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Mqila Slaouia (or just mqila) is a meat specialty dish from the Moroccan sister cities of Sale and Rabat. It’s commonly known as cheat version of khlii, a confit of preserved, sun-dried meat. As with the traditional version of khlii, meat that’s been marinated with ground coriander seeds and a large quantity of whole garlic cloves is slow-cooked in a significant amount of fat. However, mqila skips the lengthy step of drying the marinated meat before it hits the pot, making the process much faster. For that reason, it’s often called “express khlii.”
In Moroccan Arabic, the word mqila (also m’qila or mkila) refers to a frying pan but just like tagine, the container has transferred its name to the content. However, mqila can be prepared in anything from a pot to a tagine to a Dutch oven as long as it has a heavy bottom and a cover. The end result will be melt-in-your-mouth pieces of meat that keep well for a couple of weeks if refrigerated and properly covered in fat or extra olive oil.
Mqila is often made in the days following Eid al Adha when extra meat is on hand. It’s always served hot and eaten warm, not cold or at room temperature. I use it for anything calling for khlii when I can’t get hold of it. Or, since it’s more tender than traditional khlii, it can be used like pulled meat; for example in sliders or turnovers. It can also be offered as a make-ahead main dish all on its own. In that case, you might prefer to use large pieces of meat on the bone as opposed to the strips of meat called for in the recipes below.
I must admit that Mqila Slaouia is not a diet-friendly recipe, particularly if serving as an entree. It’s one of those occasional dishes that could set your cholesterol levels flying high. Normally a portion of the cooking fat is used along with the meat. However, you can reduce the calories, fat and cholesterol per serving by using meat only and reserving the fat for other recipes. I freeze the liquid fat in ice cube trays to use later for such things as roasting potatoes or basting a roast before it goes to the oven.
Although mqila is instantly associated with the cities of Rabat and Sale, a few other Moroccan cities have similar dishes with the addition of a spice or two; Hmiss from Taza is one example.
My own family recipe has been passed down from an old aunt who moved to Rabat in her late teens and married a Rbati man. We do include vinegar but it is not a general rule; for example, Christine’s recipe (which follows mine) doesn’t use it. Sometimes we omit the addition of animal fat if we intend to serve mqila as a main dish. In that case, we do use cuts of meat with bones or large tender chunks of meat. This is all in keeping with the type of differences you’ll find among recipes for mqila.
Mqila Slaouia: Moroccan Express Khlii Casserole
- 2.2 lbs lamb or beef shoulder cut into long fat strips or small chuncks
- 1 lb beef or lamb suet, shredded or cut into small cubes
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup water
For the Spice Rub
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, or the liquid fat from the cooking
- 3 tbsp ground coriander seeds
Preparation and Marinade
- Wash the meat. Cut it into long strips each about at least 10 cm (about 4 inches) length minimum and between 2 to 3 cm (about 1 inch) thick. Alternatively, you can cut the meat into evenly-sized chunks. The smaller the pieces the better the exposure to the marinade will be, but try not to make them as small as a kebab meat. I reckon anything around 5 cm (about 2 inches) will be fine. Meat with bones is also good for this recipe.
- Rub the meat with the ingredients listed for the marinade. Cover and keep in the refrigerator for 12 hours or overnight.
Cooking and Storing
- In a deep, heavy-bottomed frying pan, casserole or pot, melt the kidney fat on very low heat. Set it aside and wait for it to cool down a bit then strain it to get rid of lumps and veins/sinuses.
- Bring water to a boil and pour in the strained liquid fat. Add the meat carefully (do not splash). Cover and let simmer over medium-low heat, stirring frequently.
- Gently simmer the pot for at least 1 hour for long strips of meat and even longer for chunks. Alternatively, you can use a pressure cooker to shorten the cooking time but this dish really works well when cooked slowly. It also needs some stirring every now and then.
- The meat will become tender and therefore you need to stir delicately in order not to break it down before serving it.
- Once the meat as become extremely tender, remove it and cover it then let the liquid simmer until complete evaporation of water (no water should remain).
- Let cool and then transfer to clean containers. Seal and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Alternatively, you can place the mqila in Ziploc bags and freeze. I break down the meat and mix it with its fat. I use each bag to make different Moroccan recipes calling for khlii filling. You may save the fat in separate containers and spoons some of it as you go.
- In Morocco as the meat is cut on request, sometimes we come across some bits and grits from the bones, so washing it is necessary.
- The suet required for this dish is the fat from around the kidney. You may need to request it in advance from your butcher. If you can not find it, you may replace the equivalent with olive oil.
- To make a version of mqila as a substitute for khlii as far as the flavors are concerned, add vinegar and freshly ground cumin seeds in the marinade.
Express Khlii Recipe - Mqila Rbatia or Mqila Slaouia
- Cut the meat into long strips about 3/4" (2 cm) thick. Combine the strips of meat with the remaining ingredients. Cover, refrigerate, and leave to marinate overnight.
- The next day transfer everything, including the oil, to a heavy-bottomed deep skillet or wide pot. Cover and cook the meat over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the meat has darkened and dried a bit, all of the fat has completely melted, and liquid from the meat and condensation has evaporated.
- During the cooking, avoid the temptation to turn up the heat or add water.
- When the meat has cooked as described above, remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool completely. Transfer the cooled khlii and oil to a plastic or glass container, then cover and refrigerate until needed, up to one month.
- Although other recipes for mqila may call for it, don't be tempted to add water to this version, as slow cooking over low heat avoids its necessity. Vinegar, too, is absent here, although other recipes may include it.
- Properly prepared and stored in the oil and fat, the express khlii will keep up to one month in the fridge. Some recipes claim longer. If in doubt, you can divide it in portions and freeze it.
- Use express khlii as you would regular khlii or pulled meat. It works both as a main ingredient and as a condiment. The cooking fat and sediments are also used.
- Some recipes for Mqila Slaouia call for large pieces of meat; the final dish does not resemble traditional khlii and is served as a main dish.
- Nutritional data is based on a relatively small serving size, which is typically how khlii is enjoyed.