Arabian spiced fish

Cooking a whole fish can be daunting if you’ve never done it before. I had been making filets for years before taking on the task of preparing a massive red snapper one day. It turned out beautifully, and I was really surprised at how easy it was, especially since the fishmonger did most of the hard work for me. Getting your fish scaled and cleaned really does make preparation a breeze. 

After a long, hot day at the beach last weekend, we stopped by the market to grab some locally caught fish. We were fortunate to have my fish-savvy father-in-law, Hani, with us to negotiate a sweet deal for our daily catch. Having lived in the Gulf as well as the Mediterranean for years, Hani knows exactly what he’s talking about when it comes to choosing the perfect fish. Looking for clear eyes free of any cloudiness, and rich, red gills, we chose a local shari fish to bring home and pop on the grill.

Since my kids are always fascinated by the amount of sea creatures abundant in the market, choosing their evening meal with Jiddo (“grandfather” in Arabic) was a fun treat. I’m SO glad that they love fish at this age (unlike me, I wouldn’t touch it until my late teens!). I have to say that my seven-year-old son was a bit disgusted watching the fish being cleaned. Thankfully, it didn’t turn him off his dinner. My two other kids were more than happy to watch the show – blood, guts, and all!


This is my version of an Arabian spiced fish we ate at the Seaview Restaurant while on the Tastecapade food and bike tour in Dubai. You can use any type of fish that works well on the grill. Shari, seabass and red snapper are excellent choices.


This recipe calls for a barbeque and a wire fish basket. If you don’t have access to a barbeque, you can roast the fish in a preheated oven at 200 C (400 F). Prepare the fish in the exact same way as directed, minus the fish basket. Bake it in the oven, open-faced, until the fish is cooked through (about 20 to 25 minutes). It is best to pour a cup of liquid in the bottom of the pan so the fish doesn’t stick. Water or white wine works well for this.

Although this recipe is for a whole fish, you can apply it to filets as well. Just use the marinade and divide it among the filets. Cook your fish on a hot, oiled pan or grill for a few minutes on each side depending on the thickness of the filets. Serve the sauce to accompany the fish.


For the marinade and fish:

  • 2 teaspoons cumin powder
  • 2 teaspoons coriander powder
  • ½ chili powder (you can add more if you want more heat)
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried lemon powder (lemon powder can be found in most Middle Eastern or Indian supermarkets. If you can’t find it, use 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest instead)
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt plus a bit of extra salt for sprinkling on the fish
  • Juice of 1 ½ lemons
  • 1x 800 grams to 1 kg white fish such as Shari, Red Snapper or Sea Bass – scale, clean, and butterfly
  • Vegetable oil to coat the outside of your fish

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For the Sauce:

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red capsicum, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 450 grams fresh tomatoes, chopped (cut an “x” on the bottom of the tomato, plunge into hot water for a few minutes, then peel the skin)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon reserved marinade from the fish


For the marinade:

Put all the spices and salt together in a bowl and mix.



Add the lemon juice and vinegar and mix well to form a liquidy paste.


For the fish:

Sprinkle the outside of your fish with salt. Coat with a bit of vegetable oil to prevent it from sticking.

Open the fish, and brush the inside with the marinade, reserving one tablespoon of the marinade to use for the sauce later.


Let the fish soak up the marinade while you prepare the sauce.

For the sauce:

Sauté the onions for five minutes or until soft.

Add the capsicum and garlic, sauté for five more minutes.

Add the coriander, and sauté for one minute.

Add the tomatoes, one tablespoon of the reserve marinade and a fat pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for another ten minutes or until the sauce is thick and fragrant.

In the meantime, preheat your grill to medium high.

Open the fish like a book, and place it in a wire basket (as shown in the picture).


Put the fish on the grill, skin side down. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes.

Carefully flip the fish over, flesh side down, and cook for five minutes longer, or until cooked through.


Take the fish off the grill and carefully remove it from the basket (be careful, the basket will be very hot!). If it sticks, run a sharp knife gently between the fish (flesh and/or skin side) and the basket to loosen.

Flip the fish onto a serving plate carefully, then remove the large section of bones running through the mid-section.

Serve with the tomato and capsicum sauce and get ready to dig in!

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Copyright © 2016 Lidija’s Kitchen, including personal images taken by the author.








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