Thursday, 9 April 2015

Moroccan baked stuffed fish with vegetables

Moroccan baked fish with vegetables or its tagine version is one of the lightest and easiest Moroccan family dishes you could pull together and serve with confidence. The fresher the better, that's the rule of this dish.  

A tray of stuffed fish and vegetables almost ready for the oven
In Morocco, a big fish can be cut into larges steaks to fit in a tagine. We also keep the fish in one piece especially for important family events. The later version usually calls for stuffing and the filling depends on the importance of the attendees or what one fancies.

My serving

The cook can get creative with the stuffing but the usual would be:
  • Shrimp and mushroom. Rice vermicelli or rice is usually added to the mix.
  • A simple thick chermoula paste to rub the cavity and then leave a good handful of it inside for more goodness,
  • Vermicelli and grated vegetables,
  • A nice praline paste with almonds and walnuts is very typical of Safi (a coastal city big on fish dishes).
Stuffed fish with grated vegetables and shrimp

In our family, we start layering the tray or the tagine with celery stalks (use sticks) or fennel stalks and fronds (In Morocco, we throw nothing from a fennel), the hard to cook vegetables such as carrots and fresh green peas come first, followed by potatoes, sliced peppers, sliced tomatoes, chilli and fennel bulbs (when in season).

Stuffed fish with rice, shrimp and a few other seafood ingredients

Some vegetables are optional such as fennel, courgette, green peas while you will find carrots, potatoes and green peppers in most of the fish tagines or baked trays.

As for herbs used, besides coriander and parsley, bay leaves are a must in our family recipes while thyme comes as natural addition for others.

Baked fish in "papillote" make an amazing meal which can also be served cold in a buffet

Most of the fish tagines use chermoula in a way or another but there are saffron-flavoured fish tagines including the versions with sultanas. Modern Moroccan cuisine of the last 30 years also uses crème fraîche for a white sauce and even less seasoning.


Moroccan baked fish tray, ready for serving
In today's recipes, you could have a yellow sauce or a red sauce, it all depends on how tomato paste/paprika/harissa you want to go for. I can't digest too much tomatoes so I prefer a yellow version using turmeric rather than paprika in the sauce.


Ingredients
Serves 6-8
Prep: 20 min - Cooking time: 15 min   - Baking time: Min 35 min (depending on the thickness of the fish and its stuffing)

Fish and its filling
  • 1 big fish or 3 medium-size such as shad, catfish, sea bream (total 2 1/2 kgs)
  • 1/2 cup of chermoula with preserved lemons (see recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup of long rice, washed 
For spicy chermoula with preserved lemon
  • 2 cups of fresh coriander, chopped 
  • 1/2 cup of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp of coarse salt
  • 1 tbsp of sweet paprika powder or paste
  • 1/2 tsp of chilli powder or 1 tsp of harissa
  • 1 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1/2 preserved lemon, discard seeds
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbsps of olive oil
  • 2 tbsps of white vinegar or lemon juice
  • 3 tbsps of water
For the tagine 
  • 600g of potatoes, peeled and sliced thin (use starchy potatoes)
  • 1 bellpepper or long peppers cut into slices or long strips (any colour)
  • 4 cloves or garlic left with skin on
  • 4 bay leaves, cut into two each
  • 2 fennels with stalks and fronds
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 spring onions, sliced
  • 2 medium-size tomatoes, cut into slices
  • 2 medium-size tomatoes, seeded and grated, substitute with passata or 2 tbps of tomato paste liquified in 1 cup of water (optional)
  • 2 to 3 chillis (optional)  
  • A few sprigs of flat parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp of turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp of cumin
  • 4 tbsps of olive oil
  • 10 green olives 
  • 1 lemon cut into thin slices or wedges

Another portion for my sister


Preparation

Prepare chermoula paste by blending all ingredients or by using a pestle and mortar. You could make it 2 to 3 days ahead.

Cook the long rice in a 1 1/2 cup of water to an al-dente texture (it should still have a bite and not be cooked through). Set aside to cool and drain.

Descale the fish and clean the cavities. Discard the spine/bones. Should you wish to keep the heads, it's perfectly fine and even better.

Peel the vegetables and slice them or cut them as per the pictures below.

Stuffing the fish

Mix 2/3 of chermoula with the rice. Stuff the fish to the 2/3 keeping in mind the rice will puff more and the fish will loose water and shrink a bit. If you want to tight the fish with a loosen cooking thread go ahead with that.



Slightly oil a good baking tray where the fish can fit. Start by layering the stalks of celery and fennel, followed by carrots. Tuck in some bay leaves and whole garlic cloves (optional)

Add the rest of the vegetables and half of the sliced tomatoes.


Place the stuffed fish with a bit of space between each one.



Place more sliced tomatoes on top of the fish. Place some chillis. Scatter green or purple olives.

Finish off by pooring liquified tomato paste or a passata or grated tomatoes mixed with the rest of chermoula. Sprinkle salt, pepper, cumin, paprika and chopped herbs.


Add the water from the edges and never on top of the fish in order not to wash the spices off. Drizzle olive oil and off to the oven.

You could add preserved lemons or fresh lemons before covering with the foil. I prefer to serve the dish with fresh lemon wedges once the fish is baked.

The thinner you would have cut the vegetables the better it is for baking. I suggest you cover the tray with foil and remove it after the vegetables have cooked through. You give the fish the time to get a nice crustly top.

The time needed for the fish to bake depend on how big/thick it is. A preheated oven at 180 degrees C is good for this. A seabass usually does not take long (30-45 min) while a big fish takes up to 1 hour.




Notes

  • You could discard the spine/bones of the fishbefore stuffing it or keep the spine but remove as many loose bones as you can. I prefer to discard both so I get to put more stuffing. It also help cutting it and serving parts to the people around the table.
  • Check this post to have a idea of the common fish we use in Morocco.
  • For more ideas about stuffing a fish Moroccan style, please check this previous post. 
  • Placing garlic, fish and onions next to each others make the onion slices turn a bit grey-blue. If you want to use onions, keep these 3 away from each others. 




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