A lovely friend whose parents are from Egypt recently lent me the Food of Morocco (James Beard Best International Cookbook of 2012), by Paula Wolfert. While we cooked together, my friend told me about how the street markets in Egypt and Morocco were set up with food measured out into units for easy purchase– everything cost the same amount. It seemed like such an unfussy way of acquiring essentials that are part of daily life. Americans often demand individuality and unheard of ingredients–custom food–with limitless choices, a mark of their uniqueness. That afternoon, hearing about food in countries I would most likely never travel to was a delightful escape into the simplicity of ingredients and cooking techniques that were centuries old–a surprisingly welcome respite from the overwhelming food options made possible in Seattle.
The first recipe of Ms. Wolfert’s that caught my eye was the Tangier-Style Fried Sardines, and I set out to Fisherman’s Terminal for my fish. I regularly eat sardines, mostly Pacific and some Norwegian, but both canned. It hadn’t occurred to me that in the culinary mecca of Seattle I would not find fresh sardines that Monday. Determined to be frying fish by noon, I improvised a solution: trout with spices, herbs, tomatoes, and…..anchovy paste! The anchovy paste provided the perfect bridge between the Moroccan spices and Idaho trout. It also enhanced the flavor of the mild fish, while adding some of those great omega-3 fatty acids we all strive to get more of in our diet. The parsley, cumin, paprika, lemon, and garlic were inspired by Ms. Wolfert’s recipe. The vegetables and cooking techniques, in addition to the trout and anchovy paste, were Seattle modifications.
Turn oven to 350 degrees.
Cut tomatoes lengthwise into 6 or 8 sections. Seed sweet pepper and cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch sections. Toss tomatoes and red pepper together with 1-2 Tbsp olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. Spread on sheet pan and roast for 20 minutes.
While tomatoes and pepper cook, toast and grind cumin seed if none is on hand. Give parsley a medium coarse chop and place in bowl. Add the ground cumin, paprika, cayenne, and garlic cloves (either press or mince first) and 1-2 tsp salt.
Pat the outside of the fish dry. Spread 1 tsp of anchovy paste on each half of the fleshy part of the fish. Stuff the trout’s cavity with the parsley mixture, or if your trout has been filleted, divide the mixture and spread on both halves.
Remove tomatoes and pepper from the oven after 20 minutes, leaving oven on.
For both the fillets or whole trout:
Step 1- Stove Top:
Turn heat under skillet to medium, and add 2 T olive oil. Slice 1/2 red onion lengthwise into 1/2 inch strips. Spread onions to make a thin rack for under the trout. Gently place the trout on top and cook for 8 minutes until the outer portions of the fish begin to cook.
Step 2- Finishing in Oven:
If you are cooking the whole stuffed trout, carefully turn fish over with a spatula and add the tomato pepper mixture to the top of the browned side. Place in the oven for the remaining time until fish is cooked, approximately 5-6 more minutes, depending on size of your fish.
Whole fish: Serve whole if you like, and debone at the table.
Carefully take out any visible small bones that stayed attached to the flesh. There will probably be only a few. The tomatoes and peppers can then be placed on top of the fish which will cover the torn skin. Add squeeze of lemon and salt as described below.
Fillets: Remove from oven and squeeze a bit of juice from the remaining half of lemon on top of fish. Salt to taste.