Chraime, fish simmered in a spiced tomato sauce, is made by Jews from all over northern Africa for Shabbat. This is a classic Moroccan version, made with easy-to-find ingredients, and easily adapted to your preferred level of heat, from mild to hot.Yum
There's a version of chraime, Shabbat fish, from each of the famed Jewish communities of Mediterranean northern Africa, including Tunisian, Tripolitan (Libyan), and Moroccan versions. They have in common fish slow-simmered in tomato and pepper sauce, though the spices and vegetables included in the broth vary among communities. Traditionally, chraime is made with fish steaks (cut widthwise, against the grain) or whole fish. Since I can't always find those, I usually use readily-available tilapia fillets, which I slice into sections. Made to be shared, it allows everyone to have small bites. There are two predominant methods of cooking chraime, one simmered on the stovetop and one cooked in the oven at low heat. Here we're going with the oven method.
Ingredients for Moroccan chraime
The dish starts with tomatoes and peppers. This version uses sliced tomatoes rather than tomato sauce as its base. Since we're wimps around here, I use red bell pepper for the pepper portion. If you like it hot, feel free to substitute one to three red or green chilis of your preferred heat levels.
For the fish, I recommend tilapia, which is easy to find kosher, relatively inexpensive, and works wonderfully in chraime. It stands up well to the slow cooking and comes out flaky and tender cooked in the sauce. That being said, recipes vary widely in terms of what fish to use (it's often a local recommendation) and most white fish should work. I also have Moroccan friends who sometimes made with with chunks of (skinless) salmon and it's wonderful!
For the sauce, you'll want good quality olive oil. Plenty of paprika goes in it, both sweet and hot. You could use cayenne in place of hot paprika if you like it hotter. The amount of hot paprika listed in the recipe will give you a mild sauce. The final seasoning is (parve) bouillon powder, the darling of the Israeli kitchen. It's really, really good here and highly recommended. If you're not into that, you can substitute vegetable broth for the water in the sauce.
The last element is fresh herbs. I like just parsley here, and I add it on top of the cooked fish so it stays lively.
Preparing Moroccan style chraime
This dish is so easy, it's almost magical that it turns out so good. If you've never had fish cooked low and slow in sauce, prepared to be amazed. (I can't make any promises if your grandma made this every Shabbat, because you'd definitely need her particular recipe to satisfy.)
Cooking the chraime
After pouring the sauce over the vegetables and fish layered in your baking dish, cover tightly with foil. You'll bake the fish, covered, at high heat for a short time, to get it cooking. Then you lower the heat and let it simmer away for a relatively long time. The fish will keep well warmed on a plata (food warmer) or can be served at room temperature.
It's mandatory to serve chraime with plenty of bread to soak up the sauce. Challah is of course always welcome, but chraime is also great with flatbreads like pita or laffa.
Moroccan Chraime - Shabbat Fish (parve)
- 3-4 tilapia fillets, cut into large chunks
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into strips - substitute 1-3 hot chilis if you prefer
- 2-3 vine tomatoes, sliced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp hot paprika - substitute ¼ tsp or more cayenne if you prefer
- 1 Tbsp chicken soup powder (bouillon)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
- Preheat oven to 375°F / 190°C.
- Layer the sliced tomatoes and red (or chili) peppers in the bottom of a baking dish. Arrange the tilapia fillets on top of the vegetables.
- Combine the oil, sweet paprika, hot paprika or cayenne, chicken bouillon, salt, pepper, and water and whisk together until evenly blended. Pour over the fish in the baking dish.
- Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake at 375°F / 190°C for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325°F / 165°C and cook for 45 minutes or more, until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Sprinkle parsley on top.