (poo-lay do prahn-ton) or spring chicken. His first response was “I am not a hen!” Once I explained what it really meant, he was beyond giddy, grinning from oreille-a-oreille (ear-to-ear) and now every time I pop in he exclaims “I am ze spreeeng cheee-ken!” I love the French.
And speaking of spring, what better reason to celebrate after such a loooooooooong, gloomy, gray, cold winter that the start of spring – that and my friend Jean‘s birthday. Spring did indeed arrive though rather elusively popping in and out of winter so since it was still a bit chilly, I decided to make a Tajine d’Agneau (lamb tagine). I’d never made a tajine and had been wanting to cook one since I visited the store at the Monde Arabe lined with the alluring tagines in all sizes, rich colors, and ornate designs.
A tajine has Moroccan origins as a meal as well as a special pot for preparing this dish. The traditional tajine pot is made of a heavy clay which is painted and glazed. The bottom which is flat and circular with low sides and the top is a large cone shaped cover that stays on during cooking. The cover is so designed so that the condensate returns to the bottom of the tajine. Cooked slowly at low temperatures results in a tajine with tender, falling-off-the-bone meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce.
So off Jean and I went to shop. First stop, Place Monge market and Mohammed, or Momo as the kids call him, for his dizzying array of olives, nuts and dried fruits. We made the rounds for the produce and then to my blue-eyed butcher Serge for 2 kilos (approx 4 lbs) of epaule d’agneau (lamb shoulder). Last stop was for a few baguettes traditions graines from the above mentioned spring chicken.
With Edith Piaf signing in the background, I began chopping and cutting. Here’s how it shook out in the end after a little of this and a little of that, a pinch of this and a splash of that…
Menu du Printemps et de l’Anniversaire de Jean
Foie gras, Pate with cornichons
Cashews, Cherry Tomatoes
Fromages des Beaufort d’ete, Gex bleu, and Brebis
~ Kir Royale (Champagne with a splash of Cassis)
Haricots Verts avec Lardons, Noix Epices, Roquefort
~ La Vielle Ferme, 2004 Rhone Valley
Tajine d’Agneau avec Couscous Epices
~ Chateauneuf du Pape 2003
Brut de Chocolat ~ Gateau avec mousse au chocolat noir, crouistillante praline et biscuit au chocolat by Chef de Patisserie Pascal Pinaud
Lamb Tajine ~ for 8 people
2 kilos (4 lbs) lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup flour
2 medium onions, diced
3 cups water
splash or 2 of red wine
3 carrots, cut in half then in 1/4-inch slices
1/4 pumpkin or 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups pitted prunes, 1 cup cut in half
1 cup dried apricots, all cut in half
1 large pinch saffron threads
1-1/2 teaspoons ginger
1/3 teaspoon cinnamon
a few shakes cumin
a few shakes coriander
a few shakes paprika
a few shakes cardamom
a few grinds nutmeg (try to use a fresh nutmeg nut)
pinch or two cayenne
1. Cut carrots and pumpkin or squash, toss in a tablespoon of vegetable oil and roast in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes or not quite done.
2. Cut the lamb into 1-inch cubes (or ask your butcher to do it). Sprinkle the lamb with sea salt, fresh ground pepper and lightly flour.
3. Brown the lamb in vegetable oil in batches and set aside in a bowl. Ask the butcher to cut the bone into 1-inch pieces. Brown the bones and set aside.
4. Add a splash of vegetable oil and the diced onions to the pan and cook until softened. Put the meat, bones and any juice in the bowl back into the pan. Add the water, wine, and saffron. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cover, add all the spices, and cook for about 30 minutes.
5. Add the carrots, pumpkin, apricots and prunes and cook for another 15-20 minutes. This might take longer based on your stove. I have a super btu burner that cooks pretty hot and fast.
6. Taste and add spices, salt and pepper until you have the desired taste.
7. Serve over couscous.
Bon Appetit, Bon Printemps et Bon Anniversaire!