Pan fried sea bass with harissa & rose


This is another gem from my favourite book (Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, in case you haven’t heard me bang on about it enough!). This one however is of Tunisian, not Israeli, origins.

I’d been interested in the pretty-looking dish for a while, but had never thought to cook it. It sounded so unusual, so I was really intrigued as to what on earth it would taste like. I bought some rose petals and rose water recently and was super keen to try them in something… couldn’t think what.. and then remembered reading this recipe before. Seems I have quite a good memory when it comes to recipe reading. If only it was so switched on for other more useful purposes!

Sea bass fillets in the pan – with the harissa-based sauce

The recipe calls for harissa, shop-bought or home made, and I thought that I should definitely make my own. So I used Ottolenghi’s recipe – makes sense! It was so easy – you do need cooling time though, which is why it might be preferable to reach for shop-bought varieties mid-week. I used to eat Belazu harissa often when I was a veggie, about 5/6 years ago – stirred into stews and bean chillis and things. I can’t really think why I haven’t eaten it since. Perhaps because shop-bought sauce can never truly be memorable or exciting… and I just lost interest in buying in.

The ingredients for the harissa – just before blitzing!

This fish dish on the other hand made a big impact! It had an incredible depth of flavour, so powerfully aromatic with cinnamon and rose, cut through with sharp, tart vinegar and a smokiness from the harissa. Yet somehow, the delicate sweetness of the Sea bass was completely apparent in every bite. Not sure how that happened (probably something to do with marinating) but I’m glad it did.

In the original recipe, currants and coriander are optional extras – I chose to leave out the currants but include the coriander. If I made this again I’d only add coriander if I had some to hand – it wasn’t necessary in my opinion. There’s already plenty going on in that pan!


You will need:

For the harissa

1 red pepper
1/2 Tspn caraway seeds
1/2 Tspn cumin seeds
1/2 Tspn coriander seeds
1/2 tbspn tomato paste
1 small red onion, roughy chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 red chillis, deseeded and chopped
The juice of 1/2 a lemon
Olive oil

For the sea bass

2 whole sea bass, cut into 4 fillets, skin left on (I did this myself but it would have been much better to get a fishmonger on the case!!)
1 Tspn ground cumin
Plain flour, a little to dust the fish
1 Tspn cinnamon
3 large banana shallots, sliced
1 1/2 tbspn honey
100ml red wine vinegar (this sounds like a lot but trust me it works!!)
200ml water
1 tbspn rose water
Edible rose petals, to serve
Coriander, to serve, optional
Salt, pepper
Olive oil


1 – Place the whole red pepper under a very hot grill; cook until black and soft, turning frequently (about 25 minutes)
2 – Leave the pepper to cool completely in a bowl covered with cling film; once cool, peel the skin away and remove the stalk and seeds
3 – Now dry toast the seeds in a pan for two minutes; remove from the pan and grind into a powder
4 – Now heat some oil in the same pan and add the garlic, onion and chilli, cooking for 10 minutes until golden brown and almost caramelised; cool
5 – Blend together the roasted pepper, spices, lemon juice, tomato paste and onion mix;
6 – Now mix the harissa with the additional ground cumin and 1/2 Tspn of salt and spoon half of this mix over your se bass fillets; leave to marinate for 2 or 3 hours (Ottolenghi’s advice – I left it for around 5 and the flavours penetrated the fish wonderfully)
7 – When ready to cook, dust the harissa-covered fish fillets in flour and add to a preheated frying pan with a little olive oil; fry for 2 minutes, skin side down, before flipping and frying for another minutes
8 – Set the fish aside and now add the onions to the pan, with extra oil if needed; brown
9 – Tip in the cinnamon, remaining harissa, a generous amount of black pepper, plus a little salt, and the vinegar and water into the pan, stirring to combine; simmer for 10-15 minutes
10 – Now tip in the honey and rose water, and then return the fish to the sauce, skin side up; cook for 3 minutes til warned through, adding extra water to loosen if necessary and checking seasoning
11 – Serve with rose petals and coriander on top, with rice or couscous and greens


12 thoughts on “Pan fried sea bass with harissa & rose

  1. I’ve never made harissa before but it’s one of those sauces that’s on my list. April Bloomfield has a recipe I was interested in. I’d like to try this combo, sounds a bit odd to me, but that’s probably because I don’t know what harissa tastes like :) Rose water is another ingredient I have never tried! this recipe triggers my curiosity! thanks for the post!

    1. It definitely quite unusual, but definitely worth trying! Having said that, I think rose and harissa is quite a classic North African flavour combo that’s been around for a while. It’s not really used very often outside these parts – I certainly v rarely come across it in London – and is probably a little bit of an acquired taste! I love to try exciting flavour combinations and liked this one a lot. Only a hint of floral- it wasn’t overwhelming at all, which is why I was worried about!

      1. yeah, i am definitely not familiar with north african food, might have have some interpretation of it somewhere at some point but it isn’t common in the US. I’ve had south african food, from the zulu area, that was a real treat, so good!

      2. I’m not so familiar with it either- but love reading all about it! Really want to visit Tunisia… Probably not At the moment though. I’m completely unfamiliar with South African food! Would love to learn more about it

  2. Oh I’ve been wanting to try this recipe (and making home made harissa too) and still haven’t! What a great use for your rose water. And it is so unusual, rose and fish and spices…
    Have you made the rose and pistachio rice pudding? I’ve made it many times now, and the rose water is just so perfect in that recipe!

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