A Hard-Earned Recipe For Spicy Moroccan Fish
Shared by Rinat Tzadok
Recipe Roots: Ouazzane, Morocco > Hadera, Israel
Rinat Tzadok has vivid memories growing up in a home where pots of delicious things were constantly bubbling away on the stovetop. Fish and chicken stews, meatballs and vegetables, all tantalized Rinat with their smells. Just one thing—the kitchen was off limits. “My mom didn’t let me enter,” recalls Rinat. “She wanted to keep it neat. But I was obsessed.”
Rinat’s mother Rachel was born in Ouazzane, a town in northern Morocco, and immigrated to Israel with the rest of her family in 1958. Though Rachel shooed Rinat out of the kitchen, that didn’t stop her from learning how to make the family dishes. Rinat’s maternal grandfather, Moshe Hamo, and her aunt, Mesodi Hamo, were her culinary guides. When his wife passed away, Moshe started to cook the Moroccan staples that she had previously made. Rinat has fond memories of leaving school in the middle of the day to have a snack at her grandfather’s, or to simply peer in the pots of food simmering away. According to Rinat, he cooked something new every single day.
If Moshe gave Rinat the gift of access to the kitchen, it was her aunt, Mesodi, who was living with her father, who really took her niece under her wing. Despite the fact that Rinat’s aunt was partially paralyzed from polio, she spent many a day and night teaching Rinat the fundamentals of Moroccan cooking—traditional techniques, no short cuts. One of the dishes that Rinat learned was the Moroccan fish stew that so tantalized her at home.
This classic Moroccan-Jewish dish consists of fish cooked in a thick sauce made with three types of peppers (both dried and fresh, sweet and spicy), garlic and cilantro, as well as a robust spice oil that infuses the stew with complex flavor. Rinat makes this dish every Sabbath and serves it as a mid-course, after salatim and before the mains. “I feel that my passion for cooking and my exposure to good food, started right there,” she says. In her grandfather’s kitchen.
Spicy Moroccan Fish
Time: 50 minutes
4 boneless (~2 lbs.) skin-on fish fillets (a dense, firm white fish like mahi mahi, halibut, black cod, striped bass will work best)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium red bell peppers, sliced into ¼” strips
8 cloves garlic, peeled - 4 whole, 4 sliced
2 small whole dried red chili peppers
2 medium whole dried sweet peppers (guajillo)
1 bunch cilantro, about 2 cups chopped
1 ½ tablespoon ground paprika
1 tablespoon ground dried red bell pepper (found at a specialty spice store like Kalustyan’s)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
4 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil
1. Heat oil over medium heat in a heavy bottomed saute pan (a wide, deep skillet with higher sides). Add bell peppers and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ⅓ cup water (if peppers have sweat and released water, skip this step). Add dried red chiles and dried sweet peppers. Cover and let cook for 5-6 minutes.
2. As peppers cook, make the spice oil: in a small bowl mix together the ground paprika, ground dried red bell pepper, salt, pepper, and vegetable oil.
3. Add spice oil and ½ cup of cilantro to pan and stir to combine (*instead of stirring with a wooden spoon, Rinat likes to pick up the entire pan - with oven mitts or a kitchen towel - and swirl the ingredients). If liquid has reduced too much at this point (you want the sauce to continue thickening, but not get too watery) rinse the spice oil bowl with a ¼ cup of water and add to pan. Cover and cook until peppers are just beginning to soften, about 10 minutes.
4. Nestle fish into sauce skin side down and turn heat to medium. Sprinkle with 1 cup of cilantro. Cover and cook until fish is almost cooked through, 8-10 minutes.
5. Uncover and baste fish with juices. Cook for about 5 minutes more, until fish is done and sauce has thickened.
6. Serve immediately with bread or couscous.