The Astronomer and I celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary this past April. In line with tradition, we relived our wedding banquet at Five Star Seafood Restaurant in San Gabriel and prepared something delicious inspired by antiquated anniversary gifts. Thus far in our marriage, The Astronomer has been gifted edible interpretations of Paper, Cotton, Leather, Fruit, Wood, Sugar, Wool, and Bronze.
Since it is customary to bestow pottery upon one’s beloved in recognition of the ninth anniversary, I acquired a tagine and used it to prepare a lamb and apricot tagine using Melissa Clark’s recipe from the New York Times.
While it was nerve-wracking to cook with a new vessel, the phenomenal results made it more than worth it. The pleasures of fork-tender lamb goes without saying, so what really made this dish incredible was the onion, apricot, and spice-forward sauce. After nearly five hours of slowly simmering away, we couldn’t tell the onions from the apricots; it all melded into one fabulously jammy tour de force. Served with saffron rice, the tagine was savored while we reminisced about the sweetness of marriage.
- 3 pounds bone-in lamb stew meat or lamb neck, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
- 1 ¾ cups lamb or chicken stock
- 5 ounces (1 cup) dried apricots
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
- 2 large onions, one finely diced and the other thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 small cinnamon sticks
- Large pinch saffron
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¾ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¾ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- ⅓ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- ½ cup slivered almonds
- 2 scallions, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- Fresh lemon juice, to taste
In a large bowl, combine lamb and 2 teaspoons salt. Let sit at room temperature at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Next, place a layer of sliced onions across the base of the tagine, creating a bed for the remaining ingredients. The bed of onions will prevent the meat from sticking to the bottom and burning. Set aside.
In a small pot, bring stock to a boil. Remove from heat, add apricots, and let sit at least 15 minutes.
In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid, warm 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat until hot. Working in batches, add lamb to pot, leaving room around each piece (this will help them brown). Cook until well browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer pieces to a plate as they brown.
Drain fat, if necessary, leaving just enough to coat the bottom of the pot. Add onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add tomato paste, ginger, 1 cinnamon stick and the spices, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add lamb and any juices on the plate, the apricots and stock, and the cilantro. Transfer mixture to tagine.
To avoid cracking or breaking a clay or ceramic tagine, make sure it sits above the heat source and not directly on it (use a diffuser on top of your gas or electric stove). Place the tagine over low to medium-low heat and be very patient while the tagine slowly reaches a simmer.
Once a tagine reaches a simmer (it can take up to a half hour if there is a lot of liquid), it can be left relatively undisturbed to slowly stew with the lid on. Reduce the heat slightly if the tagine is simmering rapidly; ideally, you want a slow or medium simmer instead.
Check the level of the cooking liquids after about 2 hours. If the liquid has already reduced to a sauce-like consistency, you will need to add more water or broth (about 1/4 cup). In total, the lamb tagine will need to cook for 4 to 5 hours.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat butter and 1 cinnamon stick over medium heat. Add almonds and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick.
To serve, top with toasted almonds and any butter left in the small skillet, along with scallions and cilantro. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice to taste. Serve with flatbread, couscous, or this saffron rice.
Serves 4 to 6.
Years of marriage should always be marked by good food:
- Year One: Paper
- Year Two: Cotton
- Year Three: Leather
- Year Four: Fruit
- Year Five: Wood
- Year Six: Candy
- Year Seven: Wool
- Year Eight: Bronze