Although they can be nondescript from the outside, the Hammams (public baths) of Marrakech are a well known tourist attraction (and, I can attest, well worth a visit!). The part most tourists don’t get to see, though, is what happens next door to (or underneath) these baths in the fires that heat the rooms and waters. If you pay these a visit you might be surprised to find several tall terracotta pots stacked among the coals throughout the day. These pots are known as tangia, and inside you’ll find a dish of the same name. The constant heat of the fires is ingeniously harnessed to produce a fragrant stew of lamb on the bone, cooked slowly over many hours until meltingly tender.
What a great way to cook! It’s so simple that tangia is known as a bachelor’s dish. All you need to do is take your pot to the markets in the morning to gather your lamb and preferred mix of spices from your favourite stalls, top up with some water and seal before handing over to the fire keeper to cook throughout the day. Come dinner time you swing back by the baths and pick up a perfect stew! Of course I don’t have the same luxury here in Sydney, but a good cast iron dish (with tight fitting lid) and low oven make an admirable substitute for the real tangia.
Finding an authentic recipe is not easy, and I suspect it varies quite a bit in reality in any case. I took some tips from the blog The View From Fez, which had the most detailed description of the daily ritual I found. But I’ve modified the recipe quite a bit by using a whole lamb shoulder (which is easier to come by in my experience), some butter rather than all olive oil (in Morocco they would actually use smen, a fermented butter), and a different treatment of herbs and spices. If you have a favoured ras el hanout (Moroccan spice blend) then by all means use that in place of most of the spice in this recipe, though for fragrance and colour I’d still recommend additional saffron.
The result is a perfect winter dish: meltingly tender lamb in a fragrant spiced sauce with sweet chunks of garlic and onion. The sauce is thin but perfect to serve on cous cous which soaks up the goodness. Add plenty of parsley as a fresh contrast and enjoy!
- 1.6kg lamb shoulder, bone in, trimmed of excess fat
- 25g butter
- 1 small preserved lemon, skin only, roughly chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- small pinch saffron
- 10 whole cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 onion, chopped into 6-8 large chunks
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- salt to taste
- For the cous cous:
- 2 cups instant cous cous
- 2 cups water
- 1 bunch parsley, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Preheat the oven to 150°C.
- Add the spices, preserved lemon, garlic, onion and water to an oven dish with a lid (a cast iron dutch oven is ideal). Coat the lamb with olive oil and plenty of salt, then place on top of the other ingredients.
- Cook for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, when the lamb pulls apart easily. Remove from the oven and skim and excess oil from the sauce with a spoon (a little remaining fat is OK, it will combine nicely with the cous cous). Set the lamb aside to rest while you make the cous cous.
- Place the cous cous in a large bowl. Boil the water and pour over the cous cous, then immediately cover and allow to stand for 5 minutes to cook. Remove the cover, season with 1 teaspoon of salt and separate the grains by stirring with a fork. Add the parsley and stir through to mix.
- To serve line each bowl with a layer of cous cous, top with chunks of lamb, onion and garlic then pour over a generous help of sauce to soak in. Garnish with additional parsley.