Moroccan Lamb or Beef Tagine with Pears

pear-tagine-1-2372-x-1674.jpg
Moroccan Tagine with Pears. Photo © Christine Benlafquih
  • 95 mins
  • Prep: 25 mins,
  • Cook: 70 mins
  • Yield: Serves 4 to 6.
Ratings

Ginger, saffron, cinnamon and honey feature prominently in this classic Moroccan sweet and savory tagine which works well as either a family meal or company dinner. While other fruit tagines are often made with dried fruit such as prunes or apricots, this one calls for poaching fresh, ripe (but still firm) pears. If possible, select smaller pears for a nicer presentation.

Note that similar treatment is given to fresh quinces when making Lamb or Beef with Quinces, although in that case, the notoriously firm quinces will need to be cooked to a tender state before poaching.

Although slow-stewing in a clay tagine is the most traditional method of preparation, it's far more common these days to see the dish prepared in a pressure cooker. The directions below explain both methods, as well as preparation in a conventional pot or Dutch oven.

Cooking time is for a pressure cooker; double this time if cooking in a standard pot and triple this time if using a tagine.

What You'll Need

  • 1 kg (about 2 lbs.) beef or lamb, cut into 2" or 3" pieces
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 or 2 small pieces (2 to 3") of cinnamon stick 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper or cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ras El Hanout
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small handful of cilantro (coriander), tied into a bouquet
  • ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
  • 1 kg (about 2 lbs.) fresh, very firm pears
  • 1/3 cup broth, reserved from cooking the meat
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons honey or sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of salt (optional)
  • ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
  • fried almonds, for garnish (optional)
  • toasted golden sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

How to Make It

1. Cook the Lamb or Beef

Conventional pot, Dutch oven or pressure cooker method: Combine the lamb or beef, onions, garlic, spices, butter and oil. Brown the meat for a few minutes over medium heat then add 3 cups of water and the bouquet of cilantro. Increase the heat to high to bring the liquids to a boil.

If using a pressure cooker, cover tightly and continue heating until pressure is achieved. Then, reduce the heat to medium and cook with pressure for about 30 minutes.

At this point, interrupt the cooking to remove and reserve 1/3 cup of the liquids. Add a little more water to the cooker if you feel it's necessary, close tightly and return to pressure. Continue pressure cooking for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the meat tests buttery tender. Reduce the sauce, uncovered, until it is mostly oils and onion.

If using a conventional pot or Dutch oven, cover and simmer the meat over medium heat for two to two-and-half hours, until the meat is very tender and breaks away easily from the bone. (Note: About halfway through cooking, remove and reserve 1/3 cup of the liquids.) During cooking, stir occasionally and keep your eye on the level of the cooking liquids; add small amounts of water as necessary so that the meat does not scorch. When the meat has cooked, reduce the sauce, uncovered, until it is mostly oil and onions.

Clay or ceramic tagine method: Slice one of the onions instead of grating it and layer the onion rings on the bottom of the tagine. Add the oil and butter to the tagine. In a bowl, mix the meat with the grated onion, garlic, and spices; place the mixture over the layer of onions, taking care to arrange the meat bone-side down. Add 2 1/2 cups water, cover, and place the tagine on a diffuser over medium heat. Allow the tagine to reach a simmer (this may take a long time), and then reduce the heat to the lowest temperature necessary to maintain the simmer. Allow the tagine to cook for three hours or longer (do not stir) until the meat is very tender (you should be able to pinch it off the bone) and the liquids are reduced. (Note: About two hours into the cooking, remove and reserve 1/3 cup of the liquids.)

2. Poach the Pears

Preparation of the pears can be done while the meat is still cooking. Melt the butter in a 10" skillet then remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the cinnamon, honey and reserved cooking liquid. 

Peel each pear, cut in half lengthwise and remove the core. (You may leave the stem for presentation if you like; I prefer to discard it.) As you work, transfer the pear halves to the skillet, flat side down. 

Cover the skillet and place over medium heat to bring the liquids to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the pears until tender, about 10 minutes. If necessary, reduce the liquids to a thick syrup. Avoid overcooking the pears or they will break apart when serving.  

3. Serve the Tagine

Discard the cinnamon stick and cilantro. If you cooked in a pot or pressure cooker, transfer the meat and onion sauce to a platter. If you prepared the meat in a tagine, plan to serve directly from the same vessel.

Arrange the pear halves around the meat and spoon the syrup over all. Garnish the dish if desired with fried almonds or sesame seeds.

Tradition is to gather round and eat from the communal dish, using pieces of Moroccan bread (khobz) instead of utensils.