Gorgeous, grass-fed goat is in from Marin Sun Farms. These guys gently graze the hills of Point Reyes sustainably "managing" pastures. I also have a dozen fragrant bulbs of Spring fennel courtesy of Terra Sonoma in Sebastopol, and lemon I quickly preserved to save from ruin. I'm craving intense spices these days, and our menu could definitely use some as well. All of which promptly leads to tagine in my book. I quickly consult my Paula Wolfert.
I had a revelatory 16th birthday dinner at Dar Maghreb in Los Angles, and visited Morocco itself briefly in my early 20s ...the astonishing flavors of the place immediately etched themselves into me, and I had to figure out how they worked. Wolfert - one of the first food writers I turned to for authority - had lived in Morocco, and was a brilliant guide into those layers of saffron, ginger, garlic, sweet onion, green coriander & preserved lemon. Tagines have become an essential piece of my food lexicon. I crave them habitually as I crave any faithfully made pozole or bouillabaisse; any sating, true stew.
Goat Tagine with Fennel and Olives
6 meaty goat shanks
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced in half lengthwise, then into 1/4-inch slices lengthwise
2 medium bulbs of fennel, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1/4-inch slices lengthwise
1 large pinch of saffron threads, lightly finger-crushed
6 medium garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons freshly toasted, ground coriander seed
1 teaspoons freshly toasted, ground cumin
2 teaspoons freshly toasted, ground fennel seed
3 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup fresh tomato peeled and chopped, or good boxed/canned chopped tomatoes
4 cups of chicken stock or water
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 bunch fresh coriander (cilantro), stem and all, tied with butcher string
1/2 cup oil-cured olives
1 large preserved lemon, rinsed and quartered
Preheat oven to 375. Salt and pepper the goat shanks. Brown them over medium-high heat in a large, deep casserole that will fit all the meat and go in the oven. Remove shanks from the pan and add olive oil, onions and half the fennel and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the saffron, garlic, ginger and all spices and cook another 5 minutes. Add the honey and tomatoes and cook a few minutes. Add stock and tuck shanks back into pot along with the cinnamon stick and tied cilantro. Bring to a simmer. Cover and braise in the oven until tender, about 3 hours. Check every so often; add more liquid if necessary. Add olives, lemon and remaining fennel to the stew the last 15 minutes of cooking. It is finished when the fennel is tender and the meat is buttery and falling off the bone. Taste and season as necessary.