Sunday 23 June 2013

Stuffed Moroccan Sea Bream with Couscous Salad and Harissa Yogurt Sauce

Here is a terrific North African inspired meal. It's exotic, delicious and very healthy for you. I used whole sea bream for this recipe, but you can use just about any other fish you can find. Eating a whole fish can be tricky because there are bones to avoid, but it adds so much more flavour to the fish. For sea breams, you have to scale the fish and cut off the fins with kitchen sears. I got my fish monger to do that part for me. If you need to scale the fish yourself, you can use a scaler or even the back of a kitchen knife. Some people prefer to cut off the tail fin and the head. Personally, I think it looks better with them on, but that's another call that's up to you. 

For the marinade, I made a charmoula sauce. It's a popular Moroccan marinade. I used fresh parsley, fresh cilantro, minced garlic, paprika, ground coriander, ground cumin, saffron, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. It has such a beautiful flavour. If you don't have or can't find saffron, you can omit it. Charmoula is also a favourite for chicken, only for poultry the paprika is usually replaced with turmeric. The seasoning is already inside the charmoula. All you need to do is use a spoon to smear the inside cavity and the top of the fish to coat it. I used thin half slices of lemon and sliced fennel in the cavity as well to scent the sea bream as it roasted. 

For the couscous, I just followed the packaged directions and added some diced (seeded) cucumber, diced red pepper, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, sliced almonds and chopped fresh mint. You can add anything else you like to your couscous. 

For the yogurt sauce, I mixed 4 or 5 tbsp of yogurt with 1/2 tbsp of harissa paste. Harissa is a famous Tunisian condiment of typically hot chilies, garlic, cilantro and caraway seeds ground into a paste. Some variations have a modest amount of rose water for an extra perfumed note. I couldn't find any with rose water already in it, so I added 1/2 tsp of it to the yogurt sauce. I would advise against using any more than that. A little goes a long way. Then I just mixed everything together and seasoned with a little salt.



3/4 cup of fresh parsley, finely chopped
3/4 cup of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely minced 
The juice from 1/2 a lemon
1 tbsp of ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp of paprika
1 tsp of ground coriander
1 pinch of saffron (optional)
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste


2 whole sea breams, cleaned, scaled, and without fins
1 bulb of fennel
2 medium onions
1/2 lemon

All you need to do to make the charmoula is combine all of the ingredients and stir well. Although if you want to get the most out of it, mash all of the ingredients together in a mortar and pestle until you end up with a loose pasty consistency. This recipe will yield just under a cup of charmoula.

Preheat your oven to 350 F/177 C.

Make sure that your sea breams are cleaned, scaled, and remove the fins (there are 5 fins in total on a sea bream: two on either side of the head, two on the belly, and one large dorsal fin on the back). Rinse the fish with cold water and then thoroughly pat them dry with paper towel. 

Tip: When buying whole fish, make sure that they are as fresh as possible. They should not have a fishy smell (they should smell like the sea or nothing at all). Look at the eyes and ensure that they are still plump and slightly protruding from the face. The fish should also have a smooth, shiny body with no signs of sliminess. Always try to cook fish the same day you buy them and keep wrapped up under a bag of ice in the bottom of you fridge until you're ready to cook.

Using a sharp kitchen knife, make three or four (depending on the size of your fish) diagonal slashes across the side. You only have to do this for one side (the side up that will be marinated). The slashes will ensure that the meat cooks more evenly and will allow maximum absorption of the charmoula.

Take a spoonful of the charmoula and spread it all over the inside of the cavity. Fill the cavity with thin slices of lemon and fennel.


Cover a baking tray with foil and lightly oil it. Chop the two onions and the remaining fennel and make a base of them on the tray. Place the stuffed sea breams over the fennel and onion. Take the rest of the charmoula and spread it all over the fish. Make sure to smear the charmoula over the slits you made. 

Place in the middle of the  preheated oven and cook until done. The time will depend on the fish and your oven. Mine took about 18 minutes. You want the flesh to firm up without drying out. The meat should flake away from the bone when you use a fork.

The onion and fennel were used to raise the fish above the tray so excess fat could drip away and for added flavour to the fish. They have done their job at this point. If you would rather not let them go to waste, you can crank up the heat to 400 F/205 C and let them cook for a further 10 minutes while the fish rests. Then you can give them a toss, check for seasoning, and include them as another side dish. 

Otherwise, you are set to serve aside your couscous salad and the harissa yogurt sauce. You can either have a dish of the sauce and a spoon for your diner to distribute themselves, or scatter as you wish over the plate.
How simple was that? And only minutes to make. You can make the marinade, the fish, the couscous salad and the yogurt sauce all in under 30 minutes. This is a great meal for something hearty and satisfying during the rush of the week, while keeping healthy and trim.

Stay tuned for more and happy summertime to everybody!


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