Moroccan Kamama tagine with shallots or young onions

This recipes have many names depending on which Moroccan city we’re talking about: It’s called Kem(m)ama or Qemama in Fes and Meknes, or Kawarma (Rabat) or Makfoul in Marrakech.

In the previous post, I have introduced the cooking between fires in an old fashion way, which is something we find accross Maghreb (mainly Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) although the ingredients might be different. I suggest you read the post before getting started with this recipe.

Have you done that? Great, let’s get started.
Today’s recipe isn’t sweet but not savoury either, it’s just a perfect balance of flavours and tones. Consider the sugar used in this tagine as a sort of spice rather than a sweetener.
Now before I share the recipe, I’d like you to say the following:
1- Sweet onions are a must here, in Morocco we use “young” white onions which we cut slightly thin but you may as well use round shallots you you don’t need to cut.. You won’t need a lot of sugar if you start on the right foot.
2- I am going to share the recipe with the usual spices used in this dish. Not that it needs anything to make it perfect but in case you are a spice-addict, you can add nutmeg or sweet Ras el hanout, or caraway or mace. Note that these are all “sweet” spices and will go very well with the type of dish we are talking about today.. For notes on how we build up flavours in our Moroccan cooking, please visit my post over here.
3- I used red meat (preferably an osso-bucco style or lamb shoulder cut with bones) and pre-cooked it in a pressure cooker before finishing the dish in the oven. Yes I’m cheating but if you’ve read the post I asked you to read you’ll know why :). However, you may as well use partridge or chicken. The cooking time should be adjusted but the recipe will remain the same.
Photo illustrating how charred and caramalized the onions can be/should be provided you use more sugar and longer exposure to the heat. (Snapshot from Cuisine Marocaine, Fettouma Benkirane, 2005)
Now it’s time to post the recipe.
Serves 8 (I divided by four to make my tagine for 2)
Prep: 15 min – Cooking: 60 min – baking: 20 min
  • About 1.2 kg of shoulder meat, lamb is good for this recipe
  • 1 medium-size onion for the sauce
  • 1.5 to 2 kgs of shallots or sweet onions for the topping.
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp of sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp of white pepper (or mixed ground pepper: white and black)
  • 1 heaped tsp of ground ginger
  • A good pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 leveled tsp of turmeric
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp of sugar or honey
  • 1/4 tsp of smen (cured and aged clarified butter, optional)
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil + 1 tbsp of vegetable oil
For the finishing touch
  • 2 heaped tbps of icing sugar (I use 1 tbsp of unrefined sugar)
  • 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
If you are planning to make this dish ahead of time and re-heat it later on, keep some sauce (Marka) because the reheating will reduce it further, which is how it should be in the end.
Prepare the spices’ paste:
Mix half of the spices with 1/4 teaspoon of smen or 1 tablespoon of olive oil and massage the meat with this mixture. You might as well do that ahead of time.
1st cooking
In this step, medium heat is advised.
In a pressure cooker or a casserole with a lead, heat the oil and sear the meat for a few minutes then add the chopped onion cook them until slightly coloured. Add the rest of the spices and enough water to cover the meat tehn lock the pressure cooker. Cook for 35 min until the meat is just about tender but not totally. If the sauce has reduced a big deal add a but of water.
Add the whole onions to the sauce and cook for another 20 min. If you are using the pressure cooker do not lock it, just cover it because we want the onions to become tender but we also want them to keep their shape. I usually do this in a tagine over a stove top or over a brazier when I can.
2nd cooking and serving
In a baking dish or tagine (I prefer tagine), place the meat, garnish with shallots. Take a few spoons of the clear sauce and poor them over the onions then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
Place the tagine (without cover) in a preheated oven at 200 degrees C but use the broiler to finish off the dish. The tagine is ready when the onions look slightly charred. The more sugar you sprinkle and the more time you leave it in the over, the more caramelized/charred these onions will look.
Serve hot with Moroccan bread or a baguette. 

Do not forget to check the other version of this dish with chicken and tomatoes.

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