Shiftwork Bites: Pork Tagine with Dried Apricots

I love dishes that do double duty. I'm not talking about something you make once and eat twice, repurposing left-overs into an entirely new dish. I'm talking about dishes that are also dishes. You know, like how "casserole" means not only the dish you're eating, but the dish in which it's cooked. Really, I suppose you could say that many such dishes are pulling triple duty, adding the technique, itself to the list of applicable definitions. You gratinée potatoes and cream in a gratin dish, then you have gratin dauphinois!

My favorite such dish is tagine. The complexity of flavors found in most versions is incredibly appealing, and the conical cooking vessels of the same name are often quite beautiful. Of course, Shiftwork Bites doesn't lend itself to hauling specialized cooking vessels into the office just for one dinner, so I'm sure a purist would argue that I didn't make a tagine at all, just a simple stew. I don't know that I'd entirely disagree, but the taste said "tagine" all the way.

First, I browned a couple of pork sausages flavored with roasted red peppers and garlic. Given the largely muslim population of the parts of the world from which tagines hail, I may have sealed the "inauthentic" deal right at the start. The fact that I browned the meat doesn't really help either, I suppose, as most tagines, particularly those of Moroccan origin, skip that step. Ahh, well.

Next into my electric-skillet-cum-tagine went chopped onion, garlic, and shallot. These sweated down for a bit, with the sausages removed, until they were softened and becoming translucent. I pushed the aromats to the side, and fried my spices in the flavorful fat from the sausages. I didn't have any ras el hanout, the prototypical Moroccan spice blend, laying around, so I fudged my own from what I had in my recently established office pantry.

A blend of pimenton, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, turmeric, black pepper and ancho chile sizzled in the pan, releasing an amazing aroma that had my shift-partners temporarily abandoning their posts to investigate. I sent them back to their desks and added a couple of chopped red bell peppers and a few diced sweet potatoes to the pan, along with a couple of minced anchovy filets, for a nice savory background. It's amazing what those little fish do to food. I smash them with a fork and add them to a wide array of savory presentations. They add a meaty intensity without any discernible fishiness, as long as you don't overdo it.

After cooking the vegetables and anchovies for a few minutes, I dumped in about a pint of some carrot-ginger soup I'd picked up at Whole Foods that day. Shortcut? Yes. Good idea? Absolutely. The soup added both a nice sweetness and pungency at once, and provided both liquid and thickener in one fell swoop. To get the total volume of liquid I felt was required, I also added in about a cup and a half of chicken stock. A couple of cans of chick peas, drained and rinsed, went in, the sausages were nestled on top, and the whole thing was left to simmer very gently for about an hour with the lid on.

Once the flavors melded and the sausages were almost cooked through, I added a handful of sliced dried apricots and some pistachios. I love the addition of dried fruit in tagines. It adds not only sweetness, but great complexity and depth of flavor. The pistachios were just something I had lying around, and I thought their jeweled green would be a nice visual component.

I allowed the whole thing to simmer topless for about another 30 minutes, until it was just slightly thickened, then served it atop couscous. Everyone agreed that it was delicious, even if it wasn't really a tagine.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall