- 2 tsp. cumin seeds
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp. coarse salt
- 1 Tbsp. sweet paprika
- 1½ tsp. crushed hot red pepper
- 2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
- 4 wedges preserved lemon, rinsed, pulp and peel separated
- 3 Tbsp. California Olive Ranch extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound monkfish fillet or thick slabs of halibut
- 1 large carrot, very thinly sliced
- 2 celery ribs, stringed and very thinly sliced
- 1 pound red ripe tomatoes, peeled with a swivel serrated peeler and sliced into thin rounds
- 1 small green bell pepper, sliced into very thin rounds
- 2 dozen Moroccan red or picholine olives, rinsed and pitted
- 2 imported bay leaves
- Fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish
Early in the day, or a day in advance, toast the cumin seeds by tossing them in a hot, dry conventional skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute. Grind to a powder and set aside. Make the charmoula: In a mortar or blender, combine the garlic, cumin, salt, paprika, parsley, cilantro, the pulp of the preserved lemon, and the California Olive Ranch extra virgin olive oil. Puree to a smooth sauce.
Rinse the fish and pat dry with paper towels. If using monkfish, cut away the gray membrane and divide the fish into 4 even chunks. Rub half of the charmoula all over the fish, and let stand for 1 hour at room temperature, or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Add ½ cup water to the remaining charmoula, cover, and refrigerate separately.
About 1½ hours before serving, preheat the oven to 300°F. Spread 2 tablespoons of the reserved charmoula sauce over the bottom of the tagine. Scatter the carrot and celery on top. Add half of the tomatoes and bell peppers; sprinkle with a little sauce. Lay the fish over the vegetables and cover with the remaining tomatoes and peppers. Spread the remaining charmoula on top. Scatter the diced preserved lemon peel, pitted olives and the bay leaves around the fish. Cover the dish tightly with a sheet of foil and bake for 1 hour.
Pour off the liquid from the dish into a small nonreactive saucepan. Bring it to a boil over moderately high heat and boil until it is thickened and reduced to ½ cup. Pour back over the fish.
Meanwhile, raise the oven temperature to 500 degrees F. Baste the fish with the pan juices and bake, uncovered, in the top third of the oven for 10 minutes, or until a nice crust has formed over the vegetables. Transfer the tagine to a wooden surface or folded kitchen towel to prevent cracking. Garnish with cilantro springs. Serve warm or hot.
Chef's Notes: Fish baked in a clay pot takes beautifully to long, slow simmering in the famous complex Moroccan herb-and-spice sauce called charmoula. Ingredients that include garlic, cumin, cilantro, hot pepper, and preserved lemon permeate the flesh of most any type of fish. Add time to the equation and you have a dish that is bright, savory, and exciting to eat. Serve the fish at table directly from the clay baking dish.
Preferred Clay Pot: An 11- or 12-inch Moroccan tagine, or tagra or Spanish cazuela, or 3-quart flameware or La Chamba shallow baking dish.
Recipe courtesy of Paula Wolfort, Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking: Traditional and Modern Recipes to Savor and Share (Wiley, October 2009)