Emirati Recipe: Baked Fish (Sa-mak bil fern)

This post may contain affiliate links where, at no additional cost to you, I receive a small commission when products are purchased through those links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Any commisions earned helps keep this site sustainable. Click here for privacy policy.

The cooking method of this dish reminds me of a recipe I previously posted: Fish-in-a-Bag – an Easy Peasy Recipe! It is my favorite way of cooking fish as it involves almost no clean up and the fish comes out perfectly cooked every time.

For the Emirati version of fish-in-a-bag, I used tilapia bought from Lulu Hypermarket. Celia recommends kingfish, hammour or sharie. However, I despise the taste and texture of kingfish, and both hammour and sharie are considered heavily overfished so I try to avoid eating and buying these fish as much as possible.

The tilapia at Lulu’s looked nice and the cost for one pound (1/2 kg) of fish was only Dhs 4 (that’s about $1.00)! I certainly hope I’m not substituting one overfished fish for another!

About this recipe, Celia writes:

Baked fish is more popular today than in earlier times and it can be quite delicious with the addition of a few extra spices.

Usually it is served with white boiled or steamed rice, seasonal salad, sliced limes and laban to drink.


1 large fish – (cha-nnad, hammour or sharie)
salt to taste
bezar to cover
1/4 cup corn oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 large onions sliced 4 cloves garlic crushed
3 tablespoons loomi
1 bunch fresh coriander

The recipe calls for one large fish but since my fish was on the small size, I scaled back the ingredients.

Other changes: Instead of corn oil, I used sunflower oil as that’s what I had in my pantry; I totally forgot to buy coriander – whoops; I wasn’t sure what to do with the lemon juice as it wasn’t specified in the recipe so I put half in the onion marinade and the other half I squeezed on top just before serving for a fresh and zingy taste; and I baked the fish for 30 min instead of 45 as I was worried that my little fish would be overcooked otherwise.

The fishmonger took care of the gutting and scaling so I didn’t have to do that part – whew! At home, I gave the fish a thorough rinsing and removed any scales that were left. Next I made slits, salted, spiced with bezar, and then stuffed and sprinkled the fish with the loomi-garlic-onion mixture. I sealed up the aluminum foil packet and into the oven for 30 minutes of baking at 325 F.

Emirati Baked Fish
Clockwise from upper left: Tilapia rubbed with bezar and salt; Stuffed with loomi-garlic-onion; sealed in aluminum; sprinkled with onions

After 30 minutes, I opened up the foil packet and, as the recipe instructed, brushed the tilapia with a little oil and then placed it back in the oven to brown.

But after 5 minutes, I didn’t notice any browning so I cranked the oven to maximum heat and placed the fish close to the heating elements – essentially broiling it. After 5 more minutes, still no browning. Oh well, I gave up to prevent my tilapia from becoming severely overcooked.

Emirati Baked Fish
Cooked and Out of the Oven

Celia, if you are reading this, I am sorry that I make such a botch-up job of your recipes. I really do try.

Scotch liked the texture of the tilapia ( and also the fact that it had big bones so it was easy to pick out the flesh as he’s quite wary of fish bones and does not like fish skin). However, he wasn’t overly excited about the taste of the bezar.

As for me, I found the spices a bit overwhelming. I can’t put my finger on why – the first bite is okay but then it becomes too much and I find myself pushing the skin away to get at the flesh with was tender, moist, delicate, and very tasty. The onions on the outside were a bit bitter due to the loomi and were also undercooked (my fault for decreasing the cooking time) but the ones inside were soft and sweet.

I would try this recipe again but with the temperature and time settings that have always guaranteed me perfectly cooked fish and onions – 450F for 20 minutes. And next time I would sprinkle on less loomi and bezar.

*   *   *   *   *

Previous Emirati recipe: Fish Cakes (Sa-mak Koufta)

Up next: Boiled Crabs (Gab-goo-ba maa-fourd)

Note: This post is part of my Cooking Local project

*   *   *   *   *

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter and receive a FREE noodle guide PDF:

I believe it’s not just noodles we are creating, but memories, traditions, and a sense of pride. Learn Noodle-Making With Kids. Create, Bond, Transform.

*We respect your privacy and will not send you spam. You may unsubscribe at any time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Yes, I agree with Sara, that Arabs will never eat dairy with fish. I am surprised that Celia would have said that. hmmm

  2. That looks tasty! Maybe you should bake it uncovered to get the fish to brown and the onions to soften.

    Just one thing I wanted to mention about Celia’s comment that laban is served for drinking with the fish. Actually, Arabs never eat laban or any dairy products with fish in the same meal as it it is said to cause some kind of skin disease. This is a culture belief that even the younger generation still practice. Celia’s recipes and information are good but they are not always accurate.

  3. hey – yummy!

    We cook fish all the time: You could try caramelizing the onions first, then adding them to the rubbed fish and barbecuing in foil for about 25 minutes – that's how we do it. You can also stuff the center of the fish with chillies, lemon slices and coriander leaves. I found a nice baharat mix at Lulus that I use on my fish.

    Looking forward to reading more of your blog! Going for a little hop now…

  4. mmm I love baked fish, BUT tend to have them in restaurants instead simply because I can't be bothered figuring out my apt's gas oven, shame!

    1. The best cook I know (my lovely mother) has probably never used an oven in her life. But I love to made roasts so can't do without it!

  5. Great that you are cooking local – I've been here for over 10 years and really should try harder to do this. Thanks for the inspiration.