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Lunchbreak: Chraime – North African Dish of Fish in a Spicy Tomato Sauce

posted on: Dec 26, 2019

Lunchbreak: Chraime – North African Dish of Fish in a Spicy Tomato Sauce
Chraime North African dish of fish in a spicy tomato sauce

Lior Lev Sercarz – Chef, Spice Master, Cookbook Author, Owner of La Boîte

  • Dinner at Pacific Standard Time
    • December 18, 2019
    • 7 p.m.
    • Three course, family-style dinner with drink pairings.
    • $150 includes meal, drinks, gratuity, tax and a copy of Mastering Spice.
    • More Info & Tickets:

Chraime: Cod Simmered in Turmeric-Coriander Tomato Sauce – from “Mastering Spice: Recipes and Techniques to Transform Your Everyday Cooking: A Cookbook by Lior Lev Sercarz”

Serves 6


Chraime is a traditional North African dish that’s also popular in Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. It’s essentially fish simmered in a thick tomato sauce. My mom prepared it only for the holidays and occasionally for Shabbat, but I make it all the time. The sauce—even the whole dish—can be done ahead, so it’s easy for entertaining or weeknight dinners. To make my sauce more complex, I add spices, of course, but also diced lemon, rinds and all. The pith lends a nice bite and intriguing bitterness to the tomatoes, which I cook only enough to retain a pop.

Pronounced hraiy-may, chraime is a great introduction to cooking mild white fish like cod or halibut. There’s no risk of the fish sticking to the pan, and its mildness is infused with the tang of tomatoes.  Just turn off the heat before the fish cooks all the way through, since the heat from the sauce continues to cook the fish as it sits.

A quartet of coriander, cumin, turmeric, and Aleppo pepper evokes Moroccan cuisine in this version of chraime. To enhance the effect, serve this over couscous, rice or with challah.


Main Spice Blend

1 teaspoon coriander seeds (2 grams)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds (2 grams)

2 teaspoons ground turmeric (2 grams)

½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (1 gram)

Finely grind the coriander and cumin together, then immediately mix with the turmeric and Aleppo. Or mix ¾ teaspoon pre-ground coriander and ¾ teaspoon pre-ground cumin with the turmeric and Aleppo.


Extra-virgin olive oil

3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

6 (4-ounce) boneless, skinless cod or halibut fillets (about 1 ½-inches thick)

1 lemon, ends trimmed, seeded, and cut into ¼-inch dice, plus 1 lemon cut into wedges for serving

¼ cup tomato paste

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their juices

Kosher salt

1 large bunch cilantro, stems thinly sliced and leaves coarsely chopped


  1. To make the chraime: Sprinkle half of the spice blend all over the fish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 6 hours.


  1. Coat the bottom of a large saucepan with oil (2 to 3 tablespoons). Add the garlic and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is golden,about 3 minutes.


  1. Add the remaining spice blend, stir well, then add the diced lemon. Cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices, raise the heat to medium-high, and season to taste with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Reserve some cilantro for garnish and stir in the remainder of the cilantro. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes.


  1. Sprinkle the fish all over with salt. Uncover the sauce; it should be bubbling slightly. Push the fish into the sauce so that all but the very tops are submerged. Cover and cook until the fish is almost opaque throughout, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.


  1. Divide the fish and sauce among individual serving dishes. Garnish with reserved cilantro and serve with lemon wedges.


Make Ahead: The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 2 months. The fish, rubbed with the spice blend, can be refrigerate for up to 6 hours before cooking.