“It was the best of recipes, it was the worst of recipes.”
I know that sounds so cheesey, but it’s seriously how I feel about the Tunisian tagine. I’ve attempted it a few times now and each time the flavor has been fantastic but I seem to mess it up with the eggs, the very component that makes this tagine special.
The challenge began in January as I was reassembling my apartment after a few weeks of painting. I’d had to remove all my cookbooks and culinary binders from the bookshelf which wound up in a heap on the floor. When I finally got around to cleaning up the mess, I decided to flip through some of the binders and came across a long-forgotten set of North African recipes. One in particular caught my eye: Tunisian tagine of chicken, prunes, potatoes and eggs.
The beauty of this recipe was that it didn’t have to be cooked in a clay tagine (a cone-shaped top with an opening in the center and a flat, circular base traditionally used to braise meats). In fact, I learned that the word tagine refers to both the cooking vessel and the dish itself. But the “worst” of the recipe was that it was sparsely written, mainly a list of ingredients designed to feed 20+ people, certainly not meant for home use.
So I did the best I could to figure it out and actually came up with a truly delicious dish with a strong, unique flavor. But I also messed up, specifically the last step where the eggs somehow had to be added to the mixture. I assumed the eggs were a thickener and needed to be tempered in so as not to curdle. Being my first crack at the recipe, I was certain I’d found succes. That is until I began to write up the recipe and decided to research exactly what made this a “Tunisian tagine.”
The answer: a Tunisian tagine is similar to a frittata, something much different than the stew-like dish I had created.
I knew I would have to try to make it again but wasn’t certain I wanted it to be served as a slice. So on the second attempt I hedged my bet by reserving half the tagine just before adding the eggs (I probably should have used more eggs but I wanted to keep the tagine low-fat). This way I would still have some of the regular tagine leftover if the egg portion didn’t turn out correctly. With the reserved part safely tucked away, I whisked together four eggs and added them to the remaining mixture in the pot then placed the whole thing in the oven until the eggs were set.
I’m still unsure which I prefer after tasting the two dishes side-by-side. The flavor is definitely better in the portion with the eggs, but I’m not crazy about the texture. What I did decide was to leave the choice in your hands: I’m providing the Tunisian recipe but feel free to leave out the eggs if you prefer. There is no wrong answer here, you are sure to enjoy either.
As for me, I guess I’m going to have to eat both versions again before making a final decision. Ah… life’s tough choices.
Tunisian Tagine of Chicken, Prunes, Potatoes & Eggs – serves 6
1 ½ teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 ¼ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cubed
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large celery stalks, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 russet potatoes or 1 russet potato and 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
¾ tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
2/3 cup diced prunes
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
Juice from ½ lemon
8 to 10 large eggs
Mix together the spices for the marinade, toss with the chicken to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate four to eight hours. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes prior to cooking.
Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil into a large, oven-safe pan set over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour to lightly coat. Place the chicken in an even layer in the hot pan and sear both sides until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Do this in two batches if necessary. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
Decrease the heat to medium and add the onion, garlic, celery and red pepper. Cook, for 5 minutes, stirring ever minute, then add the potatoes. Cook for an additional 5 minutes until the vegetables have become soft. Return the chicken to the pan along with the spices and tomato paste; mix well. Pour in the chicken broth and increase the heat to high. Bring the broth just to a boil, then decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Stir in the prunes and cilantro (save 2 teaspoons for garnish) and simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Whisk the eggs together in a bowl, then pour over the tagine. Mix well then place the pot in the oven. Bake until the eggs are set, 15 to 20 minutes. Garnish with reserved cilantro.