It sounds cliché, but I was recently reminded how the greatest gifts are those that keep on giving. In 2005, when our friends Jamie and Magali came all the way from London to visit us in San Francisco, they brought with them the cookbook Moro by Sam and Sam Clark. To demonstrate the beauty of this gift they made us a Moro dinner, a meal Ryan and I can still taste to this day ~ Roast chicken with harissa, carrot and cumin salad with coriander, feta salad with spinach, crispbread, sumac and pinenuts. They served these dishes with sherry, apparently the perfect complement.
It quickly became clear that Jamie and Magali had gifted us more than a fantastic meal; they had welcomed us into their happiest memories. For years these recipes had graced their table and when the two got married they planned an elaborate menu that all the guests participated in preparing…from the Moro cookbook.
Cookbooks written about ones cultural home are always special. They tap into our senses and transport us into our grandmother’s kitchen even when it’s worlds away. Equally special are those written by chefs so inspired by a style of cooking that they have devoted their life to interpreting and perfecting its recipes, creating something new in the process. Sam and Sam Clark have devoted their lives to learning about and interpreting a style of cooking that is as much about place as it is about flavor. They call this style Spanish and Muslim Mediterranean, or “the cinnamon trail.” The couple opened the restaurant Moro in London in 1997 and have since published several cookbooks.
Since Moro entered our lives it has indeed created many special memories. It goes without saying that you should visit the restaurant if you’re in London. In the meantime, start with the first of their numerous cookbooks. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving, particularly with a good bottle of sherry.
Moro’s Fish Tagine
Tips and Tricks
- Though hefty to store, tagines are awesome cooking vessels and quite beautiful. They basically work the same way as a dutch oven with the added advantage of a conical shape that traps the moisture up top and slowly trickles down the sides. Typically found in North African cooking it’s not uncommon to see tagine recipes that include lamb or chicken with vegetables, spices and dried fruit. In most tagine recipes everything goes in raw and is slowly cooked together in the oven for 2-3 hours. This recipe is unique in that almost everything is precooked and the tagine is used to finish the dish. I thought for fish this worked beautifully.
- The original recipe called for hake, which I was not able to find in my local store. I used haddock, which I skinned before placing in the tagine. I think almost any white fish would work for this recipe as long as it’s not too delicate, like flounder. Haddock, Cod, Pollock and Hake are all in the same family of fish so I’m guessing that any would work for this recipe.
- Charring peppers in the oven is very simple and adds great flavor to any dish that calls for roasted peppers. It’s also less expensive than buying them in a jar. Simply slice them in half and place them in the broiler, very close to the heat but not touching. Wait until they are almost completely blackened on top, about 10-15 minutes. Remove them and place them in a clean paper shopping bag. Roll the bag up tight and let them rest for 10 minutes. Remove them from the bag and you should be able to peel the skin off easily with your fingers. If you’re having trouble, try doing it under running water. I had never charred green peppers before. Usually I go for sweet peppers and add them to hummus, pasta salad or tomato soup.
4 hake fillets, or any sturdy white fish such as haddock, cod or pollock
20 small waxy new potatoes, peeled or unpeeled
3 Tablespoons of olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
15 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 small/medium or 2 extra large green peppers, charred, skinned, seeded and sliced into strips (see tips and tricks for how to do this)
a handful of black oily olives
100ml of water
sea or kosher salt and black pepper
2 garlic cloves
1 level teaspoon of sea or kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 Tablespoon good-quality red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon of paprika
1 small bunch of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped (remember you can use soft stems)
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
Moro’s chefs recommend using a mortar and pestle for making the Charmoula. I followed their instructions and will replicate them here. If you don’t have one, a small food processor would do the trick.
Pound the garlic in a mortar and pestle with the salt until you’ve formed a smooth paste, then add the cumin followed by the lemon juice, vinegar, paprika, cilantro and olive oil. Rub two-thirds of the charmoula mixture onto the fish and let stand in the fridge for between 20 minutes and 2 hours.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees if you are using a tagine. Boil the potatoes in salted water for 10-15 minutes until just tender. Drain and halve lengthways. In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and fry the garlic until light brown. Add the tomatoes and toss for 2 minutes until they begin to soften. Stir in the green peppers and remaining charmoula and taste for seasoning.
In a tagine, large saute pan or frying pan with lid, spread the potatoes evenly over the bottom. Scatter 3/4 of the peppers and tomato mixture over the potatoes, then place the marinated fish on top. Dab a little of the remaining pepper and tomato on top of each fish as well as the olives. Add the water and drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Put the lid on and place in oven for 15 minutes or until the fish is cooked through. If cooking this dish on the stovetop, simply steam for 10-15 minutes.