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I am thinking of getting a 2 quart Le Creuset Tagine for braising. I'm at around 5000 feet, and so am stuck with a lower boiling temperature for water - 9 degrees Fahrenheit less then at sea level.

I was wondering if the "cooling tower" in the lid of the Tagine would keep the moisture from escaping by allowing it to cool instead of boiling off. I noticed that Morocco has a great variety of altitudes, so perhaps Moroccans have invented the right tool for the job.

The Le Creuset Tagine has a cast iron, enameled base, so its not a traditional tagine. I believe it has a stoneware lid.

I haven't had good results with braising in a dutch oven. I have to use more liquid and cook longer then the recipe says, and the results are not good - not tender and not flavorful.

Would a tagine make braising at 5000 feet worth doing? This is not so I can cook Moroccan dishes (though I'd love to try some of them). This is for general purpose braising.

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    It might work ... another one to consider is to find the lid from a 'camp stove' to use on your dutch oven. They have little nubs all over the underside of the lid to help get condensation to drip back into the pot. – Joe Mar 17 '15 at 20:12
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    I would think a pressure cooker might more directly address your boiling point concern (and largely keep moisture in as well, if you only heat enough to maintain the desired pressure.) 2.5 PSI would get you to "sea level" boiling temperature (at 5000 feet). – Ecnerwal Mar 17 '15 at 20:26
  • It would be great to get "sea level" pressure, but I'm not in the position to buy any electrical devices, and I don't know how to keep a stove-top pressure cooker at such a low psi for hours at a time. In the past I had a rice cooker which seemed to raise the air pressure a bit because of its tight seal and small air hole. It was great for steaming artichokes! But it broke way too quickly. – unvarnished Mar 17 '15 at 20:49
  • Are you using a dutch oven with a lid? A tagine really isn't much different, aside from its shape, and will produce identical results in my experience. Plus, 2 quarts is pretty small - if you're going to braise, may as well go for larger volume. – logophobe Mar 17 '15 at 21:26
  • I do use a lid when I braise. Have you had experience braising at high-altitude? Maybe there is a way to adjust a braising recipe based on altitude. The tagine is shallow and wide - somewhere between a dutch oven and braising pan. And the next size up would be pretty pricy. – unvarnished Mar 17 '15 at 21:42
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The benefits of using a tagine will be marginal at best. It will save some moisture loss over a dutch oven, however the cooking time will continue to be around 25% longer than conventional recipes as the tagine won't raise the temperature over your lower boiling point at all.

Your moisture loss will continue to be high due to the increased cooking time, irrespective of the tagine's shape - and especially as at 2 quarts it will be quite small, with a short 'cooling tower.'

Colorado State Uni has some information on high altitude cooking which may be useful. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/p41.html#3k

As Ecnerwal & BrownRedHawk note, a pressure cooker is a far better option. As a rule of thumb, for every 5 degrees above 100c that you cook food, the time it takes to cook is cut roughly in half. A decent PC is able to braise at 15 PSI, which is 248f. Even at 5000ft above sea level, with a modern, non-venting PC your food will lose no moisture and braise in no time. There is no need to try and keep the PSI lower to simulate cooking at sea level; for braising, higher is better as it will turn tough collagen into tasty gelatin much faster.

Regulating the pressure/temperature of a PC is as simple as bringing it up to full pressure on high, and then turning the gas/electric hob down low; it requires little energy to maintain as there is no loss of steam. Even if you have to adjust the temperature now and again to keep the pressure right, you're braising for a much, much shorter amount of time.

Oh yeah - and you can buy a good large PC for the cost of a 2 quart Le Creuset Tagine (about $200?)

More information on the science of pressure cookers (and a great video) can be found here: http://www.chefsteps.com/activities/pressure-cookers

Recipes, including adjusting conventional recipes for use in a PC can be found at hip pressure cooking dot com.

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There's a trick that's used in some high-altitude areas (eg, the Alps and Pyrennes) that I've seen on cooking shows, but have never tried myself, that might help you without the need to purchase any new cookware:

  • Make a dough out of flour and water.
  • Form the dough into a rope
  • Press the rope of dough around the lid's edge to seal it.

It's been so long since I've seen the episodes, I can't remember exactly how it was applied -- if it was pressed on after the pot was closed, or if it was pressed into the lid's lip, then set down on the pot, then further pressed down to seal. (I know there was pressing down after the lid was placed on the pot; I also remember one show sealing the knob on the lid, as I assume that brand had an air-vent there, or there was just a chance of air-leakage).

A bit of searching online shows Dorie Greenspan puts it between the lid and pot, but I also found mention that on clay pots it might stick firmly enough that you have to chisel it out. You might want to start with just applying it to the outside to see if that's a good enough seal, before risking a technique that might be problematic to remove.

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