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Tangy Fish Tagine with Preserved Lemons, Olives, and Vegetables

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Serves 4

  • To learn more, read:
    How to Make Tagines
  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 128

Moroccan cooks traditionally build savory fish tagines like this one on a base of fresh vegetables. Because the vegetables take longer to cook than the fish, take a cue from the talented cooks from the port of El Jadida and parcook the vegetables before adding them to the tagine so that they are tender when the fish is ready.

  • 1 preserved lemon (or 6 preserved lemon wedges)
  • 2 medium plum tomatoes, halved crosswise
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 1-inch-thick monkfish or black bass fillets or steaks (6 to 8 oz. each)
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick (2 cups)
  • 1-1/4 lb. medium waxy potatoes (such as White Rose, Red Bliss, or Yukon Gold), peeled and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick (about 3 cups)
  • 1 medium red or yellow bell pepper (or a combination), sliced lengthwise 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup whole olives

If the preserved lemon is whole, cut it into 4 to 6 wedges. Rinse the wedges and remove the seeds, if necessary. Using a spoon or paring knife, separate the pulp from the peel. Finely chop the pulp and set aside. Finely chop half of the pieces of peel, then slice each of the remaining pieces into 3 or 4 strips and set aside.

Set a medium-mesh sieve over a large bowl. Working over the sieve, run your fingers through the tomato halves to release the seeds and press the liquid through the sieve, discarding the seeds. Remove the sieve and set a box grater into the bowl. Working with one tomato at a time and holding each in the palm of your hand, slowly and carefully grate the tomatoes on the large holes of the grater until the skin peels back and the soft flesh has been grated into the bowl; discard the skin.

Add the lemon pulp and chopped peel, parsley, cilantro, garlic, cumin, paprika, 1/4 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of pepper to the grated tomatoes. Add 2 Tbs. of the oil and 2 Tbs. water and mix well. One by one, add the fish fillets to the marinade, and turn to coat each one before adding the next. Cover and refrigerate, turning the fish once or twice, for 30 minutes

Meanwhile, bring a 4-quart pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the carrots and potatoes and simmer until tender but not falling apart, 6 to 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and let cool slightly.

Heat an 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and 1/4 cup water, cover, and steam until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat; set aside.

Coat the bottom of an 11- to 12-inch tagine with the remaining 2 Tbs. oil. Evenly arrange the carrots and potatoes over the bottom of the tagine, and drizzle with 1/4 cup water. Separate the onion slices and scatter them on top. Arrange the fish over the vegetables and spread any remaining marinade lightly and evenly over all. Arrange the bell pepper strips on top and dot with the olives and strips of lemon peel.

Put the tagine over medium-low heat and cover with the lid, propping a wooden spoon between the base and the lid to keep it from sealing. Gently simmer, nudging the fish and vegetables from time to time to prevent sticking and swapping the spoon position halfway through, until the fish is opaque throughout (use a paring knife to check), 30 to 45 minutes. Drizzle in a few tablespoons of water as necessary during cooking to keep the sauce loose, or remove the lid at the end of cooking to evaporate and thicken the sauce if it’s watery. Serve.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 440; Fat (g): fat g 19; Fat Calories (kcal): 160; Saturated Fat (g): sat fat g 3; Protein (g): protein g 29; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 12; Carbohydrates (g): carbs g 42; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 3; Sodium (mg): sodium mg 510; Cholesterol (mg): cholesterol mg 45; Fiber (g): fiber g 7;

Photo: Scott Phillips

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