Chermoula

An all-time favorite fish preparation from Roger Hayot’s Authentic Cafe Cookbook (see sidebar). No idea how authentic this recipe is, but we really love it. The chermoula is a sauce that’s pretty quick to make and quite pungent. Since that book is no longer in print, I’m going to type out the ingredient list with a quick description of the steps.

  • 2C flat leaf parsley
  • 2C cilantro
  • 10 large garlic cloves
  • 1/2 C fresh lemon juice (I usually just go for the juice of 2 good sized lemons)
  • 3 Tbsp champagne vinegar
  • 1/4 t turmeric
  • 2 Tbsp pimenton or sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp ground black pepper
  • 1-1/2 t sea salt
  • 1C Extra Virgin Olive oil
  • four 8-oz halibut fillets

I used to do it in a much more labor-intensive way (chop this, chop that, mince, etc. etc.), now  I just drop it all into the food processor and pulse it until it’s half smooth. A chunky sauce. Put the fish into a ziploc bag or some other kind of resealable container with the chermoula and let that sit for 4-6 hours. Flip it upside down every now and then, if possible. You want the fish to absorb the flavors, but not so much that the lemon starts to chemically cook it.

Get the grill going.

Digression: Our gas grill gave up the ghost about 4 months ago and we replaced that with a Big Green Egg. Honestly, so far, I don’t miss the convenience of the gas. Using their rather expensive charcoal, we get excellent temperatures and a irreplaceable flavor from charcoal cooking. Normally, the Egg is ready to cook in less than 10 minutes. I can get it up to almost 700° for steaks and keep it down around 200° for slow tri-tip cooking. Haven’t done any real smoking, but people talk about the egg as doing that pretty well, too.

When it’s hot. I like it to get around 500° F.  Throw on the cherry or grape or campari tomatoes. Then the fish. I’ll spoon a goodly mass of chermoula on top of the fish so, in my mind at least, it steams a bit. If the halibut is about 1-1/4″ thick, I’ll let it cook for about 4-5 minutes. Then flip it and spoon on more chermoula. Go another 4 minutes and flip again. Then, finish for about 2 more minutes. So, about 10 minutes in total.

Before starting the grill, I’ll put some rice pilaf into the rice cooker. That’s one dish I’m just too lazy to do from scratch. In addition, we usually will saute damp spinach in a medium-high pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. Heat the olive oil, then drop in the very wet spinach and one sliced clove of garlic. You don’t want the garlic browning on the bottom. Cover the pan for a steamy saute. Cooking time is a scant 5 minutes unless you’re lucky enough to have some Bloomsbury spinach. That will take 2-3 minutes longer. Highly recommended if it’s the right time of year for it.

We’ve never made this with anything but halibut because the texture of the fish just seems perfect. Roger Hayot suggests sea bream as an alternate.

If you try this, let me know. We really love this dish. Oh, and we save the chermoula and will eat it the next day on top of some rice or as a side to some sort of cooked beast or chicken.

Wine: Either a brisk white from coastal of Spain or Italy (Txakolina, Vermentino), a Chablis or Sancerre from France or a very bright red like a Passopisciaro from Sicily all work with this dish.