This Moroccan dish is a flavorful, savory dish slow-cooked to perfection in a tagine - the traditional cooking dish of North Africa.
This spicy Moroccan fish recipe is smothered in chermoula, a bright punch of garlic, fresh cilantro, and spices, and is slow-cooked in the tagine. Top with green or red olives, chili peppers, and preserved lemons to add freshness, and dinner will be a hit.
Read more about where this tasty dish came from and how to make it properly in the recipe below.
Moroccan Fish Recipe: A Traditional Tagine
35 oz firm, thick fish, cut into pieces
1 batch chermoula (see recipe below)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large onion, sliced thinly
2 large potatoes, cut into 1/4" slices
1 - 2 carrots, cut into 1/4" sticks
2 sliced tomatoes
2 bell peppers of any color, remove the seeds and thinly slice
fresh lemon slices
1/2 cup green or red olives (optional)
1 preserved lemon, cut in quarters (optional)
1 or 2 fresh chili peppers, to garnish (optional)
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1/2 tsp salt - (to taste)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 cups fresh cilantro (approx. 1 large bunch), picked and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, very finely chopped/pressed
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp salt
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp fresh ginger (optional)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 tsp saffron threads, crumbled
3 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
For the Tagine
For Seasoning your Vegetables
For the Chermoula Sauce
Prepare Ahead of Time - Marinate the Fish
Place all of the chermoula ingredients into a bowl and stir until combined. If the marinade is too thick and paste-like, thin it out with a little more oil or lemon juice or 1 - 2 tbsp of water.
Reserve half of your chermoula marinade. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Use the other half of the mixture to marinate the fish, coating each piece thoroughly with the chermoula.
Cover. Leave to marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight.
Assemble your Tagine
Add the olive oil to the bottom of a large tagine or a deep cast-iron skillet/pan.
Add the sliced onion to cover as much of the tagine base as possible. The onion serves as a base for the remaining ingredients.
Arrange the sliced carrots on top of the onion and arrange the potato slices over the carrot layer.
Sprinkle with some salt, pepper, turmeric, and ginger.
Arrange the sliced tomatoes on top of your seasoned potatoes, then distribute the remaining, reserved chermoula mixture over your tomatoes.
Add the fish and its marinade, and garnish with the sliced peppers, lemon slices, and chili peppers. Add the olives all around the dish.
Cook the Fish in the Tagine
Add 1/4 - 1/2 cup water to your tagine. Place lid to cover and place over medium to medium-low heat. (You can use a diffuser beneath the tagine when cooking over a heat source other than gas.)
Allow the tagine to reach a slow simmer. Continue simmering over medium heat for approximately 1 hour, or until the fish and vegetables thoroughly cook, and the liquids reduce to a thick consistency.
If you'd like to add some preserved lemon, add it now. Allow a few minutes for the preserved lemon to heat through, then remove the tagine from the heat.
Serve and enjoy!
If using conger eel, you might not need any extra water in the tagine as the eel tends to release water as it cooks.
If you find you have excessive sauce in the tagine at the end of cooking and cannot wait for it to reduce down, you can carefully spoon or pour the sauce into a small-sized saucepan and reduce it separately. Add the thickened sauce back into the tagine for serving.
Preserved lemons add quite a bit of saltiness, which is why they are added as a garnish at the end of cooking. You can also add them at the beginning of cooking so they can better flavor the sauce, omit the salt when you season the vegetables.
In the North of Morocco, another type of clay vessel called a tagra is used for stewing fish. Many, if not most, tagras do not have covers. Covering the tagra loosely with aluminum foil should work fine.
What is a tagine?
Fish tagine recipes have a strong history in North Africa, and specifically Morocco.
The tagine pot was created here by members of nomadic cultures who required a dish they could easily transport to cook their meals wherever they settled for the night. The pot was also the serving dish once the food was cooked, with everyone gathering around the rounded bottom to scoop up their share of the meal. Travelers sat shoulder to shoulder, with delicious meals that accommodated many people at once!
The tagine pot is a piece of semi-porous earthenware, made of clay and other natural compounds that these nomads would have had available to them. These pieces were baked in the sun and glazed to become impervious to the liquids the pots contained.
