Difficulty: Easy but takes non-working time
Traditionally the ingredients of a tagine are layered in an earthenware casserole with a cone-shaped lid (also called a tagine) and cooked on top of an earthenware brazier filled with red hot lump hardwood coals for a long time. The reason one cooks in an earthenware tagine with its conical cover is to achieve that intense, aromatic flavor that results from capturing the steam and juices from all the foods trapped in the tagine. In place of an authentic Moroccan tagine you can use a Dutch oven or clay oven (be sure to read the directions for use) or enameled cast-iron casserole. Be aware that some tagines sold are for table use only. So make sure yours is oven-proof.
I learned how to make this fish tagine in Casablanca from Rafih Benjelloun, an effusive Moroccan-American restaurateur from Atlanta whose efficacious approach to Moroccan food was inspiring. The green peppers in my recipe will be ever so slightly crunchy when done. If you prefer them completely soft, cook them first in olive oil until limp before layering them in the tagine.
In place of Mediterranean fish I have found success using swordfish, shark, and sea bass or slightly less firm fish such as grouper or red snapper.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Preparation Time: 3 hours
1. Prepare the sharmula. Coat the fish steaks with half of the sharmula and marinate 2 hours in a ceramic or glass baking pan in the refrigerator.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a tagine, Dutch oven, earthenware casserole, or enameled cast-iron casserole and arrange the potatoes on the bottom. Lightly salt and pepper the potatoes. Place the fish steaks on top of the potatoes. Cover the fish with the green peppers and then the tomato slices, arranging everything very neatly and decoratively. Lightly salt and pepper again. Spoon half of the remaining sharmula over the tomato slices. Pour the tomato purée over and sprinkle with the coriander, parsley, and more salt and pepper. Spoon the remaining sharmula over everything.
3. Bake the tagine, covered, until the potatoes are tender and the fish cooked, about 1 hour. Do not check until at least 40 minutes have passed. Serve.