Mrouzia is an old and traditional Moroccan tagine of meat, raisins, almonds and honey. Heavily spiced and sticky sweet, it’s a favorite dish to prepare during Eid al Adha when extra meat is on hand from a home slaughter. Lamb is usually preferred but beef or goat meat may be used instead.
The intense seasoning with Ras el Hanout and ginger, along with honey and added fat, all worked together to make mrouzia a dish that could be safely stored for a long time at room temperature. In the days before refrigeration, this was a wonderful alternative to other methods of preserving meat such as by drying and cooking in fat, as is the case with gueddid and khlii.
However, mrouzia was not always the meat-laden dish that it is today. In the tradition of Fassi people who do not like to squander, mrouzia was once a dish made from whatever was left over after choicer pieces of meat had been used for other dishes. Bones with a bit of meat stuck on them would be marinated and kept for hours until ready to be cooked. Many families continue to make mrouzia in this manner. They may throw in additional meat, but it’s still primarily a way to make use of bones left after most of the meat had been cut away.
In the old days, mrouzia was kept in massive clay jars for at least two months. The reason it lasted that long is because the dish was cooked confit-style (which is how it should be, no runny sauce!) over medium heat until all water had evaporated and only oil was left. It was also a fatty version as the fat surrounding the kidney had to be added to the pot as well. As with any meat confit, the fat served as a seal once it had cooled.
How did our ancestors know when mrouzia was perfectly cooked? They used to dip in a bit of fabric or braided cotton then light it to see if it could hold a flame. If it did, they knew that all the water had evaporated and the meat would be safe to store at room temp.
Now that we have fridges and freezers, we can enjoy a much lighter mrouzia with proper cuts of meat. As for the almonds, not long ago they would have cooked in the sauce along with the raisins, but now we prefer to fry them for crunchy texture and add them as a garnish.
Regional Variations of Mrouzia
The tradition of mrouzia spread until nearly every region in Morocco now makes it, but there are some variations:
- In Qasbat Tadla, mrouzia is made with cumin added.
- Among some Moroccan Jews as well as some Rbatis (people from Rabat), the word m’assal is used instead of mrouzia.
- For Moroccan Jews, mrouzia is used as the name of a spiced raisin jam with walnuts which is commonly served during La Mimouna.
- In Northern Morocco in the Rif Mountains, a molasses-like concentrated raisin juice called samt is used instead of raisins to make a version of mrouzia called tahlia. It’s worth mentioning that this area, down to Meknes, is abundant with all sorts of grapes, raisins and dried fruits.
No matter the variations, one thing most Moroccans will agree on is that a good blend of ras el hanout from a trusted spice vendor and the right version of black raisins (seedless or not) are essential to an excellent mrouzia. The addition of onions is common in modern times but optional; before the days of refrigeration they weren’t used as they would spoil the meat.
History of Mrouzia
Mrouzia has witnessed centuries of changes. It made its way to Morocco from Egypt via Andalusia; the earliest documented recipe appears to be one found in the 13th century Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook. Originally it was a form of sikbaj known as escabeche, which was a method of cooking with vinegar. As such, it was a sweet and sour dish which featured dried raisins and vinegar along with chicken. Throughout the centuries, black cherries would be added as well as almonds at a later stage of the cooking; this particular combination, along with other fruits, was mentioned in an old Egyptian book.
In the 14th century, cookbook author Ibn Razin mentioned mrouzia under El Mu’assal (we now call it M’aassal), which is in reference to the sweetness from honey.
Mrouzia’s profile changed with the dropping of vinegar and the addition of spices. Other sweet dried fruits found their way to it such as dates, figs, and prunes along with honey (or more recently sugar). Despite the absence of vinegar, sweet and sour should be the guideline when choosing the type and variety of dried fruits to be used into the dish. So, although the flavor profile of mrouzia is undoubtedly sweet, the dish will be properly balanced by selecting raisins which are slightly sour or at least not of the sweetest variety.
The Italian Ambrogino/Ambrosina falls into this line of dishes too. Isn’t the world one small plate?!
So, here is our family recipe for mrouzia with more meat and less oil and sugar, yet still packed with incredible flavors. This dish keeps well in the refrigerator for up to two weeks and in the freezer for several months.
