Libyan Fish Tagine

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Appears in

Food of the Sun: A Fresh Look at Mediterranean Cooking

Food of the Sun

By Alastair Little and Richard Whittington

Published 1995

  • About

The Libyan provenance is purely academic, for this cumin-flavoured stew of fish and potatoes could be found anywhere from Tunis to Istanbul. Whether it is something the good Colonel Gadafi has enjoyed is unknown. If he has, then it would have been made from small fish like red mullet. However, this redefinition benefits from being cooked with larger fish steaks. You could use sea bass or cod, for example, in which case the steaks should each weigh 150-170 g/6-7 oz. The key to success is to have the potatoes just cooked when you add the fish. The easiest way to achieve this is to use two pans as described below.


  • 4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 675 g/1½ lb potatoes
  • 285 g/10 oz onions
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 red chillies
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 4 cod steaks
  • 4 sets of squid tentacles (optional)
  • 575 ml/1 pt passata
  • salt and pepper
  • large handful of coriander leaves, to garnish



Toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan for 2-3 minutes over a low heat. Grind to a powder and reserve.

Trim the celery and dice. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1 cm/½ in cubes. Peel and slice the onions and cut into thin rings. Peel, smash and chop the garlic. Destalk and deseed the chillies and cut into julienne strips.


Put half the olive oil in one large frying pan and half in the other, ideally non-stick and with a lid.

Put the potato dice in the non-stick pan and fry, tossing and turning from time to time.

At the same time in the other pan, fry the onions and celery, stirring occasionally. When the onions begin to soften, add the lime leaves, chillies, garlic, cumin, paprika and turmeric. Cook for a further 2—3 minutes, then season lightly with salt and pepper and turn off the heat. Leave in the pan while the potatoes finish cooking.

As soon as you judge the potatoes are cooked, season the fish steaks with salt and pepper and put them on top of the potatoes. Spoon the onion mixture over and around the steaks and pour over the passata. Bring to a bubble over a medium heat, immediately lower it, put the lid on and cook gently for 3 minutes.

Add the squid tentacles, if using, replace the lid and cook for another 3-4 minutes, when the cod should be just done. Taste and adjust the seasoning if desired.


Serve in large warmed bowls, scattered with coriander leaves.

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