Dogfish tagine

How wonderfully exotic does 'dogfish tagine' sound? I spied some dogfish at the fishmongers the other day. Readers of this blog will know that most of my cooking generally begins with "I saw ___ at the butchers/fishmongers/market the other day", and this incident was no exception. Intrigued by its name and its appearance (it looked a bit like monkfish tail; thick, meaty white fillets with a large bone running through the back), I bought some immediately, with absolutely no idea of what I was going to do with it. I just liked the idea of serving up dogfish.

Dogfish, also known as huss or rock salmon, is a firm white fish that is popular in fish and chip shops. It's actually a small type of shark. I'm always interested in finding fish like this that will work in recipes where a meatier texture is required, like curries or stews. A fish curry sprung to mind, but was almost immediately replaced by the notion of a fish tagine, which is only natural given my intense affection for Moroccan food. Fish tagines are generally characterised by the flavours of tomato, spices, coriander, saffron, and lemon or orange, flavours that the beloved Spanish paella has in common.

I've made fish stews like bouillabaisse before, and I think I may have once made a fish tagine before, so I had a basic list of ingredients in my head. Orange (especially as I had some blood oranges sitting in the fruit bowl that were starting to cry out to be eaten), olives (they go so well with orange in fish dishes, as I found with my red gurnard with orange and olive risotto), fennel (I love the aniseed note of it with fish), spices (cinnamon, paprika, ginger, a little chilli, and that alluring Moroccan spice mix, ras-el-hanout, which contains rose petals for a delicious perfumed note), saffron (always crops up in fish dishes, as with bouillabaisse or paella) tomatoes, onions and garlic.

This recipe is easy - it's just a case of softening the vegetables, adding some stock and chopped tomatoes, then letting it simmer away to thicken before adding the fish, which only takes a couple of minutes to cook. Then I finished the dish with a sprinkling of toasted flaked almonds, the fronds reserved from the fennel bulb, and some chopped coriander and parsley (my knee-jerk garnish for all things Moroccan; I'm a coriander addict). It's delicious: the sauce is packed with warm flavours, a little heat from the chilli, and beautiful melting onions and crunchy pieces of fennel. The fish has enough texture to stand up to the sauce, and the toasted almonds provide the perfect crunch. For something that takes half an hour, this looks and tastes much more impressive. Serve atop a mound of couscous for very healthy-tasting but warming and delicious dinner. If you can't find dogfish, any other firm white fish (haddock, hake, pollack, even swordfish if you're feeling extravagant) would do.

Dogfish tagine (serves 4):

1kg firm white fish fillets
Pinch of saffron
800ml hot fish stock
Olive oil
2 onions, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp each cumin, paprika and ginger
1 tsp ras-el-hanout (optional)
Pinch chilli powder
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp honey
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
1 fennel bulb, finely sliced and fronds reserved for garnish
75g pitted black olives
Big bunch coriander and flat leaf parsley
A handful of toasted flaked almonds
Couscous or saffron rice, to serve

Add the saffron threads to the stock and leave to infuse. Saute the onions and garlic until softened, then add the spices, cinnamon stick, tomatoes, honey, orange zest and juice, and stock. Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, for about 25 minutes until thickened. Add the fennel slices and simmer for a further 10 minutes until softened slightly.

Add the fish and cook for a couple of minutes on each side until it's cooked through. Stir in the olives and herbs, then ladle into bowls over couscous or rice and garnish with the toasted almonds and reserved fennel fronds.