What is a tagine, anyway? Well, it’s a Moroccan cooking pot, the ones you’ve seen with the conical tops, and it’s also the dish that is cooked in said pot. However, you can also cook a tagine in a covered casserole, a Dutch oven or a crockpot. It’s a long braise over low heat, with the ingredients on the bottom cooked in liquid, and those on top cooked with steam.
What I love most about Moroccan tagines are the spices that are used to flavor the dish. You may have heard about Ras El Hanout, a Moroccan spice blend made up of allspice, nutmeg, black pepper, mace, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, cumin, cloves, coriander, paprika, fenugreek and cayenne. Many of those I use in my baking, but in Moroccan cuisine, in they go with the meat, veggies and dried fruit. Oh, and the preserved lemons, saffron and olives.
Ooooh….the spices. You have to try this recipe. I made it in a casserole dish and covered it with aluminum foil, which worked perfectly. But I loved the finished dish so much that I went to Sur la Table and bought a real Moroccan tagine, conical hat and all. I am looking forward to making some chicken, lamb and beef stews, which I will be bringing to you in the near future.
First the fish fillets are marinated in a mixture of olive oil, paprika, saffron, ground ginger, lemon juice and minced cilantro and parsley. The paprika and saffron color the marinade a deep rich red.
The casserole is layered with carrots, sliced onions and tomato sauce, and baked until the carrots are soft. Next the fish fillets are laid on the vegetables, the marinade is poured over, olives are strewn about, and the fish topped with preserved lemon and the lemon slices. I used one slice per fillet, but I recommend two slices. They’re such a perfect addition to the whole flavor profile. Then the casserole is popped back in the oven to cook the fish and it is finished with a flurry of fresh cilantro. Oh man! Those Morrocan flavors are remarkable! So beautiful. Like a work of art.
Moroccan Fish Tagine with Ginger & Saffron
¼ cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
½ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
8 threads Spanish saffron, crushed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 six-ounce boned fish fillets (I used tilapia)
4 large tomatoes
2 large garlic cloves, pressed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
2 carrots, peeled, sliced diagonally ¼-inch
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon preserved lemon pulp
12 green and/or black olives, pitted
Fresh parsley and/or cilantro leaves for garnish
1. In a large bowl, mix parsley, cilantro, olive oil, paprika, saffron and ginger. Add juice of half of lemon. Coat fish fillets with mixture, cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Cut other lemon half into 8 very thin slices.
2. Bring large sauce pan of water to boil. Drop tomatoes one at a time into boiling water and count to 10. Remove with slotted spoon and cool to room temperature. Peel off skin.
3. Place strainer over medium bowl. Cut tomatoes in quarters and remove seeds over strainer. With large spoon, rub seeds to extract juice into bowl. Coarsely chop tomatoes.
4. In a large sauce pan, combine tomatoes, their juice, garlic and cumin. Cook over medium heat, mashing and stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
6. Place carrot slices in single layer on bottom of enameled casserole or Dutch oven. Cover with onion slices. Spoon tomato sauce over onions. Cover casserole tightly with aluminum foil, or cover of Dutch oven. Bake in middle of oven for about 30 minutes, until carrots are soft.
7. Remove from oven and place fish fillets on top of vegetables. Reserve marinade. Spread a little preserved lemon pulp on each fillet and top each one with 2 slices of lemon.
8. Pour reserved marinade around fillets and surround with olives. Return casserole to oven and bake, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes, until fish is flaky.
9. Spoon some of sauce over fish. Garnish with parsley or cilantro leaves. Serve over couscous if desired.