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Tunisian Fish Ball Tagine

(recipe, Joyce Goldstein)


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Introduction

In Spain, Sephardic fish balls called albondigas are seasoned simply with parsley, maybe a little cheese, then fried and served with tomato sauce. Tunisian fish balls are more highly seasoned. To hold the fish together, most cooks use fresh breadcrumbs, but dry crumbs and cooked rice can be used instead. The fish balls can be fried first or poached directly in the tomato sauce, which in some versions includes chopped tomatoes and peppers. This dish can be made more elaborate by adding cooked vegetables such as fennel, peppers, carrots, turnips, zucchini, and pumpkin. And instead of fish balls, you can form the fish paste into cakes, fry in a little olive oil, and serve with aïoli.

Ingredients

    Fish balls
    1. 1½ lb. mild white fish, such as cod, sole, snapper, or bass
    2. 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
    3. 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
    4. 2 small onions, finely chopped or puréed in a food processor
    5. 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
    6. 2 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and ground
    7. 1½ tsp. kosher salt
    8. ½ tsp. harissa or hot sauce
    9. 4 oz. stale bread, sliced, crusts removed, soaked in water, and squeezed dry, or about 1½ cups fresh soft breadcrumbs
    10. 1 egg
    11. Olive oil for frying
    Sauce
    1. 3 Tbsp. olive oil
    2. 2 garlic cloves, minced
    3. 6 Tbsp. tomato purée, or one can (14 ounces) crushed tomatoes
    4. 1½ cups fish broth or water
    5. Salt and freshly ground pepper
    6. Couscous, for serving
    7. Chopped parsley, for garnish

    Steps

    1. Make the fish balls: Remove any bones in the fish and chop the fish fine. In a bowl or food processor, combine the fish, parsley, cilantro, onions, garlic, cumin, salt, harissa, and bread. Mix or process well. Add the egg and knead until smooth.
    2. Dipping a spoon and your fingers in cold water, remove a heaping tablespoon of fish paste and roll into a 1-inch ball. Fry the ball in a little olive oil to make sure you are satisfied with the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Form the remaining fish balls, putting them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate until ready to cook.
    3. Make the sauce: Warm the olive oil in a tagine, add the garlic, tomato purée, and fish broth, season to taste with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.
    4. Finish the dish: Add the fish balls to the sauce directly, or if you prefer, heat a little olive oil in a large sauté pan, fry a few fish balls at a time until lightly browned, remove with a slotted spoon and drain, then add to the sauce. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve over couscous.