M'rouzia Recipe - Moroccan Confit of Meat with Raisins, Almonds and Honey
Meat and Marinade
- 2.2 lbs Trimmed lamb with bones (shanks, neck or shoulder), cut into large pieces
- 1 1/2 tbsp Ras-el-hanout for Mrouzia, preferably freshly ground
- 1/2 tsp ground pepper, a mix of black and white
- 2 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
For Cooking the Meat
For Cooking the Raisins
- 5.2 oz whole blanched almonds
Marinate the Meat
- In a large container, mix the spices with 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. Brush the meat with this mixture and massage it well. Cover and refrigerate 6 to 12 hours.
Cook the Meat
- In a heavy-bottom pot or a dutch oven, add the meat, the onion, the spices, smen and about 1/4 cup of water. Place on medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times to rotate the meat, making sure that all sides have been immersed in the liquid at some point. At this stage, we are helping the meat to absorb as much flavor from the spices as possible so these first 10 minutes are important.
- Slowly add enough water to cover the meat, taking care to pour the water near the sides of the pot and not directly on the meat itself. (You don't want to wash off those spices.) Add the rest of the oil and bring the liquids to a simmer.
- Continue simmering the meat over medium-low heat for about two hours, or until the meat is tender. During this period, check the pot frequently to see if it needs more liquid and also to ensure that the meat does not stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.
Cooking the Raisins
- While the meat is cooking, place the raisins in a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave them to soak for at least an hour before draining and using.
- Once the meat is tender, add drained raisins, the teaspoon of ras el hanout, and the honey or sugar. Carry on cooking over medium-low heat while watching the process carefully.The sauce should be reduced and thickened after 20 to 30 minutes or so. No watery liquid should remain.
Fry or Roast the Almonds
- The almonds can be prepped for garnish ahead of time or while the meat is cooking. Use one of the methods below.
- To Oven-Roast: Preheat the oven to 325° F (160° C). Spread the blanched almonds on a baking sheet and roast them for about 25 minutes, tossing them a couple of times. They should be roasted evenly throughout with a nice crunch and a golden color at the end. Adjust the time according to your oven in order to achieve the right texture and color.
- To Fry: Pour the oil in a small deep pan and wait until it's warm to start frying the almonds. Oil that is too hot will NOT achieve the desired outcome. Give a stir from time to time and fish all the almonds out once they turn lightly golden. Spread them on paper towels or a kitchen towel to git rid of excess oil.
Serving and Storing
- Always serve mrouzia hot. The meat is first placed in the center of a warm serving plate, topped with the confit of raisins and followed by any drop of that thick dark amber liquid. The dish is garnished with almonds. Some dried rose petals will nicely finish off the presentation.
- Keep mrouzia in an airtight container in the fridge for a couple of weeks or in the freezer for months. It's advisable to divide the portions in different containers so It's easy to thaw them as needed. I also suggest you keep the almonds separately or fry them as needed. Garnish with them at the last minute.
- The recipe makes 8 servings when following the Moroccan tradition of sampling the dish rather than filling up on it. It will serve 4 when offered as a standalone entree.
- When I used to live on my own, I used lamb chops for a faster version which was equally delicious. However, this is a dish that comes at its best after a slow-cooked process.
- I find it easy and practical to cook Mrouzia in a dutch oven or a sealed clay pot in the oven. I set the timer and check at regular intervals. This ensures even cooking and reduce the chances of meat sticking or burning. It gives me full control.
- Before the arrival of the modern fridge, Mrouzia was stored in a deep clay urn which was glazed on the interior. A layer of meaty bones would go first, followed by the raisins and then the thick sauce would be added last. The urn was then covered with an oiled paper and sealed with string. Almonds might also be stored inside but some families waited to add them at serving time.
- It's worth mentioning that the original recipes always had a high quantity of suet added to the sauce which helped with preserving; the layer of oils and fat would protect the meat once the Mrouzia was cooled in jars.
- Traditionally, Mrouzia was shared with all visiting family members and neighbors. The moment somebody showed up at anytime of the day, we would heat some and serve it accompanied with bread. As long as Mrouzia was still available, we had to share it. This dish belonged to the community rather than the family who cooked it. At the same time, we were expecting other Mrouzia to come our way. Consider it a family signature dish attesting of the cook's knowledge in making a decent confit.