Cooking Moroccan stews Part 1: terminology and methods of cookings
Many people automatically link Moroccan cooking to tagine, these conical vessels which are sold in all different materials and colours.
|Plain cooking tagines (unglazed at the front and glazed at the back)|
- The way ingredients cook due to a specific circular way of cooking which steams the food from the top while it infuses in fragrant sauce from the bottom.
- The earthy flavour coming from the tagine itself, which, as it ages, seals itself with the previous dishes cooked in it. It becomes the personal signature of its owner. THAT my friends, can’t happen with a cast iron or any non-clay tagine no matter how expensive it is. The only option here is to own a proper clay tagine, ideally unglazed from the inside.
|A tagine used for serving but not for cooking|
|Tagra (the one with a lid), also used to cook stews and keep the bread or baghrir dough for proofing|
However, if you are interested in Moroccan cooking or are already cooking authentic Moroccan food, you should be aware of these words referring to a set of spices, a sort of code that will help you figure out how a saucy dish is being made Moroccan-style. That could save your face in front of your mother-in-law in case she’s Moroccan.
This word refers to marinating an ingredient (meat, vegetables) with spices and/or herbs. We can basically chermel (marinate) something and set it aside to infuse before cooking. Many Moroccan dishes require this step to ensure the meat tastes at its best.
Technically, you can chermel a bird then cook it M’qalli-style or M’hammer-style.
But M’charmel is also a method of cooking using most of the usual ingredients we use in our Moroccan chermoula: cumin, paprika, salt, garlic, fresh coriander and/or parsley, lemon juice or vinegar, preserved lemons (depending on the recipe), ground ginger and pepper (Some m’charmel dishes will have these added)
|Moroccan cauliflower stew (see previous post)|
|The iconic baked-fish smothered with chermoula. Mchermel as method of cooking
goes very well with fish and seafood
M’qalli/Mqualli/M’qualliMchermel can be spicy hot with the addition of soudaniya (equivalent of cayenne pepper).
Mqalli is a word that derives from “fried”. Unlike Kadra (see below) where the sauce (marka) is rather light and more like a broth or consommé, Mqualli’s sauce is rather oily and should be reduced to nothing.
Nowadays, the meat or chicken used in Mqalli goes to the oven in a second cooking step after it has cooked in a sauce. In the past, it used to be literally fried and served on top of the reduced sauce. We would pile up the layers on the dish following a specific logic depending on the Mqalli dish cooked.
Obviously the most famous M’qalli in Morocco has to be chicken with green olives and preserved lemon (browse the chicken recipes in this blog). Its thick onion gravy, a result of a long process of cooking and a few tactics, is an incredible concentration of flavours: the fragrant broth where the chicken has cooked is used to cook the chopped onions to tenderness and silkiness.
That sauce (called daghmira) has some secrets in the making and in the finishing. If one has to choose between both, you could literally skip the chicken but fight for an extra serving of that onion gravy.
|Deboned chicken and stuffed with ground chicken meat, all cooked M’qalli-style|
Mqalli cooking must have ginger, turmeric, saffron, smen. Depending on recipes, garlic, onions, coriander and/or parsley can be added.
|The first steps of M’qalli chicken being cooked by old cooks for a wedding ceremony|
|A Moroccan favourite: Chicken M’qalli with olives and preserved lemons.
Note the thick onion gravy which is a pure concentration of flavours.
|A casual family Kadra with potatoes and chickpeas, note the delicate clear broth which is the key to this dish|
This word refers to two methods which can also be used at once; M’hammar usually refers to a roasted condition of a red meat or birds. It also refers to the colour Ah’mar which is red (not H’maar which means donkey), hence the use of paprika in the sauce.
|M’hammer of meat with its thick onion sauce, a
traditional dish for major family events
In their traditional form, all these methods call for smen (Moroccan cured and aged clarified butter).
Most of our traditional food does not require the addition of broth because the slow cooking method will give that deep layer of flavour anyway. However, those who use pressure cookers tend to add a cube of bouillon in some cases..