Halibut Kefta a la Marocaine
Prep: 45 mins | Total: 1hr 10 mins
by Dan Pell
When studies in Ireland turned into an adventure across Europe, Dan was inspired to cross the straights of Gibraltar and explore Morocco. “For 10 days I traveled all over the country,” Dan wrote. He was fascinated with its culture, architecture, and food, and the experience left a lasting impression on him. “Anyone who reads this who has thought of going to Morocco: go. That experience changed my desire to travel into a desire to live there. And it also introduced me to fish kefta...” Years later Dan returned to Morocco, this time venturing to the fishing harbor of Essaouira. “In a fish stall inside its ancient fortified port, still lined with dozens of cannons, I tasted (fish kefta) again. It was made of freshly caught sardines brought in by the small wooden boats that had once been the European trawling fleet of the 1950s and 60s.” Dan went on to bring his wife to Morocco, and later, lived there long enough to have his first son in the capital of Rabat. Currently they have been back in the Midwest for 8 years, but they reflect fondly on time spent in Morocco. “...our house is still filled with relics and memories of North Africa– and now our boys talk about living there too.” Perhaps it is his delicious halibut kefta that inspires his sons! “Through all this time, the dish that still stuck as my favorite is fish kefta: the same dish I tasted on that very first trip.”
Ingredients for the Halibut Kefta
- 1 package of Sitka Salmon Shares halibut burger meat or 1lb minced halibut
- 2 cups of cold cooked rice (we used sushi rice for the stickiness)
- 3 Tbs. each of chopped cilantro and parsley (flat leaf preferred)
- ½ tsp. Sea Salt
- ½ tsp. Cumin powder
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- Juice from ½ a lemon
- OPTIONAL: 1 Tbs of (small) capers (or big ones chopped up)
Ingredients for the Sauce
- ¼ cup Olive Oil (enough to coat the pan, and more to finish)
- 1 lb. of ripe tomatoes, skins & seeds removed (not in season? use a can of whole, peeled, cooked tomatoes)
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- ½ tsp. Cumin seeds
- ½ tsp. Paprika
- 1 tsp. Tomato paste
- a pinch of saffron
- 4 Tbs. each of chopped cilantro and parsley
- A fresh laurel (bay) leaf or two – or dried
- A squeeze of lemon
- Sea Salt & finely ground pepper to taste
Making the Kefta
Lightly dab or press the moisture out of the fish with a clean towel before you start. In a mixing bowl, use a fork to separate out the fish and mix it into the rice (starting with rice that has been made in advance and allowed to cool helps the balls stick together), cilantro, parsley, salt, cumin, garlic, chopped capers, and lemon juice. When it’s mixed, use your fingers to form balls about 1 – 1 ½ inch around. Put the balls onto a lightly oiled plate and set them aside in the refrigerator while you work on the sauce.
Making the Sauce
Prepare the tomatoes by plunging them into boiling water for 10 seconds and peeling them (or use canned, pre-peeled whole tomatoes). Cut them in half and use your fingers to remove the seeds and extra juice — you just want the actual flesh. Chop them into fine chunks. Prepare the rest of the ingredients, then start by gently heating the olive oil over medium heat. When it’s just hot enough to fry, drop in the garlic and stir it for about 30 seconds. Add the cumin seeds and let them cook for 10 seconds or until they just begin to darken. Add the paprika and tomato concentrate and stir it just enough to mix it. Drop in the tomatoes, saffron, laurel leaf, and most of the coriander and parsley (leave some aside to sprinkle on at the end). Leave this to cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Carefully add the Kefta balls, arranging them in a single layer. Use a spoon to pour some of the sauce over each ball then cover the pot with a tight lid, lower the heat and simmer them for 8 minutes.
Garnish at the last minute with more chopped cilantro and parsley. You can also scatter some more capers around. Lastly make sure you give it another drenching of good olive oil: it’ll make it glisten beautifully, and it’ll taste even better.
Accompany this with fluffy cous-cous or crusty bread (to mop up the sauce). Ideally cook it right up to the second before you serve it so you can pull the lid off at the table to reveal the deliciously bubbling and steaming dish.
B’saha! Good health and enjoy!