Monday, August 22, 2011
Algerian Baked Fish
Today I came with the intention of telling you about the reason that made me disappear from my blog and fills most of my days, and my heart, with joy, perfumes of orange blossom water and so much bliss. (No, it’s not another baby!) But then, on Saturday, I baked these cute Sea Bass pictured above and they were so amazing, so lip-smacking delicious that I had to tell you about the fish and leave my life for later.
So straight to the recipe I go, as it’s got to be the best baked fish I have ever made. This time there is no behind the dish story of fish mongers yelling in the middle of the market: “Sardines! Red Mullets! Skates! From the sea to your plates!” or of my mother making irresistible couscous with grouper and inviting the fishermen who brought her the fish to have lunch with us, though I could write pages about my mother’s couscous with fish. No. Instead, I’ll tell you about the fish of this dish, and the potatoes and the caramelized, sweet onions and the sauce, the exquisite sauce and the lucky bread that mopped it all. I’ll tell you about the one pot meal and how it took just minutes to assemble, a few hours forgetting about it in the fridge, a bit more baking in the oven and days of this tasty fish still lingering in our thoughts and stomach.
What makes this dish so unique is the marinade that makes for the flavoring of the fish and vegetables and for the sauce. The marinade is a simple mixture of common spices used in Algerian fish recipes (cumin, paprika, turmeric, ginger) and other delicious things like garlic, parsley, cilantro, tomato paste, lemon juice and olive oil. All of these ingredients are mixed together, poured over the fish and vegetables and left to marinate for a few hours. Meanwhile, you go to your business, lie down on the couch, go out for a walk or even bake a cake for dessert. Sea Bass was what I had and therefore what I used. But many other lucky varieties can bath in this dish and would make a fine substitute: Skate wing, sea bream, red snapper or any other non-oily whole fish. You can also use thick fish fillets.
The fish was tender, very fragrant and delicately spiced. The potatoes were creamy and earthy and irresistible especially when you drench them in the sauce, along with one of the onion slices and bring them to your mouth. Heaven, I’m telling you.
And then the next day as the second fish was barely touched and some lonely potatoes and a tiny bit of the sauce was left, I cleaned and crumbled the fish, diced the potatoes even smaller, added some cream, topped the cazuela dish with bread crumbs and herbs and served it along a salad of roasted peppers, Bourek, Harira soup for our Iftar dinner. We ate and ate and the taste of the fragrant dish and the creamy potatoes lingered for another day in our thoughts and stomach.
Algerian Baked Fish:
Recipe: Serves four
- Two whole sea bass cleaned and patted dry from any excess moisture.
- 4 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1 inch cubes
- 1 big onion, sliced into rounds
- 1 ripe tomato, sliced into rounds
- ½ preserved lemon (optional, it’s not the same but can use slices of fresh lemon)
- For the marinade:
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 Tbsp chopped parsley and cilantro
- 2 Tbsp freshly ground cumin
- 2 Tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 Tbsp sweet paprika (recommend Spanish, not Hungarian and check if it’s still fresh and haven’t turned rancid)
- The juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- ½ cup water
- Salt, black pepper
Salt and pepper the Sea Bass generously inside and out. Put it in a shallow plate. Put the cubed potatoes and slice onions in a shallow plate as well. Season lightly with salt and pepper and set aside.
Mix all of the marinade ingredients together. Coat the fish generously inside and out with half of the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap. Pour the remaining marinade over the vegetables. Coat well and cover with plastic wrap too. Refrigerate the fish and vegetables and marinate for at least four hours.
Preheat the oven at 400F. Lightly oil a large ovenproof skillet and put the fish, along with the marinade, in the middle. Decorate the top of the fish with slices of tomato and thin sliced of preserved lemon, if using, or fresh vegetables. Arrange the vegetables along with the marinade around the fish. Cover the skillet with foil and bake for 1 hour.
Serve with plenty of bread to mop up the delicious caramelized sauce and slices of fresh lemons to press over the fish.