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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Whole Fish Recipe (سمك مقلح)

My parents went to an event tonight and I decided earlier in the week I'd make my own dinner. I was thinking of making something from Foxes Love Lemons, but the crustini recipe she sent to me was more for a party. Yesterday I looked through the recipe books we have in the library I work for. I settled on a Middle Eastern cookbook called Olives, Lemons, and Za'atar by Rawia Bishara. Bishara owns Tanoreen, which is located in Brooklyn.

The only recipe in this cook book that is great for a single person is a recipe called Whole Fried Fish, or Samak Maqleh (in Roman letters - from my Arabic studies... its written as مك مقلح which translates into "fried fish"). It serves four and takes four fish, so it was easy to calculate what I would need for one person. One fish, then divide everything else by 4.

I had an interview at Wegmans yesterday and after the interview I went shopping. Bishara recommends using either red snapper, striped bass, branzino, porgies, or red mullet. I never really had these fish before, so I asked the fish monger at Wegmans what he would recommend. By law in Pennsylvania, he can't sell striped bass because it's a game fish, he didn't have red mullet and had different snappers. The way he described the snappers, branzino, and porgies, I thought the branzino sounded the best and I bought one branzino. I thanked him for his help and having the patience to help me.

Then I went shopping for the other ingredients. As I was looking, I was talking to the produce stocker and was telling him about this recipe, it would be my first time making it, and I was being venturesome. He thought it sounded neat and said, "Good luck! I want to hear all about it when you make it!" I smiled and said, "I'll be taking pictures because I blog about my cooking adventures, so I can show you pictures as well!" He liked that; I will probably just give the recipe too.

I won't post the full recipe in this book because if you're interested in spicing your dish up, you can check out the book. I will write about my changes. For the Tatbileh to stuff the fish with, the author suggested a bit of a spice with Jalapeno. I don't like spicy and opted to use green bell peppers and an apple slice instead with cumin, paprika, and black pepper.

Whole Fried Fish (سمك مقلح)
(1 serving)

1 whole fish (1 to 1 1/2 pounds), cleaned
Kosher salt for sprinkling
1/4 cup Tatbileh (I'll post recipe below - for one)
1/4 cup all-purpose white flour
1 cup of canola oil
1 lemon, halved


2 cloves of garlic, chopped into a coarse paste
1 tablespoon of chalet
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2  teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Rub the fish all over with salt under cold running water. Pat dry.

Make the Tatbileh: mix all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse into a coarse mixture.
(Don't worry - I cut the veggies first before I patted down the fish. I cleaned the cutting board well, though)

Using a sharp kitchen knife, make three 1/8-inch deep crosswise slits along the length of the fish. Rub the Tatbileh into the slits and cavity of the fish. Set aside.

Put the flour in a large shallow-rimmed plate. Dredge the fish in the flour, using a bit of flour to seal the cavity shut. Shake off any extra flour.

Heat the oil in a large pot over high until hot. Fry the fish until it is golden on both sides, 2-3 minutes per side. Do not touch the fish until the underside is golden brown or the skin will stick to the bottom of the pan. Using a slotted spatula, transfer to a platter with the lemon halves, parsley, the left over tatbileh and lentils.

I made lentils to go with the side. I made the lentils like how Nan used to make them - with garlic and some potatoes. So good and reminded me of just how Nan used to make them.

Dinner was a success! I was surprised how good this dish turned out!

The Instagram photo (phone photo)

And for dessert, I had apples with honey. As I was squeezing the home grown honey (my uncle has an apiary - the honey is from his bees), Mimi surfaced, jumped up on the couch, and watched with curiosity as I squeezed the honey out. Too cute and funny.


  1. Hi, dear Jessica Marie! Usually I take weekends off to keep a promise I made to Mrs. Shady, but tonight I happened to be online, saw the title of your post and was intrigued. I'm glad I didn't miss it because that fish dinner looks "scrummy" as the British say. :) I am definitely going to show the recipe to Mrs. S. You should become a gourmet chef because you really take an interest in the art of cooking. I love fish and lentils and all the other ingredients that went into this dish. I can't help wondering where Mimi was during the preparation of the dinner itself. I thought the smell of the fish would have drawn her to the table like a magnet! :)

    1. Hi Shady!

      With the way the weather has been here lately, Mimi either has allergies (again) or other health issues - she's been stuffy and wheezy. She most likely didn't smell it, but Mimi doesn't like table food. Mimi is on a strict diet, though, we have to buy her special foods because of her allergies/sensitivities. I think the sound of the honey bottle just fascinated her and since my parents weren't home, she probably just wanted to be near someone.

      You and Mrs. Shady will love this recipe! It is so good! I was nervous about it, but I am glad I tried it. I love fish, but for some reason I never had Branzino before and it was really good. I like cod and it's similar to cod.

      The job I interviewed for at Wegmans is for a clerk in the bakery. Then I'm waiting to hear from office jobs... but I'd love to cook/food blog on the side. The big goal would be traveling the world and writing about it, cooking their foods. Almost like what you see on travel channels. That would be a long time off, but one can dream. :)

      I showed my parents the pictures and dad wants me to make it again, when they're home - he thought it looked good too! Maybe I can make it as a Black Friday dinner... a cure from the turkey hangover. ;)

  2. Replies
    1. It was a pleasantly delicious surprise! I might have to write a review of this book for the library and show pictures of this. People might be amazed. It took about an hour to cook, which seems about average for Middle Eastern food (and even Italian and German).

  3. Sounds good.. looks good too (except for the head/tail). ;) Mimi is absolutely adorable.

    1. The head and the tail were what made me nervous about this recipe. Surprisingly once I started working with the fish, it wasn't too bad. It was a pleasant surprise. My parents want to try it, so I think the next time I make it, I will incorporate some Jalapeno into the sauce - balance it with the bell pepper and apple slice.

      Thank you! Mimi preys/plays upon her adorable/beautiful nature. Whenever we have visitors, they always give Mimi a lot of attention.