Moroccan Baked Fish with Onions, Olives and Preserved Lemon

 

Aunt Suzy says . . . 

We made an extra-gigantic batch of preserved lemons this year, so I’ve been on the hunt for recipes.  A friend pointed out this NY Times recipe a while back, and I’ve been meaning to make it.

gigantic batch of preserved lemons

Our local salmon fisherman, Wild Run Salmon, has started catching and selling cod early in the farmers’ market season. I recently bought some from him and the rest is history, as they say! I decided to make this with cod even though it was not called for in the original recipe. This is a WOW dish –  tasty, colorful and that it’s easy to make is an added bonus. Randy and I were both happy it made enough for two meals this week.  A Sauvignon Blanc was a great match for these flavors.  (I don’t this this would be the case with a New Zealand SB – American or French have the right flavor profile.)

Ingredients for 4 servings

1  pound firm white fish such as halibut, snapper or cod, cut into 4 pieces
Salt and pepper
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped leaves and stems
2 garlic cloves, processed through a garlic press
1/2-1 serrano chile, very finely chopped, to taste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Pinch ground cayenne pepper
1/2 preserved lemon, finely diced
1/2-1 cup green and/or black pitted olives, cut in half

Directions 

Marinate the fish in cilantro sauce

Toast 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and 1 teaspoon coriander seeds in a dry skillet till fragrant.  Cool slightly and roughly grind in a mortar and pestle. Place the cilantro, garlic, chile, 1 teaspoon of the ground spice mixture and the paprika in a bowl.  Whisk the 1/4 cup olive oil and lime juice together and add to the cilantro mixture. Salt to taste. Stir to combine thoroughly. Place some of the cilantro sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Place the fish on top of the sauce, and optionally salt and pepper to taste.  Set a small amount of the sauce aside for serving at the table with the cooked fish. Place the remaining sauce on top of the fish. Cover the dish and marinate at room temperature for 1 hour. You can marinate for longer, but refrigerate except for the last hour.  NOTE: 1/2 serrano packed a lot of heat in the sauce, so I say use sparingly so the heat doesn’t blot out the flavor.

Moroccan Baked Fish with Onions, Olives and Preserved Lemon

Prepare the sauteed onions

Slice the onions. I recommend cutting “pole to pole” rather than “around the equator”.  I learned this technique a few years ago, which results in firmer and less stringy onions. Place the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan and heat over a medium burner. When it begins to shimmer, add the butter. When butter is melted and slightly bubbly, add the onions. Stir to coat, then add the remaining ground spice mixture, 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, the turmeric and cayenne and stir to combine thoroughly. Turn up the heat slightly and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions just begin to brown, 10-15 minutes.  Place in an oblong baking dish large enough to hold all the fish on top of the onions. Stir in the preserved lemon and place the olives on top.

Bake the fish with the onions 

Preheat the oven to 400°F.   Place the fish on top of the onions, scraping all the remaining sauce on top of the fish. Bake on the top level of the oven for 10-15 minutes, until fish is firm to the touch.

Serving suggestions

You can place the fish on top of the onions on serving plates or alongside as shown in the photo. Place a little of the reserved sauce on each serving. You can see we served with fresh roasted asparagus – it’s that time of year!  I think roasted potatoes or some sort of rice dish would be a nice complement.

 

 


Tagine: a special earthenware pot used in Morocco for cooking

Tagine: a stew-like Berber dish of North Africa made of vegetables and meats, slow cooked at low temperatures

Aunt Suzy says . . .

If you read our blog, you know we love Moroccan cooking!  My birthday gift from my brother and sister-in-law didn’t work out last fall, so I had a credit at an online cooking store.  I have always wanted a tagine, so I treated myself to this beauty!  It was so fun to cook in and I hope to use it often.  I think it will get more use in the winter since tagines, the dish, are typically heartier fare.  My friend Asya gave me this recipe recently, and I couldn’t wait to try it once my tagine arrived.  It was delicious, as expected with a Martha recipe.  And it was very easy, not always expected with a Martha recipe.  Delicious served with a dry French Rose wine or a Chenin Blanc.

NOTE:  You do not need a tagine to cook this; a Dutch oven will do the trick as well!

Serves 4-6

adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

3-4 tablespoons harissa (more = hotter)

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 1/2 cups stock – fish or chicken

1 sweet potato, peeled, halved lengthwise then cut crosswise in 1/3-thick slices

1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets

1 zucchini, cut lengthwise and then sliced crosswise in 1/3-inch slices

1 summer squash, prepared ditto to zuke

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, or to taste

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/4 preserved lemon, rind only, small dice (optional)

1 pound salmon filet, wild-caught preferred

1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

Roast the salmon to very rare in a 450° oven for 5-7  minutes depending on thickness.  Let cool slightly and then remove the skin from the bottom.  Cut into serving pieces and set aside.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or bottom of a tagine over medium heat.  Add garlic and stir for about 30 seconds.  Add the harissa and tomato paste, stirring till combined.  Whisk in the stock and bring to a simmer.  Add the sweet potato, cauliflower, zuke and squash.  Stir to combine, then add salt.  Bring this mixture to a gentle bubble, then turn down heat and simmer covered until vegetables are al dente.  This could take 15-30 minutes depending on what type of pot you are using.

