Welcome to the Wood Fired Oven Podcast
Aug. 22, 2021

Aladdin’s Tagine and His Wonderful Lamp

Aladdin’s Tagine and His Wonderful Lamp

Join me this week as I explore the long and rich history of the Tagine, and why it's a great cooking vessel for your Wood Fired Oven.

Grab your copy of the One Thousand and One Nights: https://amzn.to/3ihziT1

If you choose to purchase the books from the links above, I may earn a small affiliate fee to help support the show.

The Fire Brick Company
The Fire Brick Company specialises in producing world class Wood Fired Pizza Oven Kits.

I am very grateful to the Fire Brick Company for sponsoring the show. If you are thinking of building your own Wood Fired Oven, head on over to The Fire Brick Company website - www.thefirebrickco.com/WFOpodcast where they have a little something for you. 

Support the show

Become a Supporter of the show
Please consider supporting the Wood Fired Oven Podcast. I am very grateful to all those who support the show. Every little bit helps to cover costs. Support the show here.

Leave a review
Please leave a review on Apple Podcasts to let me know what you think of the show.

My website
Check out my website for episode show notes and links, wood fired oven tips and advice, pictures and recipes: woodfiredoven.cooking

Instagram: marks_WoodFiredOven
Facebook: Wood Fired Oven Chronicles Facebook group
YouTube: @woodfiredovenpodcast
Twitter: @WFOPodcast

Recommended Wood Fired Oven books
Check out my favourite books. They have helped me a lot, both with cooking in my wood fired oven and learning to cook with fire. Some of these have also been recommended to me by friends of my podcast.


Mark (00:07):
Gday - Welcome to the Wood Fired Oven podcast where I take a deep dive into the techniques, recipes and history of wood fired oven cooking. My name is Mark an obsessed and somewhat curious fan of outdoor cooking - especially with my wood fired oven. Follow my podcast in your favourite app and listen in, as I go searching for the best recipes, tips and advice, to both supercharge our cooking skills and motivate you to light up your favourite outdoor cooking gear this weekend.

Mark (00:43):
There once lived a poor tailor, who had a son called Aladdin, a careless, idle boy who would do nothing but play all day long in the streets with little idle boys like himself. This so grieved the father that he died; yet, in spite of his mother's tears and prayers, Aladdin did not mend his ways. One day, when he was playing in the streets as usual, a stranger asked him his age, and if he were not the son of Mustapha the tailor. "I am, sir," replied Aladdin; "but he died a long while ago." On this the stranger, who was a famous African magician, fell on his neck and kissed him, saying: "I am your uncle, and knew you from your likeness to my brother. Go to your mother and tell her I am coming."

Mark (01:37):
These are the opening words of the famous ancient tale of Aladdin’s wonderful lamp from The One Thousand and One Nights. A tale steep in history as is the subject of today’s show - The Tagine - which was first committed to the written word in the 8th century in the writings of The One Thousand and One Nights - or as you may know it as Arabian nights. More on this later.

Mark (02:02):
In this week's episode, we're taking a deep dive into cooking with a tagine and the wood fired oven, and maybe just a little sprinkling of the history of this unique cooking vessel. So the tagine, well weirdly means two things, both a dish to cook in, and the name of the slow cooked food or stew made actually in the tagine. The tagine as a dish, I think is perfectly positioned as ideal cookware for the wood fired oven, where the gorgeous, dry heat of the oven perfectly surrounds the traditional conical shaped lid, enveloping the dish evenly from all sides of the dome.

Mark (02:45):
Now, I'm presuming you know, what tagine is, but if not, it refers to this unique type of north African cookware, which includes a bottom dish to hold the food and a conical shaped lid. And it has a handle on top of this lid that you can open and close the dish. The lid is unique in that it traps the moisture during cooking and the shape of the lid, I think allows an awful lot of this moisture to be retained surrounding the top of the food. And it helps to return this moisture back to the bottom dish, back into the food. This keeps the food delicious, succulent and moist. And that means that not a lot of moisture actually, is needed to cook a dish in the tagine. Maybe this was one of its early benefits in dryer arid north African lands, where water may have been scarce. It's possible. Great cookware. I think for those long juicy succulent flavor filled stews, something that I think, does exceptionally well, in a wood fired oven, I think.

