Food Guy Greg Patent writes:
Lamb is great with apples, and the following recipe – a Moroccan-style tagine – takes full advantage of Montana's bumper crop. You’ll need about 2 pounds of a tart apple variety. A tagine can refer to a specific cooking vessel or to the dish itself, in this case a kind of stew.
You’ll need three pounds of fully trimmed lamb for the recipe here. Meat from the leg is best because the muscles are large and easy to cut into fairly big chunks, and there’s little wasted.
Even though Montana produces a lot of lamb, most of it gets shipped out of state to highly populated metropolitan areas where the meat’s flavor is greatly appreciated. So don’t be surprised when you find Australian or New Zealand lamb in your market’s meat department.
I also like winter squash with the lamb. It’s sweet and compliments the meat and contrasts beautifully with the tart apples.
You should make the tagine a day ahead and refrigerate it. It’ll taste even better the next day. If you don’t like lamb you can substitute beef. Beef chuck or rump roast are your best choices.
Couscous, durum wheat semolina, is traditional with Moroccan tagines. Quick-cooking versions will do just fine. Just don’t buy anything with seasoning. Or you can serve this dish with egg noodles or rice -your choice.
Makes 6 servings
A tagine is a Moroccan stew or cooking vessel. When made with lamb, tagines are sometimes flavored with preserved lemons for a sweet-sour contrast of flavors. Here we're using tart cooking apples instead. Choose a variety that will hold its shape when cooked, such as Jonamac or Granny Smith. This is a robust stew for a fine winter meal. You can make it ahead and reheat it slowly. Serve with Basmati rice or with steamed couscous.
3 pounds of boneless, fully-trimmed lamb, preferably from the leg, cut into 2-inch chunks
1/2 teaspoon of saffron threads, crumbled
2 tablespoons of warm water
8 tablespoons of olive oil, in all
2 large yellow onions (about 1 pound total), peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup of chopped garlic
2 tablespoons of finely-chopped, peeled, fresh ginger
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
8 cardamom pods
2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
3 to 4 cups of chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound of peeled winter squash, cut into 1-inch chunks, or 1 pound of peeled carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces (4 cups)
3 large tart cooking apples, peeled, quartered, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks (1 pound prepared weight)
1/2 cup of chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
1. Sprinkle the saffron into the warm water in a custard cup or other small container and let stand until needed. Pat the lamb dry on paper towels. The lamb must be dry on the surface or the oil will sputter and grumble furiously when you add the pieces to the pan. Heat 6 tablespoons of the oil in a wide sauté pan over medium-high heat. A sauté pan has straight sides about 2 inches high. If you don’t have one, use the largest skillet you have. Add the lamb in batches, without crowding, and cook until browned all over, turning the meat with tongs. This step takes about 5 minutes. Remove pieces of lamb as they are done and set them aside on a plate. Pour out the browning oil—don’t wipe the pan!—and add 2 tablespoons fresh oil.
2. Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
3. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and stir well over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes to dislodge the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. There’s a lot of flavor in those tasty little nuggets! Add the ginger, cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon sticks and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add 3 cups of the broth, saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and the browned lamb with any juices. Bring the tagine to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover the pan, and place in the oven. Bake at least 2 hours, until the lamb is very tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife. Check the lamb every half hour to make sure the liquid is bubbling slowly. If it’s showing too much energy, lower the oven temperature.
4. Remove the lamb with a slotted spoon and set the pieces aside, covered. Also remove the cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods and discard them. Add the remaining 1 cup broth and the squash or carrots to the pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cover the pan and return to the oven. Bake about 10 minutes until vegetables are just tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the lamb. Stir the apples into the pan liquid; cover and bake about 10 minutes more until apples test tender with the tip of a sharp knife.
5. Taste the sauce carefully and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary. Add the lamb and squash or carrots back to the pan and stir in the cilantro or parsley. If serving soon, cover the pan and set over very low heat until the sauce is bubbling and everything is hot. If not serving right away, cool, uncovered, then cover, and refrigerate. Reheat, covered, over very low heat, stirring occasionally until the tagine is piping hot. Serve with couscous, noodles, or rice.