Whole Snapper Tagine

It’s the height of the summer here in New York City and the temperatures can be at best cool in the shade amongst the tall Manhattan skyscrapers to completely hellish temperatures and humidity when walking to my apartment in Greenwich Village. Granted, I live in the village, and the sheer number of people walking around is enough to raise the temperature as compared the say FiDi in which during work hours, few people can be seen on the street unless going to work, leaving work or getting lunch. Heat like this, that is, heat that makes me a miserable human being calls for an even more refreshing take on dinner. Tagine.

A tagine is a traditional form of clay pot cooking native to Morocco. I have first introduced to this form of cooking about 8 years ago when a friend gifted me an Emile Henry Tagine. Since then I have used it a handful of times at most but have been going out of my way to use it more. After a recent trip to a Whole Foods, I saw an unusual amount of heirloom produce and felt compelled to buy it and figure out what to do with it later, but when I walked over to the fish counter and the guys were putting out these beautiful pieces of Snapper that just arrived and I had to get it. Generally, I shy away from whole fish because my mom and sister are irrationally afraid of getting those tiny pin bones in their fish. But if done correctly, what you have is a beautiful filet of snapper, with slow cooked veggies, nuts, and dried fruit with a sweet yet spicy and herbaceous sauce.

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This recipe requires no exact amount of really anything except that I suggest a whole Snapper. The snapper should be under 2 lbs and small enough to fit in your tagine. Now the one I have is quite large and enough for the family style but if you only have a single serve or small one, there is no shame in buying fillets of snapper. Personally, due to the delicate nature of Snapper, I would suggest salmon or swordfish is using a fillet. Tagines act like a pressure cooker in a way and the delicate filet may break unless held together on the body.

Regarding what goes in besides fish, I err on the side of FUCK THE RULES – DO WHAT YOU WANT! As long as you have a few veggies, some good nuts (not salted, just dry) and some dried fruit (not sugared) like apricots and dates, add them all in layers going around the edge to a create an esthetically pleasing design and add the Charmoula (spice blend, pretty much a marinade but it can either be rubbed on the meat or fish which is not going to do because I’m discarding the skin after cooking or added over the top before cooking) and BOOM! That’s how you cook with a tagine.


Whole Snapper Tagine

1 Snapper, whole, gutted, scaled (ask your fishmonger to prepare)

Asparagus

Ramps

Sweet Peppers, sliced

Carrots, peeled and rough cut

Tomatoes, diced

Onions, medium dice

Lemons, sliced

Cilantro, rough cut

Peanuts

Cashews

Dried Apricots

Dried Dates

Dried Figs

Garlic, fine diced

Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper

Charmoula (parsley, cilantro, garlic, paprika, salt, ground black pepper, ground cumin, red pepper flakes , fresh lemon juice, and olive oil, blended until very smooth)

  1. Prepare your chermoula and set aside
  2. Add some olive oil to the bottom of the pan and add the onions and garlic. Cook over medium heat until sweated but not brown. if the garlic begins brown, remove from heat.
  3. After sweating, add the tomatoes and cook until softened. turn the heat to low and begin layering veggies, nuts, and fruit.
  4. Slowly add your chermoula to the top of the veggies making sure to pour it over as much as possible.
  5. Stuff the belly of the Snapper with lemon slices and cilantro. Place your whole Snapper on top of the veggies, top with a healthy serving of cilantro and lemon sliced.
  6. Cover and cook for about 35-45 min. Refrain from removing top if possible. Remove after cooking time finishes and check the dried fruit. If you cannot easily tear apart with fingers, cook additional 20 min.
  7. Let the Tagine sit uncovered after cooking for a short period to allow steam to escape and the product to settle. Serve hot.

*Cooks note: the tagine works by not removing any steam during cooking, effectively acting as a pressure cooker even if the heat is very low. The food inside will cook quickly, but if left undisturbed it can cook longer without falling apart. The longer it is left, the juicier the contents will be.

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The finished product will leave you with a succulent piece of fish the will fall off the bones. If you are the kind of person afraid of eating whole fish because of the bones, rest assured that the reason I chose snapper is that it has very few of the tiny bones. Those bones are much more common on larger fish like tuna and salmon in which the spine has to carry a substantially larger amount of meat whereas Snapper is a very slim fish and there are rarely any bones. If you need some help filleting your fish after it is done, check out this video by Chef Todd Mitgang of Crave Fish Bar (in NYC). Serve the fish with a helping of the stewed veggies and maybe even some flatbread. My family generally has some bread laying around because my dad is always baking, but if you happen to have some pita or some naan (yes even the grocery store kind) it will really help to pull the entire meal together.

Tagine cooking to me has always symbolized something more exotic and to many other people, I think it is a bit intimidating. But to be honest, cooking with a tagine can be as simple as looking in your fridge and grabbing all the produce that’s going to go bad before you get to is and covering it with a tangy marinade. Recipes for tagine cooking will always be closer to kitchen-sink style cooking and I think for many people it is a great alternative. It takes under an hour and if you can prep and put them all together in the tagine right after work it will be done cooking after you put your stuff down and take a few minutes to relax. Next time you are thinking about breaking out the Crock-pot, break out the tagine and try something different. I guarantee you won’t be let down.

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