Rass El Hanout or Ras El Hanout = راس الحانوت, also known as "Mrouzia or Mrouziya Spice" = مروزيّة is a popular Moroccan complex spice mix, and ranks as the most popular exported spice produced in Morocco. Ras El Hanout has grown in popularity over the past few years, and become one of Morocco's most famous food flavour. Known by its rich fragrant aroma, warm, sensual fragrance and overall robust flavour, Ras El Hanout is much like some traditional great spice combinations such as Curry and Garam Masalas of India, or the fabulous Moles of Mexico etc.....
Ras El Hanout in Moroccan language means literally “Head of the merchant's spice shop", but figuratively, it simply means "The top or the best or the most precious ingredient in the store" or as we say in French "La crème de la crème ou tout ce qu'il y a de mieux"! That's why it is beleived that Ras el Hanout is a mix of the finest and the best of all spices.
Ras El Hanout is the heart of most Moroccan dishes and has a special affinity for dishes that contain lamb, chicken, vegetables and some types of fish, either cooked in a Tagine (Tajine) or grilled on the barbecue. It is also used with salt to preserve meat, known in Morocco as Khli3 or Gadid = الخليع أو القديد. It is amazing how with the added herbs and spices of Ras El Hanout, culinary creations can be transformed and an ordinary tasting dish could be changed into an extraordinary experience bursting with exceptional flavours!
Ras El Hanout is considered as a mysterious blend, there is no such written-down recipe which varies slightly from shop to shop and from town to town, but generally it consists of the same base ingredients. According to an anecdote shared by Moroccans, it seems there are as many recipes of Rass El Hanout as there are families in Morocco. The secret recipe has been passed down verbally from mother to daughter and from father to son. It has been kept a closely guarded secret, shared only within a group of merchants' spices (called in Morocco Attar (3ttar) = عطّار) or some family members. Each Attar or spice shop guards his secret blend of herbs, never sharing it, and the final mix of Ras El Hanout will be given out only once blended. The competition amongst the merchants' spices is so fierce and they are so proud to have kept the secret of the most sought after version blend herbs for so many years. However, their prices are incredibly reasonable, and their ingredients are so fresh! When I go to the Souk = السوق and see all these Attar's shops and their fresh spices, so beautifully arranged on Tbag (Tba9) = طبق or large round plates, I know an artist's fingers have been all over it. Attar in Morocco is an artist, only he paints his pictures with spices!
When a home cook in Morocco goes to the Souk, to her favourite spice merchant to meet her spices need, she usually chooses herself the ingredients of a specific fresh spice mixture that goes for one particular dish, i.e spices for couscous, another for tagine, others to make Mssakhen spice (Mssa5n) = مساخن, which is a special blend used for health purposes, and another mixture with a funny name, called "Bssibissa - Kakalu" (Bssibissa - 9a39allou) = بْسِيبِسَة قَعْقَلُّو, which is mainly used for sweet dishes etc, etc........, but when it comes to Ras El Hanout, the home cook cannot choose the ingredietns anymore, she can simply ask the merchant's spice for his "La crème or Top of the Shop Blend"! She just have to wait until the secret final mix is handed out blended and mixed according to the expertise of Attar. Don't be fooled, the final product has no label on it, listing all the ingredients in the order by weight. No way to let go one hint!
Ras El Hanout, a distinctive mixture varies from the simplest, from 10 ingredients and so many recipes are availbable online or cook books, to the most complex version and may contain up to 100 ingredients, all toasted before grinding. This is my favourite version which I buy regularly from either Casablanca or Agadir. Rass El Hanout is most widely found in general commerce in Europe, Australia, USA, Canada and other countries.
Unfortunately, today I will not be posting the EXACT recipe of Ras El Hanout for one simple reason - I don't have it. Even if I do succeed to find out the precious list of the secret ingredients, all of which could be purchased individually, freshly ground and mixed, I will never be able to figure out the amounts of each individual herb in Rass El Hanout mixture. Once my sister told me that the secret of Ras El Hanout lies in the weight of each single herb - how much exactly you do have to put in to make the mixture. If ever you have the secret list of ingredients, the only way to come up with a duplicate is by mixing, measuring accurately, then tasting and finally comparing and you might repeat the procedure several times until you get it right. It is pretty tough to do! No thanks I prefer to continue buying my Rass El Hanout from Attar and let the Professionals do their work!
Ras El Hanout is widely appreciated by world's most famous chefs and spice experts and you just have to try it for yourself and you will see why! Make sure that you are using fresh Ras El Hanout, it tastes best when freshly ground and once you open the package, store it in an air-tight container.
Article and Photos by Mamatkamal, K. El Mary