I’ve talked before about my love of tagines and couscous and the palette of flavours that North Africa has to offer. They can produce quick, easy, tasty, healthy and visually attractive food.
I also recently purchased some oven bags. After playing with a few of the convenience versions I thought it was time to experiment a little myself. The final trigger was a looming dinner party with some pescatarian friends and I needed to expand the repertoire a little in preparation.
I’ve never attempted a fish tagine. I can imagine that the spicing needs to be at the more fragrant end of the scale but this is a risky proposition. I have had a fair few wishy-washy tagines over the years. It may be defined by the ingredients but the end dish just ends up in a dull hinterland. I used a Tesco Ras el Hanout spice mix recipe involving ground ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, a couple of cardamom pods and black pepper. I added salt and pepper. I then took a heaped tablespoon of the mixture and added it to a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, the zest of one lemon, the juice of half a lemon and a teaspoon of honey. It made a great marinade which I spread over two sides of fresh salmon which I then made a sandwich of in the over bag. I then let it roast for 45 minutes (they were quite big sides) at 180 degrees.
Meanwhile my wife had pointed out an interesting sounding by Katie Quinn Davies in Grazia magazine. Couscous with spiced chickpeas and pomegranate was being test driven by regular columnist Esther Walker. What caught my eye was the method of spicing the chickpeas. A can of drained and rinsed chickpeas is fried in a tablespoon of olive oil with a teaspoon of cumin, all and pepper. After 8-10 minutes of frying the chickpeas take on a lovely golden colour and a crispness which adds another texture to the couscous. I’ve never done chickpeas like this and it worked really well. I prepped the couscous itself by lightly frying a small red onion and a chopped stick of celery and a chopped clove of garlic and then added the chickpeas at the last stage along with a handful of chopped mint, a pomegranate’s worth of seeds, some lemon zest, lemon juice and seasoning.
The end result was much better in my opinion than the Grazia correspondent suggested. I swapped cumin for more of the Ras El Hanout mix but next time I would try and incorporate Harissa paste to add a little more heat (not sure how Harissa fries so I’ll need to do a little homework) but the method with the chickpeas adds texture and flavour well.
The salmon worked well. I think the oven bag does make sure you don’t lose any of the flavour just like a tagine. The proportions were effective so the spicing made a mark without being overpowering. I’d possibly add some chopped red onion in the pat and maybe some preserved lemon but you can overdo it. The other good feature of the bag is you get a tasty sauce in the bottom. All in all I can imagine doing this for a dinner party.