Mark (03:54):
So, typically there are two types of two tagines. There's a glazed and an unglazed, version. A lot of tagines that you see in the shops are glazed full of paint, colors, vibrant, and they're lovely. Some of them however, are simply for serving, not cooking. So if you can only get your hands on a glazed tagine, make sure it is suitable for cooking. A lot of cooks though, prefer the unglazed more natural tagines. This is where I think these cooking vessels really, really shine. Now I've got two Moroccan made unglazed hand made tagines, which I use a lot in the wood fired oven. Take a look at WoodFiredOven.Cooking for a few pictures of the ones that I have.

Mark (04:42):
I was able to get these direct from a north African importer a couple of years ago. It's a lovely to have these original pieces. They're a piece of artwork I think really too. There are imprints of the makers fingers as they have worked the clay into the shapes. And that's just lovely. It tells a wonderful story, I think of the tagine maker, on the other side of the world to me.

Mark (05:06):
So these are made with Moroccan clay and they produce a unique earthy smell while cooking and a subtle earthy taste to the finished dish. That's why a lot of cooks prefer to use unglazed natural clay tagines. You won't get those same unique flavors coming into the food from a glazed tagine I don't think. I've experimented a lot with my tagines in the wood fired oven. One of my favorite meals I like to make is a gorgeous, slow cooked lamb to tagine with aubergine and vine ripened tomatoes served with fluffy cous cous and flatbreads, which I also make in the wood fired oven, during the cook. I have a link in the show notes to the recipe If you're interested.

Mark (05:50):
I use lamb shoulder in this particular tagine dish, trimmed and cut into chunks, which really benefits from being slow cooked. I think, the shoulder cut is the best part of the animal for this type of dish. It's a little bit fattier and really does benefit from those longer cooking times The shoulder muscle, well - it's a hardworking part of the animal, cooking slow will release these wonderful flavors in the muscle fats, softening the meat, allowing the shoulder meat to become rich, juicy, and tender.

Mark (06:20):
As the moisture gets trapped in the cone. During the cook I've found, I can keep the wood fired oven pretty hot during the cooking cycle. I usually keep a flame going when I cook the tagine. Yeah, look, I know you could cook the, tagine in the retained heat with no flame, but surely it's more fun and certainly more versatile, I think to cook while there is flame. I'll often cook broccolini, leaks, hay smoked tomatoes to accompany the dish. And, it's nice to have embers and flame to do that work. During the cook, I usually bake the Moroccan flatbreads on the brick floor in the oven. Interestingly, these are made from whole meal, flour and semolina, and it makes a delicious, strong, but spongy bread to pull apart and to mop up the lamb tagine, just beautiful.

Mark (07:09):
So may have guessed from the introduction the tagine has an interest history actually. It first appeared in our written record in the ninth century in the well-known publication, The One Thousand and One Nights. And that's a huge, collection of middle Eastern folk tales. Many of which you would have heard of, which was originally compiled in Arabic and the English speaking world it's often referred to as Arabian nights. And you've probably heard of 'Aladdin's wonderful lamp', the beginning of which we heard earlier, Ali Baba and the 40 thieves these stories were later added to the collection, but possibly may not have been included in the original volumes, The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor, which you may also know as attributed to The One Thousand and One Nights.

Mark (07:50):
So while researching this episode, I downloaded a few of the volumes and they're quite large of The Thousand and One Nights, to search for the historical references, with cooking with a tagine or cooking in tagine styles. I couldn't actually find the references, after a fair amount of time searching, but scholars fast, smarter than me, do say that it appears in multiple sources throughout the volumes, which is I think just fantastic. It's clearly steeped in history there. Look, if you know where to look for the references, if you know where they are, please drop me a note. I would appreciate a bit of crowdsourcing on this.

Mark (08:27):
So, we know that most likely these types of vessels, the tagines, were in use around the ninth century. It's widely accepted that the, tagines was in use during the rule of Harun al Rashid, ruler of the Islamic empire in the eighth century. If you enjoy a bit of history like I do, if you hadn't guessed, you might be interested to know that it's quite possible that the Roman occupation of Northern Africa over 2000 years ago, about a thousand years before The One Thousand and One Nights nights was written contributed to these types of cooking vessels.

Mark (09:00):
The Romans enjoyed cooking and ceramic dishes and other portable cooking vessels too. It's possible they brought this tradition to north Africa. However, I don't know, that the Romans were perhaps history's greatest, plagiarists copying all sorts of things they discovered on their travels. So maybe it was the north African cookware traditions that were absorbed into the Roman empire. I don't know who knows. Anyway, when we cook with a tagine, it has a very, very, very long history. And when coupled with cooking in a brick oven, that history is fused and is pretty rich, a little bit like the food it produces, which well for me, I think it adds enormously to the romance, to the intrigue of incorporating these two ancient cooking styles. So if it was good enough for a Aladdin, for Sinbad the Sailor to eat from these types of dishes, that's certainly good enough for me.

