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Smen is a traditional matured Moroccan cooking oil, the recipe of which has been handed down from generation to generation. The process of cooking smen is very specific and it is stored for long periods of time in clay jars, often underground, to mature it. The longer it matures, the more flavorful and valuable it becomes.
The base ingredient for smen is goat's or sheep's milk. This is turned into butter, which is then used to make smen. Various herbs and spices, which differ from family recipe to recipe, are kneaded into the butter. An alternative method entails wrapping the herbs in cheesecloth and boiling them with the butter. In some cases salt is added before cooking and sometimes it is added after the cooking stage.
The butter is then brought to the boil over heat and it will separate into a golden oily section and a milky section. It is left to boil for 15 to 30 minutes and then removed from the heat. The oil section is then removed and strained through a cloth to remove sediment. This is placed in a clay pot and sealed. The pot is then stored, traditionally buried in the ground, for months to years to age.
The longer the smen ages, the more pungent it becomes. It has a characteristic cheesy smell which becomes stronger over time. Traditionally a jar of smen was buried in the ground on the birth of a daughter and it remained buried until it was used to cook the food on her wedding day. The amount and age of a family's smen was also an indication of their wealth.
Smen is used to cook and flavor many traditional Moroccan dishes such as couscous and tagine. Couscous is tiny pellets of semolina and is one of the staple starches of Morocco. Tagine is a traditional stew dish cooked in a clay pot with a tapered top, which is most commonly served with couscous. Morocco is known for its tasty and beautifully spiced and flavorful dishes and smen is part of what adds to the flavor.
Moroccan cuisine is well-known around the world. Due to Morocco's proximity to Europe, just across the Mediterranean Sea, its cuisine has been influenced by many cultures including European, Arab and Berber. The result is a traditional smorgasbord of spices and meat dishes that have made their way around the world. A Moroccan meal is normally ended with a cup of sweet mint tea.