Moroccan Fish Tagine (Mqualli)

Fish tagine ready to cook
Christine Benlafquih
Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 2 hrs
Marinating: 2 hrs
Total: 4 hrs 30 mins
Servings: 4 to 6 servings

This is a recipe for a classic Moroccan fish mqualli tagine with potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers. Traditionally, the ingredients are layered in a tagine or deep skillet, then cooked over a fire or on the stove. In the north of Morocco, fish stews such as this one are prepared in tagras, round or oval clay casseroles similar to tagines, but without the conical top.

Mqualli is a term which refers to sauces made with ginger, saffron, and oil. Here, however, the additional zesty flavor comes from fresh or preserved lemons, olives and a Moroccan marinade called chermoula.

Any firm, thick fish can be used—cut up or whole—but slices of conger eel work best because there are fewer bones to deal with at the table. Swordfish, Dorado, large whole whiting and sea bass are other good choices.


  • 2 pounds firm fish or eel

  • 1 batch chermoula marinade

  • 2 bell peppers, any color

  • 1/3 cup olive oil

  • 1 large onion, cut into rings, optional

  • 1 carrot or celery stalk, cut into thin sticks

  • 2 large potatoes, cut into thin slices

  • 1 teaspoon ginger

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric

  • Pinch saffron threads, crumbled

  • 2 to 3 tomatoes, seeded and cut into thin slices

  • 1 lemon, cut into thin slices, or 1 preserved lemon, quartered

  • Handful red olives

Steps to Make It

Make the Chermoula and Roast the Peppers

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Make chermoula marinade. Reserve and refrigerate half of the chermoula, and mix remaining half with fish.

  3. Cover fish and refrigerate, allowing it to marinate for two hours or overnight.

  4. Roast peppers, peel and seed them, and cut them into strips. Or, alternatively, slice raw pepper into rings. Set aside.

Make the Tagine

  1. Pour olive oil into a tagine, and distribute onion slices across bottom. Criss-cross celery or carrot sticks in center to form a bed for the fish.

  2. Mix potato slices with ginger, salt, pepper, turmeric, and saffron, and arrange potatoes around perimeter of tagine. Top potato with tomato slices, then distribute reserved chermoula over vegetables.

  3. Add fish and its marinade to center of tagine, and arrange strips of pepper on top of fish in a decorative manner. Garnish tagine with lemon and olives, and sprinkle salt and pepper over all.

  4. Cover tagine and cook over low to medium-low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the fish and potatoes are finished. Reduce sauce if necessary until it is quite thick.

  5. Serve tagine directly from dish in which it was cooked, with Moroccan bread for scooping up the fish and sauce.


  • For best flavor, allow time for the fish to marinate.
  • If you plan to make fish tagine frequently, you may want to reserve a piece of clay cookware specifically for this purpose as, over time, the clay will absorb the flavors and odors of the fish and seasoning.