Rosh Hashanah Recipe: Sea Bream in Almonds and Lemon

Because the Jewish New Year falls during hot days this year, it's worth considering making fish the main course and skipping the meat. Buy fresh, from a reliable source. And don't freeze it.

Limor Laniado Tiroche
Limor Laniado Tiroche
Sea bass in a crust of almonds and pickled lemon on roasted potatoes.Credit: Limor Laniado Tiroche
Limor Laniado Tiroche
Limor Laniado Tiroche

The festive opening meal of Rosh Hashanah is fast approaching, a meal in which fish, which symbolizes a new start and prosperity, is generally used as a first course, after which a festive salad table is set and main courses follow. But because this year the holiday is earlier than usual, at the height of the hot season, it’s worthwhile examining the option of serving a less heavy meal and featuring fish as the main course. A portion of fresh fish that is perfectly grilled can be a lovely and festive solution.

Due to the shortage of fish in the Mediterranean Sea a regrettable situation that has been extensively discussed, and that is connected to overfishing with nets that catch young fish as well as nature ones, to the poisoning of fish by pollutants originating on land, and to the reduction in food flowing from the Nile into the sea today about 95 percent of the fresh fish consumed in Israel is produced by marine agriculture, whether from fish ponds or in the sea.

The most popular fish are levrak (sea bass), bass, denis (sea bream) and bouri (gray mullet), all of whose quality is usually reasonable, but which are nourished by food pellets that are uniform in taste, which slowly but surely also causes uniformity in the flavor and texture of the fish themselves. Israel also receives fresh fish imports: salmon that arrives twice a week from Norway (about 50 tons a week); tuna from Sri Lanka, most of which goes to sushi and other Japanese restaurants; and lokus (grouper) and musar yam (drum fish), which arrive in refrigerated trucks from Egypt.

Make sure to buy fresh fish from the seller or from a reliable fisherman. Find out when it was caught or, alternately, when it arrived in the country, and make sure that the scales and the contents of the stomach cavity are removed for you. Fresh fish can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two days, well wrapped in cling-wrap so that it won’t dry up and won’t cause the rest of the food in the refrigerator to acquire a fishy smell. Freezing fish is not recommended, since the thawing process damages its texture and changes its taste.

Sea bream fillet with peppers and yogurt.Credit: Limor Laniado Tiroche

When you grill an entire fish in the oven, make small diagonal slits in the side facing up, as deep as the skeleton. During the grilling spoon marinade into the slits, so that a lot of flavorful moisture will be absorbed into the flesh. To ascertain when the fish is cooked, remove it from the oven and glance at a slit: If the flesh surrounding the skeleton is pink the fish should be put back for another few minutes. If it’s white, the fish is ready.

Sea bass in a crust of almonds and pickled lemon on roasted potatoes

The following is for four main courses or eight first courses: 8 sea bass fillets with the skin (100 gm. net weight each)

For the marinade:
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
3 crushed garlic cloves
4 tbsp. pickled lemon, chopped into a coarse puree
1 tsp. salt

Sea bass baked in a Neapolitan tomato salsaCredit: Limor Laniado Tiroche

For the potatoes:
1 lemon with a thin peel, well rinsed
4 peeled potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 garlic head, separated into cloves

For the crust:
1 large bunch of well-rinsed parsley, without stalks
1 large bunch of well-rinsed coriander, without stalks
4 peeled garlic cloves
6 tbsp. lemon juice
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
6 tbsp. bread crumbs, matza crumbs or panko
6 tbsp. sliced almonds roasted in a skillet until lightly browned

Heat an oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Remove both ends of the lemon and slice into thin circles. Halve the potatoes and cut into semi-circles 1/2-cm. thick. Transfer to a bowl and season with olive oil, salt, pepper and turmeric; mix and transfer to a baking pan lined with baking paper. Scatter garlic cloves and lemons; roast for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and increase the temperature to 230 degrees. Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl.

Place all the crust ingredients in a food processor (without the almonds) and chop in pulses until you get damp crumbs but not a paste. Mix with the almonds, brush the fish on both sides with the marinade ingredients and place the potatoes on top, with the fish skin face down. Spread the crust ingredients uniformly on every fillet. Pour the rest of the marinade over the fish and the potatoes, and roast for six minutes.

Sea bream fillet with peppers and yogurt

For four main courses or eight first courses:  4 filleted sea bream or mullet fish, with skin (100 gm. net weight each)

1/4 cup olive oil
6 sliced garlic cloves
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. spicy paprika
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
4 grilled and peeled peppers, chopped into a course puree
2 ripe tomatoes grated on a grater or ground in a small food processor
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 yellow lemon with a thin peel, well rinsed

To serve:  olive oil, a handful of coriander leaves, a container of sourish yogurt or lemon tahini.

Heat the oven to 230 degrees Celsius. In a skillet with olive oil, saute the garlic and spices for about half a minute; add the peppers, tomatoes and wine and cook for 5 minutes, then turn off the flame. Remove the two ends of the lemon; cut it into quarters and then slice into very thin slices. Line a baking pan with baking paper greased with olive oil, place the fillets with the skin side face down, and place about 2 tbsp. of sauce over each fillet. Add the lemon slices, drip a little olive oil over, and a little more salt and ground black pepper. Roast for six minutes. Transfer to a serving platter (one fillet for a first course and two for a main course), topping it with a mound of yogurt and coriander leaves. Serve immediately.

Sea bass baked in a Neapolitan tomato salsa

For four main courses:  4 sea bass, weighing 400 gm. each, rinsed and dried

For the salsa:
1 yellow lemon with a thin peel, well rinsed
400 gm. small cherry tomatoes sliced into quarters
15 black pitted olives, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp. capers
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup white wine

For serving:  chopped parsley

Make three diagonal cuts in the top part of the fish facing up. Remove both ends of the lemon, cut into quarters and slice into very thin slices. Heat the oven to 230 degrees. Mix all the salsa ingredients in a bowl; set aside for 10 minutes. Line a baking pan with baking paper greased with olive oil. Place the fish in the pan, drain the liquid from the salsa and pour it over them. Rub them thoroughly with the liquid, including the belly of the fish. Add the rest of the salsa, scattering it on top of the fish and on the belly. Drip on a little olive oil over; add salt and ground black pepper and grill for 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the fish inside for another 5 to 7 minutes. Once or twice during the grilling, pour some of the sauce from the pan into the slits in the fish.