Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Chef in Chefchaouen

This evening's Skype exchange with my twenty-two year old Cancerian son (who's currently traveling solo around Morocco) went like this -

"So, Dan, what does today hold for you?"

"Well, I've met up with a five-star Moroccan chef who is going to teach me how to make a fish tagine from scratch. We're off to market in a mo. to choose the fish..."

"Wow. That sounds awesome!"

"Yep - I'm pretty stoked. I met him yesterday walking about town with a Canadian guy and we started having a yarn. We ended up having tea and a smoke for about an hour, and did the same thing again in the evening. He's very friendly and hospitable."

"What's his name?" (I love the sound of foreign names.) 

"To be honest, I can't remember! I'll find out while we're cooking..."

"This is so cool - to think of you going to market to buy fresh white fish with a Moroccan chef who'll then be teaching you how to make an authentic local meal... Keep your antennae tuned, won't you, and make a mental image of all the ingredients and instructions so that you can recreate it for us when you get home?!" 

"Ha ha! Yup, it's pretty exciting. He's a head chef who works on contract for six months at a time in Europe, the States and Morocco and then he travels the rest of the year. Hey, Ma, I have to go... I'll look out for you online later in case you're still up, but suspect it'll be way too late. Otherwise, tomorrow?..." 


It's approaching midnight but all I want to do now is Google recipes for Moroccan Fish Tagines and get cooking. The theory is we should eat when we're hungry, right - not when a clock tells us it's dinner time. Well, I more-or-less missed dinner 'proper' this evening because I went to the opening of the Samuel Johnson Tricentennial exhibition at about That Hour (it was  launched by the ebullient Dr. Paul Tankard in the Public Library's Reed Gallery. I encourage you to go and have a look-see; there's a treasure trove of rare material). 

Anyway, I got home at an odd time so ended up having cereal for supper, which explains why my appetite is now roaring (added to which, I'm a Leo and this is our month for roaring).  I feel more than up to an intensely-flavoured midnight feast. Why ever not? There are plenty of lemons, black peppercorns, chillies, coriander, cumin, tumeric, garlic and onions in the kitchen. I even have two fillets of fresh red cod in the fridge. I bought these on my way home from the joiners today; the cod is from our own excellent-if-not-quite-as-romantically-placed fish market, Blue Water Products.) 

Well, I'll be off then, leaving you with this photograph Daniel took of the appropriately-named Chefchaouen, the small, blue, mountain-hugging village he's loving being in.   

If I knew how to, I'd upload the goosebump-inducing recording he sent of the muezzin calling the locals to prayer. 

Photograph - Daniel van Ammers



"Hi Ma, I've just returned from lunch with Mohammed and his brother. Did I mention that he's 52? Which is sweet - makes him more interesting to talk about the world with. Anyway, the tagine was incredible! Made it in a traditional tagine dish which is basically a clay bowl-shaped bottom with a matching clay, inverted cone lid cooked over a flame. We prepared it in the shop/house so that I could watch and smell it cooking. Apparently its pretty common to make up your tagine, take it to the local baker's oven and cook it there... quite a nice communal thing to do, plus the wood fire adds flavour to the rest of the ingredients."

The shop/house where the tagine was prepared. Photograph - Daniel van Ammers
And - bless you, Dan - here's the recipe... 
"So, he layered slices of potato along the bottom, then covered them with slices of tomato. After this he added a herb mixture which was made with lots of powdered red pepper, black pepper, cumin, a bunch of fresh parsley and about a half handful of finely chopped garlic. He mixed this into a wet paste with olive oil and a bit of water, then ladled it over the potato/tomatoes. Next, the other constituents were layered one at a time; fish, tomatoes, sauce, green peppers, jalapenos, more tomato, more fish, the rest of the herb mix, 2 cups of water and then a lid. Here's a photo of the finished product - easily the best meal I've eaten in Morocco."

Mohammed's Chefchaouen Fish Tagine. Photograph - DanvanAm


  1. What a dream-place. Then dreams become real and cater for appetite. Yum! Surely not the same Mohammed who cooked me and Dorothee a chicken tagine in Can Serrat four years ago ... I might need to write my own cross-linked Mohammed's Tagine in the w/e...xx

  2. I just love the way this whole 'story' unfolded! Gorgeous.

  3. Wow, Claire, what a terrific story, wonderfully told. That's a meal he'll remember for the rest of his life. And hat's off to your lad for being so intrepid. (With some envy; when I was his age traveling, I was far too timid to have ever instigated such an adventure.) The Tagine sounds delicious, doesn't it?! and with the wood smoke. And I know what you mean about sometimes craving strong flavors after midnight. As Dr. Johnson used to say, a bit of dark chocolate with red chili before bed is just the thing for magical dreams!