Today's modern tagines are made of all different materials, like cast iron or strong clay. Makers fire the pot with a thick glaze providing non-stick qualities to the durable dish.
The tagine's beauty is in its shape - it has a lid with a conical, narrow top that bells out to a broad, round base. It is ideal for stews and dishes in which you want to keep in the moisture. Steam rises in the tagine and collects at the top of the cone, condenses, and returns to the food in the pot.
What are the origins of the Moroccan fish tagine?
The tagine was used widely across North Africa and Morocco. You can make many different stews and dishes in the tagine, with fresh fish being a popular choice for those that lived close to the seashore.
The Jewish culture has strong roots in Morocco, which held the largest Jewish community in the Arab world with close to 250,000. When Israel was first founded in the late 1940s, most of the Moroccan-Jewish population chose to leave. Only a few thousand Jewish people remain in Morocco today.
There was a beautiful harmony in Morocco between Muslim and Jewish cultures, and Morocco remains one of Israel's top trading partners regionally. Although many have left the Moroccan region, the traditions remain. Many Jewish people enjoy a Moroccan fish dish as a part of Rosh Hashanah or their weekly Shabbat meals every Friday evening. A Shabbat feast mainly consists of fish and bread, soup, and dessert.
Moroccan Fish FAQ
What is chermoula?
Chermoula is a famous marinade used in North African cooking and is popular in cities like Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya. It's traditionally used on seafood and fish but is also tasty on other meats, like lamb, chicken, or even in vegan recipes (for example in chickpea tagine) as a vegetable marinade. The recipe varies by region, but it usually contains cumin, garlic, cilantro, oil, salt, and lemon juice. In Morocco, it often contains saffron, paprika, and dried parsley.
What fish is best in this recipe?
You could use a variety of fish in this recipe. Whitefish is mild enough to give an excellent result and let the other flavors shine through. Tilapia, halibut, cod, grouper, or sea bass are all delicious options! It's best to find thicker fillets that are strong enough to not fall apart during the slow simmer process.
I'm not too fond of olives. Can I substitute something else?
Absolutely! Instead, you can try capers for a salty alternative, or omit the olives altogether.
What should I serve with this dish?
This fish dish is traditionally enjoyed communally, by placing the tagine on the dinner table and using it as the serving dish. Guests will take some bread to scoop the dish from their respective sides of the pot. If you prefer to serve individually, you can scoop out into separate bowls, or serve on white or brown rice, pasta, couscous, or more roasted vegetables.
Does it need any extra condiments?
This dish is very flavorful on its own, but you can enjoy it by adding another North African favorite, harissa. This spicy red chili and garlic paste is delicious drizzled on top for some added heat and flavor.
How will I know when the fish is fully cooked?
This dish is slow-cooked, so the fish is fully cooked long before taking it off the heat. If the fish flakes easily, it is correctly done. You can also check with a thermometer in the thickest part of the fish - it is safely cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 145° F.
Why do I need to arrange the sliced vegetables in a specific order?
Although it may feel like an extra step, there is a reason to arrange the vegetables described in the recipe. Applying aromatic veggies to the bottom of the dish (in this case, onion) protects the more delicate vegetables and fish from the direct heat, resulting in burning or overcooking.
Is it ok if I have less than 2 hours to marinate the fish?
It is ideal to marinate your fish for at least 2 hours, as the fish has time to absorb the chermoula flavors deeply. However, the dish will still taste good if you have less than 2 hours to marinate the fish.
Is this meal healthy?
This tagine recipe is full of healthy fish and nutritious vegetables and herbs. It is very low calorie, with the majority of fat coming from the olive oil. You can also add protein to the dish by adding beans or chickpeas.
What happens if my food dries out?
Your food shouldn't dry out when using this recipe. Check the dish often, and if it's looking too dry in there, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water.
Enjoy a taste of Morocco!
Enjoy trying out this Moroccan fish stew in your tagine, and don't be afraid to use your tagine for other cooking, like beans, rice, or couscous. You can take the tagine lid off to sear meats or roast a vegetable tagine to perfection!
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