Tagine is a word used to describe a North African terra cotta conical cooking vessel, as well as the stew-like dishes cooked in it.  The pot consists of a round, shallow base topped by a graceful cone shaped lid with a knob on the top that serves as a handle to lift it up and check the progress of the contents. 

Initially used by Berbers, North Africa’s first inhabitants, to cook over fire, the cone traps steam as the dish slowly simmers, circulating it in the base to promote continuous, even cooking.  Slow cooking serves the practical purpose of rendering in even the toughest cuts of meat what Paula Wolfert, in The Food of Morocco, called “bright natural flavors and an unctuous tenderness.”

While the dishes have evolved as a result of influences from waves of Arab, Phoenician and Ottoman invaders, Moorish refugees and French colonists, the pots have remained essentially unchanged.  They come in many sizes, some glazed and some not.  The tagine pictured above is glazed, but some cooks prefer the unglazed earthenware which provides what the French call gout du terroir, the taste of the earth.

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