Today’s recipe uses a wonderful seasonal fruit : quince . It’s a seasonal fruit which usually ends in a tagine or a stew when it’s not preserved. Moroccan quince is particularly fruity and intense in flavour.
A simple quince tagine with a lightly caramelized onion topping
Quince or Sfarjal has been used for centuries in the Arab cooking and weirdly enough, the dish I’m proposing today has roots in old Royal Baghdadi kitchens when Baghdad was the platform for knowledge (10th century). However, Moroccans (and Algerians to an extend) have tweaked it and kept it dearly while the rest of the Arab kitchens have dropped it.
Moroccan quince stew topped with onion jam
It’s been historically proven that the Arabs led the way in medical researches and studies back in the medieval times. Food was very much related to the person’s health and the first cooking books seemed to have come from the Arab world. Some of the recipes were rather prescriptions.
Some dishes were called by the main fruit or vegetable used in them: Tuffahiya for a dish using tuffah (apples), liftiya for a dish using lift (turnip) and Safarjaliyya for a dish using Safarjal (quince)
The Islamic world has influenced the Mongols as well (Ref: Daily life in the Mongol Empire). Safarjaliyya seems to have landed in their manuals and it looks so close to the recipe we are using nowadays.
A furry quince in a Moroccan market
According to Ibn Razin Al Tujibi – Kitab Al Tabikh -13th century-, Dishes with apples and quince were highly recommended for “strengthening” the stomach.
A nice wedge of quince in a Moroccan quince tagine
Back to the 21st century and our Moroccan quince tagine which comes under 3 main variations:
Quince cooked in their stew and topped with stewed or boiled okra. You may omit the okra.
Quince cooked in their stew then semi-caramelized in a different pan and then served on top of the stew,
Quince cooked in their stew, semi-caramelized in a different pan and then topped with semi-confit onions or a Moroccan onion jam.
Moroccan okra is small. Here, it’s parboiled and ready to be frozen
The last version happens to be my favourite since the sweetness of the jam balances the tartness of the quince.
If you get hold of quince while they’re in season, make sure you keep some for the rest of the year by parboiling quince which you would have cut into 8 wedges and then freezing them. Add them to the stew without thawing.
Moroccan quince stew or tagine is done in the manner of M’qalli and exactly following the same recipe for pears tagine, only quinces take longer to cook through.
You can replace chicken with lamb or beef meat.
Serves 2 to 4 persons
Prep: 15 min – Cooking : 90 min
1 chicken or 600g of nice cuts of lamb or beef (shoulder, shanks)
1 ½ medium-size yellow onions, chopped
1 tbsp of ginger powder
1 tsp of turmeric powder
½ tsp of white pepper powder (you may use black pepper)
A tiny bouquet of coriander/parsley (optional)
1 stick of cinnamon
½ tsp of saffron threads
1 tsp of smen (aged and cured butter, optional)
2 tbsp of vegetable oil
Salt to taste
The onion jam/semi-confit
4 medium-size yellow onions, finely sliced
Broth from the m’qalli
1 tbsp of caster sugar or honey
1 tbps of olive oil
1 kg of medium-size quinces (about 3), fresh or frozen
40g of butter
40 g of caster sugar or/and honey
1 cup to 2 cups of the m’qalli
1 tsp of cinnamon powder
Almonds, fried and crushed roughly or roasted sesame seeds
This quince stew is topped with a good onion jam as you can see by the colour
The meat stew
Marinate the chicken/meat with most of the spices except saffron and 1/2 of the ground ginger. Massage with olive oil or smen. Keep in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.
Place the cooking pot or tagine over medium heat. Add a bit of water at the bottom, place the meat (ideally not overlapping), the chopped onions, the bouquet of coriander (optional). Season with saffron, ginger and and salt.
If you are dealing with a chicken, you may cut it into 4. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the oil and top with water (a tagine does not need as much water as a pot where you have to cover at least 3/4 of the bird or double for a red meat). Cover and carry on cooking until the bird is cooked through.
While usually we try to reduce the sauce or marka at the same time when the meat has cooked, make sure you leave the broth for later.
Fish out the meat and set aside. Cover with foil or something so the meat does not dry out. Keep about 1 cup of the liquid on the side as well. Make sure you sift it. Discard the bouquet of herbs ( I never do that but some do).
The onion jam / semi-confit of onions
On a low-medium heat, add the finely sliced onions into the pot or tagine and cover. Let them simmer for 20 minutes until they’re transparent and absolutely tender.
Add the sugar or honey at this stage, maybe 2 tbsp of olive oil as well. Keep stirring until you get a sort of thick paste which also looks caramelized. It might take about 30 min.
The colour of the semi-confit of onion depends on 1/ the type of onion used, 2/
the amount of sugar or honey added, 3/the time allocated to caramelization
The quince quarters (or wedges)
Wash and rub the quince to remove any fur (some varieties have a furry skin).
Cut the quince into 4 quarters or 8 wedges, discard the pits and place them in a big bowl of water with juice of 1 lemon. You may need to make a cross on the outer skin so it does not burst during cooking.
You can cook the quince two ways:
1/- Sift about 1/2 of the broth where the meat has cooked and cook the quince in it to tenderness. Add water to cover the quince.
On a medium heat, melt butter with sugar, sauté the quince wedges or quarters in it. Sprinkle some cinnamon and flip from all sides from a few minutes. The quinces are good when you see the edges slightly discoloured and looking just about caramelized. The liquid would have literally evaporated by now. DO NOT BURN OR OVER-CARAMELIZE THE FRUIT as it should remain tender but firm enough not to break.
2/ Directly cook the quince quarters or wedges in the stew. Once cooked through, scoop them out. Follow the same directions as in method (1).
Heat the stew. Serve the meat first, then the onion sauce on the top and all around. Place the quince and top with semi-caramelized onions and then finish off with toasted sesame seeds or with crushed blanched and fried almonds.