This easy and delicious fish in peppery tomato sauce is flavored with garlic, coriander, harissa, and piquant capers, bathed in a slightly spicy tomato sauce. It’s another one of those “Jewish” recipes you may not recognize as Jewish. In America we tend to think of “Ashkenazi” food as Jewish, call it a day, and forget about the Sephardim. This is a terrible mistake, since Sephardic food (Spanish, Middle Eastern, Portuguese, and North African) is spicy, flavorful, and has much more variety than its Eastern European cousins. In fact, one day, I want to skip the Eastern European Passover and have a Sephardic one instead! Goals!
I’ve adapted this recipe from The Book of Jewish Food , which says that fish is considered a symbol of abundance, making it a favorite dish for Friday night (Sabbath) meals. Fish was also popular in Morocco and Italy for weddings, as it was thought to symbolize fruitfulness. For Rosh Hashanah, it was served with the head left on, so Jews would be “ ‘ahead with good deeds and serve as a model of goodness. ’ ” I think this dish certainly fits the bill.
The nice thing is that you don’t have to wait for a holiday or a special occasion to make it. It’s ready in about 25 minutes, so it’s perfect for a weeknight dinner.
If you’re not familiar with harissa, it’s a hot chili garlic sauce used for fish, chicken, and lots of other dishes in North Africa. As I am writing this, it occurs to me that it’s a bit like African sriracha sauce. If you have some, or can get some, use it. If not, a mixture of cayenne and paprika will work just fine.
I also saw another, similar recipe (called chraime) that referred to this as Sephardic “gefilte fish.” Never having been a big fan of gefilte fish, I’ll take this recipe in a New York minute!
The dish will work with any firm fish, such as grouper, red snapper, or cod. I used cod from Trader Joe’s (the frozen fish is inexpensive and good quality). Serve it with rice (as I did), or make it with couscous.
Fish in Peppery Tomato Sauce Substitutions and Variations
- Try sriracha or chili garlic sauce instead of the harissa paste (with a bit more coriander added this is similar to a Tunisian version of this dish)
- Use cumin, tomato paste, and both sweet and hot peppers in the sauce
- Add olive oil, then the fish, then top that with one or two whole garlic cloves, more salt and pepper, and more coriander, and let it cook on a grill for half an hour (if you like fresh cooked tomatoes, put them under and over the fish
Try These Other Fish Recipes
Variations on this stew are popular all over the Mediterranean, as well as in San Francisco. Make it (and eat it) in half an hour. Or, go up to to the point of adding the fish, freeze the stew, and then finish and eat some other time.
A quick marinade, and a fast pan-fry produces a delicious dinner in a few minutes. One bowl, one pan, one meal.
Fish with an Indian flair. It’s flavored with cumin, garam masala, and just a bit of ginger, all bathed in a creamy yogurt sauce.
A simple lemon-butter sauce, a pinch of mustard, and a sprinkle of rosemary add a lot of flavor without a lot of effort. Ready in fifteen minutes.