Next add the chickpeas and the diced preserved lemon.  Stir to combine and cook for another 10 minutes, covered.  Place the reserved salmon pieces on top of the vegetable mixture.  Cook, covered, till just heated through in order not to dry out the salmon or the tagine.  Serve over cooked couscous or rice and sprinkle with the chopped cilantro.

Aunt Suzy says

My preserved lemon radar has been at its peak since Margaux made the Moroccan Chicken and Carrots, and we posted the recipe for preserved lemon.   I have a hunch that the recipes featuring this tasty Moroccan ingredient will start pouring into our blog since we both love it and have it on our minds.  I was browsing through the many cooking magazines that have piled up and saw this recipe in Food & Wine by Paula Wolfert.  She is a recognized authority on Mediterranean cooking who brought Morccan cuisine to the general public’s attention all the way back in 1973 with her cookbook, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco.  I was delighted when I went to buy shrimp at Whole Foods and it was on sale.  One of life’s little treats is when the very thing you came to buy is on sale!  Randy and I both loved this dish and it paired perfectly with the “robust rose” from Spain that was recommended.  Randy helped me cook and said to make sure that I told you all to be sure and have a sous chef when you are making this dish.  It is not difficult at all but requires a lot of chopping – thank you, Randy!

The Shrimp

1/4 cup each chopped flat-leaf parsley and cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Small pinch of saffron threads, crumbled

1/3 cup EV olive oil

1 1/4 pounds medium shrimp, shelled and deveined, tails left on

Whisk the lemon juice, paprika, ginger, saffron and olive oil together.  Sprinkle the herbs and pour the marinade over the shrimp and stir to blend.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

 

The Vegetables

2 pounds of tomatoes , seeded and chopped (I used 1/2 plum and 1/2 regular)

3 garlic cloves

1 1/2 tsp cumin

Place these ingredients into a saucepan.  Bring to a bubble and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes break down and the sauce starts to thicken.  Set aside.

3 large carrots, thinly sliced

1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 1/2 pounds red new potatoes, thinly sliced

1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips

Place the sliced ingredients in a dutch oven (or a tagine if you are lucky enough to have one!) in layers in the order listed.  After each layer, add a little salt and pepper.  In case you’re wondering what those dark things are in the photo with the peppers, I bought a package of tiny red, yellow and purple bell peppers and used those.  Pour the tomato sauce on top of the layered vegetables and push down a little with a spoon.  Turn heat to medium high to get the juices bubbling.  Turn down heat to medium low and cook for 20-25 minutes, until all vegetables are cooked.  Check occasionally so the vegetables on the bottom don’t burn.  I was nervous about how the dish looked while it was cooking, but it all turned out in the end, so don’t worry if it doesn’t look like it’s going to come together.

 

 

 Finishing the Tagine

1/2 preserved lemon, peel only, diced

2/3 cup pitted green olives, sliced in half

When vegetables are cooked through, add the preserved lemon, olives and the marinated shrimp.  Cook about 5 minutes until the shrimp is just pink and curled.  Remove the shrimp from the pot and set aside.  Stir the vegetables and turn the heat up a little to cook off excess liquid.  Be careful not to burn the bottom of the pot, although Randy and I agreed that we liked the bits of carrot and potato that carmelized a little while doing this.  Transfer the vegetables to a serving bowl or individual serving bowls and top with the shrimp and a few cilantro (or parsley) leaves for garnish.

Margaux says

This dish is a staple in our household.  The chicken is perfect: juicy, flavorful and perfectly cooked every time.   The carrots are super delicious…my husband, who doesn’t like cooked carrots, even loves them.  It’s also very easy to make, and can be a relatively quick weeknight meal.  You need to have the preserved lemons in order to make this (I made it without them once and the chicken wasn’t nearly as good!).  If Meyer lemons aren’t available (and they’re not right now…they’re only in season from February-April), you can use regular lemons.   And you can buy preserved lemons in some stores, like Whole Foods, but they’re not NEARLY as good as homemade.

Aunt Suzy says

I also love this recipe and Margaux is reminding me that we have not made this in a long, long time!  I just noticed carrots available for the first time at the farmer’s market last weekend, so I have a hunch this will be on our menu soon.  The original recipe for this did not call for preserved lemon, instead calling for thin slices of lemon placed over the chicken.  I’ve made it both ways and like it with the preserved lemon better – but then I love preserved lemon!!  Sparkle Rice seems to be a perfect match for this dish, but I’ve been thinking of experimenting with Isreali Couscous lately as a side dish.  The original recipe suggested an off-dry riesling or a rose – either is perfect!

