Moroccan Pigeon Tagine
Warming and hearty with a touch of exotic spice and fruit, a tagine makes for the perfect post-holiday meal. Fragrant spices mingle with tart dried fruit and savory onions, while the succulent meat yields easily to the fork. It’s not a spicy dish, not quite a curry but definitely distinct from most of the stews we prepare this time of the year. It is absolutely delicious, and a go-to recipe for when I’m still looking for comfort food but want something a little different.
Tagine is a traditional dish from North Africa and there are as many variations as there are cooks. Named after the cooking vessel that the meat is stewed in, this is a versatile and forgiving dish for almost any type of meat. Here, we’ve used pigeon, which are locally abundant, in season year-round in many states, and almost criminally underutilized. Squab, the culinary term for young pigeon, is a traditional ingredient in many North African dishes, so the pigeons we’ve shot are right at home in this meal.
Our “farm ptarmigan” are a different animal altogether from the city birds most people are familiar with. They feed and roost on agricultural land, which keeps them lean, succulent, and healthy, with no gamey flavor. After a good pigeon shoot, we’ll have a few dozen birds stacked up, young and old. We save our young birds for grilled or seared preparations, and use the older ones for this “low and slow” cooking method, where they can really shine. Deboning the birds is technically optional but highly recommended- it’s not nearly as intimidating as it sounds, and it saves you the hassle of picking tiny bones from your stew. If you don’t have squab, you could easily substitute squirrel, pheasant or chukar legs. If you have a tagine to cook this dish in, all the better, but we made ours in a dutch oven just fine. The saffron rice pilaf comes together in a pinch, using many of the same ingredients as the tagine, so don’t be put off by the length of this recipe- its very simple.
moroccan pigeon tagine
with saffron & fruit studded rice pilaf
Prep time: 45 minutes active, 4 hours total
Serves: 2-4 as an entree
for the pigeon tagine
pinch of saffron in 1/4 cup hot water
4 pigeons, plucked and deboned
3 small onions, grated
3 cloves garlic
1 cinnamon stick
2 tsp minced ginger
Light stock, such as goose, chicken, or vegetable
1/3 cup pitted prunes, chopped
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
4 tbsp quince paste or 2 tbsp honey
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Bloom saffron in hot water. Allow to steep for around 10 minutes.
Heat a generous amount of vegetable oil on medium-high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a tight-fitting lid & brown deboned squab. When all sides are browned, remove from pan and set aside.
In the same pan you just browned the squab in, saute onion, garlic, ginger and cinnamon stick until fragrant. Add the squab back to the pan and pour in the saffron water and enough stock to cover the squab. Cover and cook on low 2-4 hours, until the meat is fork-tender.
Add prunes, cranberries, almonds, quince paste, and orange blossom water. Simmer uncovered until the sauce thickens.
Serve over saffron rice pilaf.
for the Saffron & Dried Fruit Studded Rice Pilaf
One pinch saffron in 1 1/2 cups hot water
2 cups jasmine rice
1 1/2 cups light stock
1 diced onion
2 minced garlic cloves
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp fennel seed
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp caraway seed
1 tbsp sesame seeds
6 lightly crushed green cardamom pods
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup dried pitted prunes, diced
Bloom saffron in hot water and allow to steep for 10 minutes.
While the saffron is blooming, saute onion, garlic, and ginger in oil until translucent. Put into rice cooker with jasmine rice, saffron & saffron water, and stock. Allow to cook.
While the rice is cooking, toast fennel seed, coriander, caraway, sesame seeds and cardamom until fragrant. Grind with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
When the rice is done, fluff it and add the spices and dried fruit. Season with salt and keep covered until just before serving to allow steam to partially rehydrate the dried fruit.