Moroccan fish balls tagine (sardine or whiting fish balls), many ways of approaching it

Fish balls in Morocco are a coastal thing, and we have two coasts, which make fish balls tagines quite common. A fish ball tagine is even part of Moroccan street food of these cities.

Adding rice to the fish kofta is an option but it works well for large families or a larger crowd as you get more for less fish and everybody is fed. I prefer to serve white fish balls without rice but rather bread crumbs while the sardines fish ball benefit from the rice addition.

Cod, shrimp and rice fish ball tagine
The option to add vegetables in the tagine is also a matter of choice and seasonality. The usual suspects are celery stalk, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. And while the vegetables are added way before the fish balls to allow them enough time to become tender, green or purple olives, preserved lemon are added just when the fish is added to have just enough time to infuse in the sauce!

A wonderful fish and seafood tagine, served in a
famous street food chain in Casablanca.
It has a bit of everything including fish balls

There are two ways of starting a fish ball tagine: with a pre-made tomato sauce (see recipe below) or with bit of grated/finely chopped tomatoes on top of which seasoning will be added as the tomato melts down. You can even use 1 tomato and a bit of tomato concentrate for a less tomatoey sauce (my favourite)

Any rice will be fine, from basmati to arborio..sardine fish
balls can take all sort of rice

Start with a good homemade tomato sauce with a good quality tin of tomato if you cannot get hold of fresh juicy and sweet ones. A bit of tomato concentrate is always good to give a depth. A dash of smoked paprika is my tip to have a bit of that smoky charcoal effect we get if we were to let the tagine simmer over a kanoun or a brasero. Add a few bay leaves as tghey go very well with fish tagines.

Moroccan green onions called el kheddaria are
 available during spring season and they make
a real difference when added to any dish

Salt, cumin and a sprinkle of sugar are added at last to bring the whole thing together and finally a good glug of extra virgin olive oil

I keep batches of my sauce in a Ziploc, flattened, in the freezer for easy use anytime throughout the week. I have some with a blend of all the vegetables my child will not eat so it makes a nice cocktail to toss in his favourite pasta.

I personally love the fish tagines cold or warm. I even served the fish balls as appetizers once and it really works.

Whiting fish ball with thick tomato sauce and slightly sweated vegetables

Serves 4-6
Prep : 10 min – cooking : 20 min
For white fish balls
  • 500 g of white fish filet (whiting, cod..) 
  • 1 medium-size onion, grated
  • 1 green onion, chopped (replace with spring onion or leeks)
  • 1 cup of thick chermoula paste (mild or spicy)
  • 2 leveled tbsps of bread crumbs or a pre-soaked bread toast then squeezed

For sardines fish balls
  • 500 g of fresh sardine filets, skin off (if you go for mackerel, make sure you mix it with a bit of white fish as it’s a bit heavy)
  • 1 medium-size onion, grated
  • 1 green onion, chopped (replace with spring onion)
  • 1 cup of thick chermoula paste (mild or spicy)
  • 5 tbsps of long rice (uncooked weight), pre-cooked al dente
  • Salt to taste

Moroccan tomato sauce
  • 100 to 300g of good quality chopped tinned tomatoes or passata or grated fresh tomatoes (seeds discarded)
  • 2 to 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup of chermoula paste or the following seasoning:

             - 3 tbsp of coriander and parsley, chopped
             - 2 cloves of garlic, grated or crushed
             - 1 tsp of ground cumin
             - 1 tsp of sweet paprika
             - Cayenne or hot chili or harissa paste to taste
             - ½ tsp of smoked paprika (my addition)
             - Salt to taste

  •  2 to 3 tbsps of extra virgin olive oil


Mix all the ingredients in a blender and shape balls as big as 3 cm. Cover with a film and place in the fridge for at least 30 min.

In a hot tagine or a saucepan, warm the oil and add in the chermoula or spices and herbs, the garlic. Fry and stir for a minute then add the tomatoes. Stir and cover. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to thin it then cook covered until reduced. Stir from time to time as it might stick.

Add the fish balls all around, olives, preserved lemon and cover again. Let cook for 5 to 7 min them toss them to cover them with the sauce. Cover again and let simmer until the fish balls are cooked through (the ones with rice might need 10 more minutes).

Vegetables can be added to cover the base of a fish ball tagine,
they just need more time to cook before adding the fish
Drizzle more olive oil. Decorate with lemon wedges or serve them on the side.

Serve warm with a good bread.

Fish balls can be served as appetizers, you may want to make more sauce to serve it extra.

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