Saturday, February 21, 2015


I usually eat fish on Fridays, not for any religious reasons, but because it’s the day of the week with the biggest selection of seafood at the market. Now, with the beginning of Lent, the period leading up to Easter when many Catholics observe days of vigilia, or abstinence from eating meat, the fish markets are really sensational.


Colorful wrasse, something different at the fish market. This one has been gutted and scales removed.
The season brings a bigger variety of fish than usual, including some fish that I don’t find the rest of the year. So, it seems like the right time to sample seafood that I don’t usually cook.

This week it’s a wrasse. A beautiful reddish-orange fish, weighing almost 1 ¾ pounds. The market name in Spanish was bodión. But a search through my fish books—Alan Davidson’s The Tio Pepe Guide to the Seafood of Spain and Portugal (Santana Books); Seafood, A Connoisseur’s Guide and Cookbook, by Alan Davidson with watercolors of fish by Charlotte Knox (Mitchell Beazley), and Manual del Pescado by José Carlos Capel (R&B Ediciones)—led me to decide my fish was probably a (female) cuckoo wrasse or else a ballan wrasse, neither of which is a threatened species. (Check out threatened species at

While wrasse is not precisely a “trash” fish, neither is it commonly marketed. Because it’s not an A-list fish such as bass, sole, hake, its price is lower.

I found the wrasse to be “really good,” though not quite “excellent.” The flesh is white, lean and bland in taste; the texture is firm-flaky, like other rock fish; bones not unlike those of sea bass, which is to say, quite acceptable. Small wrasse are best in soups and seafood stews. (A good soup to try is cachorreñas, made with sour Sevilla oranges, recipe ) But my catch was definitely large enough to consider other ways of cooking.

Fish is baked with a spicy chermoula sauce and strips of preserved lemon.
I picked a Canary Islands recipe for baked fish, planning to serve it with spicy mojo verde sauce, made with green chile and cilantro (recipe here ). Then I happened upon a similar recipe for Moroccan fish tagine in Paula Wolfert’s Moroccan Cuisine (originally published as Cous Cous and Other Good Food from Morocco  in 1973). The fish is baked in the oven with chermoula sauce/marinade and preserved lemons. Chermoula is almost identical to mojo (after all, the Canary Islands are closer to Morocco than to mainland Spain). Plus, I just happened to have some preserved lemons waiting for just such an occasion.

Preserved lemon.
Salty preserved lemons are a Moroccan condiment. You can buy them at specialty food shops. I get the lemons at a local market that has several Moroccan butchers and food shops catering to the large Moroccan population in southern Spain. 

The sauce keeps the fish moist as it bakes and the lemons punch up the flavor a lot. Good way to go if a wrasse comes your way, but you could try it with sea bass or similar fish.

I like cooking whole fish. Leaving the head on helps keep the fish moist. And, it’s easier to lift the flesh off of cooked fish than it is to fillet raw fish.

Baked Fish with Moroccan Chermoula Sauce and Preserved Lemons

1 whole fish, about 2 pounds
½ cup cilantro (fresh coriander leaves)
½ cup parsley + 1 tablespoon
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
Few threads of saffron, crushed (optional)
Cayenne, to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 fennel bulb
½ preserved lemon
1 cup fresh or canned chopped tomatoes

Sprinkle the fish inside and out with salt. Cut 3 or 4 deep slashes in the fish, on both sides.

To make the chermoula, combine in a blender the cilantro, parsley, garlic, cumin, pimentón, saffron, cayenne, olive oil, lemon juice and ½  teaspoon salt . Blend to make a smooth sauce.

Spread the sauce on both sides of the fish and inside its cavity. Allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Fish ready for baking.
Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Cut the fennel in half, then cut it lengthwise into strips. Arrange them in the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold the fish. Place the fish on top. Cut the preserved lemon rind into strips, discarding the flesh. Insert strips in the slashes in the fish’s flesh. Scatter the remainder around the fish. Spoon over the tomatoes and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley.

Cover the baking dish with foil and bake the fish until it flakes and easily pulls away from the bones, about 45 minutes.

Sauce keeps fish moist while it bakes.


  1. I have some preserved lemons that I made and I am loving Moroccan food at the moment so this looks delicious. It's definitely on the menu for next weekend

    1. Patricia: Hope it turns out well. I gotta make some preserved lemons to use up my big crop of fruit.