Emirati Recipe: Fried Fish (Sa-mak ma-ga-lee)

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Emirati Fried FishAs part of my Cooking Local project to learn more about Emirati food and culture, I am attempting to cook through Celia Ann Brock-Al Ansari’s The Complete UAE Cookbook.

I have completed 8 recipes so far out of…oh…73. Crikey, at the rate I’m going, I might be old and withered before I’m finished.

Out of the 12 fish/seafood recipes, I have now completed 4. Only 8 more to go but some of them seem quite daunting. For example, Shark with Spices (Yar-yurr / Je-shed) – I have to buy a whole baby shark, then I have to cut it up into cubes.

There’s usually baby shark for sale at LuLu’s hypermarket and I watched a lady buy one just yesterday but the thought of doing it myself? Just plain scary. Some people can’t touch raw chicken because the thought of it makes them squeamish, others can’t eat lamb or veal because the thought of eating a youngling makes them sick – I feel the same way about baby shark at the moment, both squeamish and sick to the stomach at the thought of eating a cute little shark.

So not only will I have to hurdle the task of touching the shark (perhaps the fishmonger can do all the prep work?), but I’m not sure I can even eat it. I mentioned this shark recipe to Scotch the other day and I think he turned pale in the face. I’m going to have to give myself a pep talk.

Suck it up!

You’re Chinese!

You can eat anything!

Right. I think I can…I think i can…

Anyway, I might be putting the shark recipe off for as long as I can. Unless I can get any volunteers to help me (Ahem, ahem. Hint, hint).

Today’s Emirati recipe doesn’t involve anything crazy, just a simple fried fish which was super easy to make. I bought sea bream from Waitrose and the fish guy did a superb job in cleaning it (thank you fish guy!) – oftentimes when I bring my fish home from Carrefour, I find myself still pulling scales out of the fish. Here is Wee Scotch inspecting the fish for me and reporting back that not a scale was to be found:

Wee Scotch inspecting fish
"fishie cleared of scales, mama!"

About this dish, Celia writes:

Fried fish is served daily in many homes throughout the UAE. While some prefer to eat it dry with white boiled steamed rice, others may make a tomato gravy to serve as an accompaniment. Personally, I like both.

Sliced limes are a must for presenting this dish – the juice brings out the full flavour of the fish. Fresh herbs are also served, as are radishes and often saloona is served as a side dish.

My sea bream weighed 0.55 kg (1.2 lb), cost per kg was 51 dhs ($13/lb), so close to half of what the original recipe called for so I halved the rest of the ingredients and used the following proportions:


1.2 lbs (550 grams) sea bream
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon bezar, to coat
salt to taste

Since the fish guy took care of the gutting and descaling, all I did to the sea bream was rinse, pat dry and with paper towels, make three slits on both sides of the fish so that the inside would cook evenly, and then I sprinkled on sea salt and bezar.

Sea bream coated with salt and bezar in a lemon-garlic marinade

The fish was placed in a marinade of lemon and garlic and turned every once in a while. After marinating for the 2 hours, I removed the fish from the lemon-garlic and patted it dry.

Wee Scotch with fish
"grr...my mama's gonna eat ju up!"

I heated a large pan with enough sunflower oil to cover 1 cm of the bottom and fried the fish until it looked done, then placed the fish on a plate with paper towels to absorb some of the oil.

fried fish

I served it with white boiled rice but unfortunately forgot to buy limes that day. Oh well, it still tasted wonderful – the skin was crispy, the flesh was very tender and I could taste the Arabic spices and lemon throughout. A bit oily but with the rice to soak up the oil, it was perfect.

I enjoyed this dish so much that I ate it all for lunch and forgot to save some for Wee Scotch!

Emirati fried fish

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Previous Emirati recipe: Chicken and Rice (Machboos / Fogga)

Up nextChicken Biryani (Biryani de-jaj)

Note: This post is part of my Cooking Local project.

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  1. Hello i would like to advice regarding jesheed i made a better idea of doing it without touching baby shark))) you just can do it with tuna …yess tuna from any supermarket in doing it with tuna al ali co.pany prefer with water but in olive oil also will be ok.just remove the liquid from tuna smash it with fork add spices cook fry with little oil and at the end just add few pcs of butter cubes around serve with white rice.thats it.i m sure u will love it .

  2. LOVE the cooking local idea !! my friend's ( emarati) mom used to cook heavenly meat and send it as tiffin to school ! used to drool over it ! cant wait for you to get to the mean section for me to see em 😀

  3. I want to join your project cooking local. If I can't learn to speak local language might as well learn how to cook food. SeaBream is a good fish to fry it's full of meat.

    1. i keep meaning to make my own bezar and a friend has also said she'd give me some of her Emirati MIL's but neither of the 2 has happened. I bought mine from Carrefour by the spice aisle – there's a photo of it in this post.

      Celia's recipe for hers is here and contains the following:

      1 cup cumin seeds (whole)

      1 cup fennel seeds (whole)

      1 cup cinnamon sticks

      1 cup coriander seeds (whole)

      1/2 cup pepper corns (whole)

      1/4 cup dried red chillies (whole)

      1/2 cup turmeric powder