Spicy Fish in Cherry Tomato and Harissa Sauce

Spicy Fish in Cherry Tomato and Harissa Sauce

Dag hareef, a spicy fish bathed in a flaming-red fiery sauce that begs for a thick slice of challah for dipping, graces almost every North African table on Friday nights. In the Libyan-Tripolitan version, known as chraime, the fish cooks in a minimalist sauce of oil infused with cumin, caraway, and lots of paprika. The more elaborate Moroccan version, which is what my aunt would make, contains fresh tomatoes, peppers, and an entire bunch of cilantro. Cherry tomatoes aren’t traditional, but they give this gutsy dish a touch of bright sweetness.

This dish is meant to be spicy, but how spicy is up to you. Start with half the amount of harissa and chile, and fire the dish up to your liking.


  • â…“ cup (80 ml) vegetable oil
  • 10 garlic cloves, smashed
  • ÂĽ cup tomato paste
  • 1 jalapeño chile, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon harissa, store-bought or homemade (for homemade, see Shuk cookbook)
  • 3 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground caraway
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 pints (910 g) cherry tomatoes
  • Kosher salt
  • ½ cup (120 ml) water
  • 1 large bunch fresh cilantro
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 (7- to 9-ounce/200 to 255 g) fillets flaky white-fleshed fish (grouper, bass, snapper, and halibut are all nice), skin-on, if possible
  • Challah or couscous, for serving


  1. Pour the vegetable oil into a relatively deep, large skillet. Immediately add the smashed garlic cloves and cook over very low heat just until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Watch the pan closely to make sure the garlic doesn’t brown, or it will become bitter.
  2. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the tomato paste, half the jalapeño, 1½ teaspoons of the harissa, and all the paprika, caraway, and cumin, and stir for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add 1½ pints (680 g) of the cherry tomatoes (reserve the rest for later) and season with salt. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes start to break down, 7 to 8 minutes. Pour in the water, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until thick and saucy.
  3. Remove about 3 tablespoons of whole leaves from the cilantro bunch and reserve them for garnish. Tear up the rest of the bunch and toss into the pan. Give it a minute to blend with the sauce, then taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and the remaining jalapeño and 1½ teaspoons harissa if you want more heat. Bear in mind that once you add the fish, you won’t be able to stir the sauce and play with the seasonings—make sure the flavor and level of spiciness are to your liking.
  4. Add the fish fillets, skin-side up, tucking them gently into the sauce. Sprinkle the remaining ½ pint (225 g) cherry tomatoes on top of the fish.
  5. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer, without stirring, until the fish is cooked through, 7 to 8 minutes. Thicker fillets, like halibut, will need 2 to 3 minutes more. To check the fish for doneness, make a small incision in the thickest part of the fish and make sure the flesh is opaque and flaky.
  6. Serve straight out of the pan, garnished with the reserved whole cilantro leaves, with a lot of bread alongside or with couscous.
Cheater’s Couscous

Different versions of this method have circulated around Israeli food blogs for a while now, but they sounded almost too good to be true. In less than 20 minutes, without any special utensils, you can make couscous that tastes and looks like the real thing? Turns out that yes, it does work (mostly)!

This method produces coarser crumbles than couscous made the old-fashioned way (see cookbook, page 266), but it’s still fluffy and delicious, and infinitely better than anything you can get from a box.

Serves 4 to 6

  • 2 cups (370 g) coarse semolina (farina or Cream of Wheat)
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • â…“ cup (80 ml) vegetable oil
  • 2 cups (480 ml) boiling water
  1. Combine the semolina and salt in a microwave-safe medium bowl, then pour in the oil and mix thoroughly with your hands until all the grains are coated with oil. Pour in the boiling water, fluff the mixture with a fork, cover the bowl, and microwave for 4 minutes. At this point, the grains will look like sticky wet sand. Thoroughly mix with a fork again, raking and fluffing the grains as much as possible. Cover and microwave for another 4 minutes. Fluff again with a fork and let cool for about 5 minutes to release some of the steam.
  2. Transfer half the mixture to a food processor and process for 30 to 40 seconds, until the mixture is broken into fine, even-sized crumbles. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining mixture. Serve at once. If the couscous is not hot enough, reheat for a minute in the microwave. If you don’t need the whole amount, store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a few days; reheat before serving.

Excerpted from SHUK byEinat Admony and Janna Gur (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019.

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