MOROCCAN-STYLE CHICKEN WITH SPICED CARROTS

Serves 4

The Carrots

6-8 large carrots

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice

½ teaspoon coriander seeds

¼ teaspoon cumin seeds

pinch cayenne pepper

salt and pepper to taste

Peel the carrots.  Using a study vegetable peeler, cut carrots into lengthwise ribbons.


Toast the cumin seeds lightly and then crush in a mortar and pestle.  Toast the coriander seeds. (I toast them together and crush both.)   Toss the carrots with all remaining ingredients and place in a 9×13 baking dish.  Bake at 500 degrees in the upper third of the oven, uncovered, for 7 minutes – stir after 4 minutes.

The Chicken and Finishing

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs OR 4 boneless, skinless breast halves (we always use breasts)

1/8” wide strips of preserved lemon (or thin slices of whole lemon, cut cross-wise)

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (we always use more, but then we’re cilantro lovers!)

Brush the chicken lightly with olive oil and place on top of the carrots after they have baked per above.  Place the strips of preserved lemon or fresh lemon slices on top of the chicken.  Put back in the oven for about 10-15 minutes more (depending on thickness of the breasts), until the juices run clear.  Don’t overcook.  Place chicken on a platter.  Toss the carrots with the cilantro and place beside the chicken on the platter.

Sparkle Rice

Sauté in a little vegetable oil until soft – 2-4 garlic cloves, minced; 1-2 tablespoons chopped ginger; 1 medium onion, diced; 2 carrots, diced.

Add 2 cups white basmati rice and sauté till translucent.  Add a little less than 4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth and 5 whole cloves and a 2-inch piece of cinnamon.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer till the broth is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Let sit for a few minutes, then remove the cloves and cinnamon and stir to blend.  Add some golden raisins if you wish.

Aunt Suzy says

About 12 years ago the New York Times Sunday magazine ran an article on Moroccan cooking with recipes for preserved lemons (salt-brined lemons) and harissa (a spicy hot pepper condiment or sauce).  This single article opened up doors to flavors, a cooking culture and cooking methods that I had never been exposed to before – and which dramatically changed the way I cook ever since then!   Homemade preserved lemons and harissa really outshine storebought, but if you don’t have the time or ingredients to make one or both of these, Le Moulins Mahjoub and Mustapha’s Moroccan both make very high quality Moroccan/North African ingredients including these two items.  Look to kitchen or specialty food stores and your local co-ops.  Both are available, as well, through Amazon.com.

Margaux says

If Meyer lemons aren’t available (they’re only in season from December-March), you can use regular lemons.   And you can buy preserved lemons in some stores, like Whole Foods, but they’re not NEARLY as good as homemade.

PRESERVED LEMONS

6 Meyer lemons

1/2 cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon cardamom pods

2-3 bay leaves

1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, more if needed

This recipe is enough for a one-quart mason jar; adjust amounts accordingly for larger or smaller glass containers.  A wide-mouth jar is recommended, making it easier to remove the lemons for use later. Sterilize the jar by pouring boiling water into it.  Pour out the water and then proceed as follows. Quarter the lemons from the top to within 1/2 inch of the bottom, sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then reshape the fruit.  Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of the jar.  Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding more salt and the herbs/spices between layers.  Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons.  Add freshly squeezed lemon juice to cover the lemons.  You might find recipes that call for covering lemons with water, but we think using juice creates a better product.  Leave a little air space before putting the lid on the jar.  Place the jar in the refrigerator and shake the jar daily to distribute the salt.

The lemons are ready to use after 4-6 weeks.   Most recipes use only the peel.  To use, remove the desired amount from the jar and discard the pulp unless the recipe instructs otherwise.  Rinse the peel under running water.  Preserved lemons will keep up to a year in the refrigerator.  The salt brine can be used two or three times over the course of a year.  Remove bay leaves and coriander seeds after about 2 months, as they will make the lemons taste bitter over time.  NOTE:  I have also seen red peppercorns or a slice of red bell pepper put into the jar to add some color.

HARISSA SAUCE

1/2 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper (available atPenzey’s Spices)

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Whisk all ingredients together and place in a small, sterilized jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Use as instructed in recipes and pass as a condiment when serving Moroccan Food.  This will also keep up to one year in the fridge by pouring a little olive oil over the Harissa after each use to prevent mold.  NOTE:  There are probabaly as many recipes for Harissa as there are cooks.  It’s usually a fiery pepper paste or sauce, but I have also seen sweet versions of this from Tunesia.  We enjoy this recipe as well as the Le Moulins Mahjoub and Mustapha’s Moroccan products.