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Author Topic: A question about cooking in a tagine...  (Read 1122 times)

Offline P-Kasso2

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A question about cooking in a tagine...
« on: 21 January, 2017, 01:53:58 PM »

My sister just bought me a tagine for Christmas. It's a ceramic tagine.  So far, I have only used my new tagine for cooking in the oven and the results have been amazing. You can also (apparently) use a tagine for cooking directly on the hob...but only if you use what is known as a 'heat diffuser' under it. Here is a picture of an all-important heat diffuser that I just googled up.

My question is two fold...Are 'heat diffusers' absolutely necessary under a tagine? And secondly...How on earth do heat diffusers work? What's their secret?

"I live in hope"

Offline crabfoot

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Re: A question about cooking in a tagine...
« Reply #1 on: 21 January, 2017, 11:21:38 PM »
Localised hot spots resulting from direct heating will cause uneven and disproportionate local expansions of the ceramic material  which in turn will result in stress fissures.

Ie. it will crack if you try direct heating on the hob.

The heat diffuser just spreads out those localised effects you get from the direct heat of a flame. 

The Africans use them on a bed of embers to achieve gentle and uniform heating. You can get that effect from a charcoal barbecue, if you insist. Get one of those disposable tray barbeques when they are selling them off cheap at the end of the summer.

BBQing always reminds me of that bit in the Bible about making burnt offerings for a sweet savour to the Lord, and is slightly less useful IMHO.

Offline P-Kasso2

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Re: A question about cooking in a tagine...
« Reply #2 on: 23 January, 2017, 09:35:55 AM »
Localised hot spots resulting from direct heating will cause uneven and disproportionate local expansions of the ceramic material  which in turn will result in stress fissures.

Ie. it will crack if you try direct heating on the hob.

The heat diffuser just spreads out those localised effects you get from the direct heat of a flame. 

The Africans use them on a bed of embers to achieve gentle and uniform heating. You can get that effect from a charcoal barbecue, if you insist. Get one of those disposable tray barbeques when they are selling them off cheap at the end of the summer.

BBQing always reminds me of that bit in the Bible about making burnt offerings for a sweet savour to the Lord, and is slightly less useful IMHO.

Thanks Crabfoot, I see why now that a heat diffuser is a Good Idea. Next up...Does anybody know how they work? Is there some mysterious hi-tech spin-off-from-Nasa-super-material inside?

Or are they filled with a heat-conducting mineral? (Asbestos perhaps, cough cough?) Or are they simply completely hollow and does, somehow, their secret lie in all those stylish little holes?
"I live in hope"

Offline crabfoot

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Re: A question about cooking in a tagine...
« Reply #3 on: 24 January, 2017, 08:26:16 AM »
How they actually work - conducting the direct heat across the surface to distribute it as evenly as possible to all parts of the surface, but you will still get hot spots in the areas close to the heat source, although the heat is much less intense with that piece of metal in the way. If you have an old one it will be chrome plated copper, modern ones are steel as far as I can tell. You could probably use an old frying pan if you have one you don't care for.

Asbestos is a heat insulating material, but it was used in the past in a similar way to a heat diffuser, in the days when cooking was done directly from a fire.  You bought thin asbestos mats from the ironmongers, they had a border of thin metal around them, usually about A5 size and about a sixteenth of an inch thick.  Put your pan on a hotplate to boil, when it boiled bung a mat between it and the hotplate, and you could leave the pan to simmer.   

You may wonder how I learned that - one of my relatives was a cook in a Big Hoose in the Hielans, and she had to do the catering for shooting parties etc. on three of the hugest AGAs you ever did see, there being no electricity supply.  In high summer that kitchen really was like the fires of Hades ...

Asbestos is completely banned now, but I should also mention that those mats only incorporated asbestos fibres in a matrix of a special cement. It was very rare to see "pure asbestos", all the sheet materials referred to as asbestos included cement of one kind or another. 

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Re: A question about cooking in a tagine...
« Reply #4 on: 24 January, 2017, 12:00:39 PM »

Thanks, Crab. All is now explained. A quick trip to the hardware store and I get on with whipping up my next stunning tagine, this time on the hob where I can inspect it more easily as it bubbles away.

I feel a drool-worthy Chicken Tagine coming on. My first two virgin voyages in my trusty tagine - a mehoosively tasty Goat Tagine and, the second, a tooth-smacking Lamb Shank Tagine - were both polished off right down to the pattern on the plates. Not a single scrap left for poor old Len the cat.

If you've not tried it, Tagine cooking really is brilliant - it's just like making a casserole, but ten times better. Very clever geeezers these North Africans chappies.
"I live in hope"