This Harissa Sea bass recipe uses a spicy aromatic paste known as Harissa from the north-western African region known as the Maghreb. The Maghreb region stretches from Mauritania and Morocco in the west to Libya.
What is Sea Bass?
Sea bass is a white fish that may refer to many different fish species. In the UK, however, it almost always refers to the European bass. It can be found swimming around the Mediterranean and the coasts of northern Africa. Nowadays, sea bass is heavily farmed.
Sea bass has a delicate, slightly sweet taste. It can be compared to cod or haddock with its tender and moist flesh. Some people may consider sea bass the perfect starting point for anyone who doesn’t particularly enjoy eating fish.
Harissa is typically made from roasted peppers, a Tunisian chilli known as Baklouti pepper, herbs and spices. These herbs and spices tend to include garlic, cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds blended with olive oil, as the oil quickly absorbs the flavour of the spices. Harissa is used to glaze meats, flavour stews and tagines, season couscous, and as a dip.
The word Harissa has roots in Arabic, with “Harasa” meaning to “break into pieces.” This phrasing refers to pounding the chillis when making the paste.
Rose harissa is Harissa paste as described above but infused with fried rose petals or rosewater. Rose gives the paste a greater depth of flavour with a fruit-like sweetness that works well with the spicy chilli. It’s important to note that while rose and Harissa may appear synonymous, not all Harissa is rose Harissa. While you can use any harissa paste, this Harissa-glazed sea bass recipe was designed using rose Harissa.
Preserved lemons come in many forms, prepared with different varieties of lemons. However, I’ve designed this recipe with the preserved thin-skinned variety called Beldi in mind. These preserved lemons can be found in many recipes across Northern Africa. They add savoury, sweet, and aromatic notes to dishes.
Take care when using them as they’re brined in salted water, giving them a salty flavour. Too much, and you’ll spoil the dish, but the right amount will improve the taste of everything it touches. For this reason, I like to rinse the lemons with cold water before adding them to my food.
Marinating and Cooking Harissa Sea Bass
Firstly, prepare the sea bass by patting the skin dry, then marinate the fish with the ground spices, ½ the Harissa, olive oil, lemon juice, zest, salt, and pepper to taste. Leave the fish to marinate for at least 20 minutes, preferably up to an hour.
Lay the fish skin-side down in a medium-hot pan with olive oil. The wet marinade will prevent the skin from crisping up, but it should still achieve a nice colour. Cook for 2-3 minutes on either side, then set aside.
Remove the fish from the pan and make the glaze by sautéing the onions. Once they’ve softened, add the remaining Harissa, honey, and splash of water. Reduce the sauce until it has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Finish with the chopped preserved lemons, herbs, and rose petals.
Harissa Sea Bass with Beldi Lemons
- 4 Seabass Fillets
- 1 Tbsp Ground Cumin
- 1 Tbsp Ground Coriander
- 4 Tbsp Rose Harissa Paste
- Juice and Zest from 1 Lemon
- 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
- Salt / Pepper to taste
- 1 Onion Diced
- 3 Garlic Cloves Shopped
- 1 Tbsp Runny Honey
- 50 ml Water
- 2 Preserved Beldi Lemons Drained, Rinsed, Deseeseded and Chopped
- 5 g Fresh Parsley or Coriander Chopped
- 5 g Rose Petals To Finish Optional
- Pat the skin of the sea bass dry with a clean towel. In a bowl, combine half the Harissa with the spices, lemon zest, juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Rub the sea bass fillets with the marinade until their evenly covered, then set aside for at least 20 minutes.
- Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Lay the sea bass fillets skin down and cook for 3 minutes before carefully turning them over and cooking for 2 minutes.
- Remove the sea bass from the pan and keep warm.
- Gently soften the onions in the same pan, then add the garlic. Cook for 1 minute.
- Add the honey, remaining Harissa, and a splash of water. Reduce the mix for 2-3 minutes until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
- Finish with lemons, chopped herbs, and rose petals.