I had the pleasure of living in Morocco for a couple of years and, while there, learned a lot about its culture and traditions. I discovered that the best food is definitely not in the restaurants, which are mainly frequented by tourists so it’s mostly a version of what Moroccan food could be but never as good as what you get in people’s homes or in the pavement cafes or stalls. This classic Moroccan recipe is prepared by baking chermoula-marinated whole fish with potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and green peppers – the result is zesty, saucy and delicious. Serve directly from the baking dish with Moroccan bread for a complete one-dish meal. Use any firm, white fish such as sea bass, red snapper or orange roughy. It’s best to use a whole, unfilleted fish so it stays moist. Be sure to slice the potatoes and carrots quite thin so that the vegetables will be tender by the time the fish has finished cooking.
Baked Fish Tagine
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
1 or 2 whole fish (2 kg or 4 1/2 lb. total weight)
——- For the Chermoula ——–
1 large bunch cilantro (coriander), finely chopped
4 large cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1 teaspoon ginger (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled (use a small amount of turmeric for colour if you don’t have saffron)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
juice of 1 lemon
2 large carrots, cut into thin sticks
2 large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 or 4 tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 green or red peppers, sliced into rings
1 or 2 whole chili peppers
1 or 2 lemons, sliced
handful of red olives
2 tablespoons chopped parsley or cilantro, for garnish
Wash and dry the fish.
Mix all of the Chermoula ingredients, adding a little more lemon juice or vegetable oil if necessary to thin the marinade. Taste and adjust the seasoning so that the chermoula is as salty, lemony, and spicy as you like.
Reserve a little more than half of the chermoula, and use the remaining chermoula to marinate the fish, rubbing the chermoula over the outside of the fish and inside the cavity. Cover the fish and leave to marinate while proceeding with the recipe. (Or, refrigerate the fish and leave to marinate at least several hours or even overnight. Bring the fish to room temperature while proceeding with the recipe.)
Preheat an oven to 220° C ( 425° F). Lightly oil a baking dish with olive oil. Distribute the carrots over the bottom of the dish, crossing them to create a bed for the potatoes and fish. Add the potato slices in a single layer and season them to taste with salt, ginger and pepper.
Place the fish in the baking dish and arrange the tomato slices on and around the fish. Thin the reserved chermoula with 1/4 cup of water and several tablespoons of olive oil, and spoon the mixture over the fish and vegetables. Top the fish with the green pepper, lemon slices, chili peppers and olives.
Cover the fish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil, and continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the fish and vegetables are tender.
If the liquids in the dish have not reduced to a thick sauce during the baking, you’ll want to do this on the stove. Carefully pour out the liquids into a saucepan and cover the fish to keep warm. Reduce the liquids to a thick sauce over medium to medium-high heat and pour immediately back into the baking dish. Garnish with the chopped parsley and serve.
Maya Hanley is a writer and marketing consultant, living in Ireland again after 30 years abroad, in countries as diverse as Botswana, Morocco and Sweden. She’s working on a memoir, taking care of her clients who are mostly creative types and healers and she writes a blog about her views on life (with some stories mixed in) called The Sound of the Night. Twitter: @mayahanley