Mark (09:52):
I get to use some delightfully subtle spices when cooking in the tagine, including saffron. I'm sure you've all used saffron. I often make up saffron water for inclusion in a few of the tagine dishes I make. I use a small, spanish cazuela dish, in the wood fired oven to gently warm the delicate saffron, just until it starts to smoke. I then add a cup of water and simmer for a few minutes. This turns the water, a beautiful, pale orangy yellowish colour, and it smells just devine. The saffron water really is delicious. What doesn't get used in the tagine that night gets poured into, ice cube containers and popped into the freezer for later use. Having a ready supply of saffron water is really helpful when cooking and you can add to heaps and heaps of different dishes.

Mark (10:44):
Saffron is expensive, really, really expensive. So don't burn it when dry roasting. In fact, it has been the most expensive spice by weight for many, many, many years. Get this, it's about - ranges on the open markets, but it's about 5 to 7,000 US dollars a kilo. Yep, I know what you're thinking. Kind of understandable when you appreciate though, that it takes just under half a million saffron stigmas per kilo. Varies a little bit, but give or take that's about what it is. That works out to be about 150,000 Crocus flowers per kilo. Now, guess how many hours of labour is needed to pick that by hand? Yeah. Well, it's about 40 hours. So 40 hours per kilo, and that's a whole working week for one kilo of saffron. Crazy! In Australia, gorgeous locally produced saffron - it costs about 50 to $60,000 a kilo, which, yeah... get this, is about the same price for a kilo of gold, which is amazing.

Mark (11:59):
So my takeout here is not to burn saffron when dry roasting in the wood fired oven, like I did just one time to be fair. I thought it would take longer to dry roast. So I went and poured a glass of beautiful south Australian Shiraz. I only took a minute or so when I wandered back to the oven, boom, it was burnt terrible. Anyway, lesson learned. Saffron is gorgeous. It has these overtones of hay and earthy notes, gorgeous, unique flavors.

Mark (12:27):
Anyway, back to the tagine. You need to season a new tagine with oil, and that helps to protect the clay. And it is also important if you're using one over a stove with direct heat off the flame to use a heat diffuser. I've used mine over the stove a lot. So I needed a hunt out a small square diffuser. Can't remember where I got it from, the take a little while to hunt one out. And like I say, it's to diffuse that heat coming off the direct flame, avoids cracking and damaging the tagine. These days though for me, I just use it in the wood fired oven now, and it lives perfectly happy directly on the hot brick oven floor. Something unusual happens as the unglazed clay dome lid heats up. The clay dome changes pitch when it is tapped, which ...is a bit weird, it becomes much more treble in sound and almost seems to take quite a new personality and okay, look, yeah, it sounds a bit strange, but try it yourself and see what, you'll see what I mean - some interesting interaction with high heat and fired clay. I don't know if, you know, let me know. I don't know. It's pretty neat actually, but it does seem to prefer its life, living hot. I've got a future episode. That's getting planned now for cooking with the tagine and the wood fired oven. So stay tuned for that, that story - it's still to come.

Mark (13:44):
Sinbad the Sailor - from The One Thousand and One Nights, sailed seven voyages over the oceans having fantastic adventures really. I’m sure he experienced some of the greatest magical food during these times - probably from cooking vessels just like the tagine - which kind of resembles a gene’s lamp if you think about it. Aladdin was onto it. Quite nice to cook in these historic dishes - knowing we are certainly not the first - nor the last to experiment with magical and adventrous flavours of the Persia and the northern African regions of the world. Thanks for listening - and thanks too for all the positive comments I been receiving about the new podcast. Your support is hugely appreciated. Keep the comments coming ….and stay listening. Thanks so very much. Stay safe - have fun…. And go cook with fire.

Mark (14:35):
If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please make sure you follow the Wood Fired Oven podcast in apple podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcasting app. Please consider posting a review on apple podcasts…as that really helps the show. Don’t forget to check out WOODFIREDOVEN.COOKING for more tips, tricks and advice on cooking with fire. You can also see full episode notes and links. You can also post a question which I may feature on the show. I’m also on Instagram, twitter and facebook so head over to your favourite social platform and and get in touch. Thanks again for listening. Catch you next time.