A year ago I got a Moroccan cookbook. Naturally, I also wanted to get a tagine. Because why wouldn’t I? They’re beautiful, they’re impressive, and dammit they’re authentic, and you can’t make an authentic tagine without one. But like a responsible person I decided I’d wait on buying one, because 1. they’re large, 2. they’re heavy, and 3. they’re expensive. I figured if I cooked enough Moroccan food to warrant getting one, I’d consider it and start researching. If not, then I saved myself a bunch of money and space.
That cookbook has become my go-to book, and is responsible for the massive expansion of my spice shelf, the several leftover lamb bones in my freezer, and the lovely turmeric-yellow discoloration of one of my wooden spoons. I make something from it at least once a month, usually more often. So I’ve decided to finally look into getting a tagine.
My cookbook tells me the traditional ones are made of fired ceramic, but need to be seasoned and are meant for use over a charcoal fire. Without a diffuser, using one on a stove directly will drastically reduce the life of the vessel. It also says that the fool-proof way to go is Le Creuset’s cast iron version, which sounds much more reasonable and hassle-free to me (considering cast iron is a natural diffuser).
So, I go online and start researching tagines. I know I want one that’s cast iron, glazed, and around the 2-quart range. Le Creuset’s model is $175, which is a little on the steep side for me. (Read: ouch.) Emile Henry has several models, somewhat less expensive, and apparently they’re made of ceramic with some kind of new technology that permits stovetop use, and also has a footed base for heat diffusion. These seem to be the two top models. I am considering them.
I see what amazon has. Le Souk seems to be really reasonably priced with some lovely designs. They are ceramic and need seasoning, but I consider it. I make a mental note to do more research on how involved this “seasoning” bit is.
I skip all the serving tagines, since I can’t actually cook in them, but I want them all anyway because they have the most intricate designs. I click on one of the “medium” sized cooking tagines by Treasures of Morocco, since it’s pretty inexpensive. It tells me almost nothing in the description: 10.5″ wide (nothing about capacity), free shipping, “easy to cook in it”, and that you can use it with an electric or glass (?) stove, but to use a diffuser with gas. I am assuming it is ceramic. This is probably the fourth such semi-description I’ve found across various brands.
Oh look, it has a five-star rating. That means it’s either the best product ever, or only one person reviewed it. I bet you can guess! Her review goes like this:
“I made my first tagine last night with this and it tasted wonderful. I’m not sure whether it was just because of the dish itsself or because of the cook ;-) but this was exactly what I needed. I can make authentic tagine without worrying about the bottom burning if I leave the food on too long (like a metal pot does). I really didn’t have to do much when I cooked with this. I just put all the ingredients in, mixed a few times, and left the dish to do the rest… and it was amazing. Of course it was… Tagine is ALWAYS amazing… ”
No, no this review was not helpful to me. You basically told me that you didn’t screw up the recipe. Of course it tasted wonderful – you could make it in anything and it would taste good. What do you think happens when you throw together cinnamon, coriander, and honey with lamb and dates and then simmer it for an hour in its own juices? If you have a problem with things burning, I recommend a) turning the heat down, b) watching it more carefully, or c) both. You said absolutely nothing about whether you seasoned the vessel, how well that worked, how easy cleanup was, whether it was easy to use, how well it was made, whether there were any tips and tricks needed, nothing. All you said was, essentially, “I made tasty dinner last night! Yaaayyy!” Congratulations, so did I.
The sad thing is, this is how the majority of online reviews are. Go on almost any cooking website/blog, and most of the recipe reviews will read something like: “5 stars! OMG this looks so good, can’t wait to try it!” That’s not a review, that’s a pre-view. You can’t give five stars to something you haven’t made yet.
Often on sheet music websites, I see, “This is my favorite piece ever!” Why? Was it was easy to play? Did it sound like the original? Mascara reviews are often rather enlightening and most go something like this: “OMG THIS IS THE BEST EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE IT”. Yes, and how does it work? Does it volumize, lengthen, curl? How long does it wear? How about smudging? Flaking? How black is it? Easy to remove?
But my favorites have to be book reviews. I downloaded Lord of the Rings yesterday for my new nook, and the very top review read, in its entirety: “Orlando Bloom was Legolas!!” Of course I don’t expect in-depth literary criticism from everyone, but that… come on, really?
So the moral of the story is, I still haven’t chosen a tagine. (Suggestions welcome.) And if you’re going to write a review, make sure you’re actually saying something about the product.