Sunday dinners after church were wonderfully predictable when I was a kid: if it was Sunday, it must be pot roast. The meat seared to seal in the juices seasoned simply and popped into a pressure cooker that released whiffs of homey comfort with each psst! psst! psst! And a pot roast dinner ALWAYS delivered on the promise of gravy to douse the rice grown just a few miles away (that would be Texmati, where I grew up). With the first taste of beef tangia recently in Fez, it took about a millisecond to take me back to southeast Texas and glorious pot roast.
Named after the pot it is cooked in, tangia is one of the most traditional recipes going, although it isn’t actually made at home by anyone’s mom. The meaty dish is a man’s specialty, slow-cooked in the embers of wood fires that heat water for the neighborhood hammam (baths). Several hours in the embers take the humble terracotta pot to heights a pressure cooker can only aspire to.
The dish starts with an early-morning trip to the butcher and a few minutes packing the pot and lashing an aluminum foil cover on with string. When the cover is removed at dinnertime and the stew spooned onto plates, wood smoke mingles with the fragrance of sliced red onions that have literally melted into the beef, taking freshly ground spices and a bit of preserved lemon with them.
Another neighborhood institution, the ferran (bread oven) provides the rest of the meal as it is traditionally consumed. The really hot oven produces flattened loaves that are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, ideal for soaking up the sauce. Diners tear off hunks of fresh khobz to pick up the sauce and that’s that.
Tangia with a contemporary touch
With a nod to contemporary tastes, Café Clock in the Fez medina goes one better, serving tangia with a hefty green salad and hand-cut fries. Diners must order the meal in advance and can choose from a selection of meats or even opt for a veg version.
In the fine Clock Book: recipes from a modern Moroccan kitchen, inspired by Café Clock, author Tara Stevens offers a recipe for two Fez tangia specialties: beef and interestingly, fish. Thankfully, she specifies oven cooking for those of us not blessed to live next door to a hammam!