Bouri de Bizerte (Tunisian Loup de Mer)

My friend Habib Loriot-Bettaieb, a French-Tunisian gent who's a wonderful cook, treated us to this roasted fish dish from the Tunisian seaside town of Bizerte when he hosted at a Night in Tunisia dinner at his Dallas home. It's an ideal dish for entertaining, as it's simple to assemble and its 25 minutes of roasting time it's unattended. After that, left to do but serve it and rake in the compliments. Ask your fishmonger to clean and scale the fish, leave them whole, and cut off the heads and tails and fins. Serve it with some good crusty bread to sop up all the juices.

Serves 4.

Ingredients

3 medium Yukon gold potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut lengthwise in half

1 teaspoon cumin seeds (or substitute ground cumin and skip the toasting and grinding step)

1 generous teaspoon saffron

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 loup de mer (also known as branzino), about 1 pound each, cleaned, scaled, heads and tails removed

1 1/2 yellow onions, trimmed and sliced through the stem end into eighths

5 Anaheim peppers, trimmed, seeds and membranes removed and cut vertically into quarters

4 Roma tomatoes, quartered lengthwise

1 teaspoon turmeric

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 lemon, sliced into thin rounds

Instructions

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place the potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium and parboil them for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.  When they're cool enough to handle, cut each half in half again lengthwise. 

2. Toast the cumin seeds in a small sauté pan over medium heat until fragrant, about three minutes. Grind them finely in a mortar or spice grinder. Set aside. 

3. Heat one cup of water till warm and drop in the saffron, then the butter. Set aside and let the butter melt.

4. Rinse the fishes inside and slice each crosswise into four pieces. Place them in a large baking dish or roasting pan with the potatoes, onions, Anaheim peppers and tomatoes. Sprinkle the salt, cumin and tumeric over all, and grind black pepper generously over all. Toss gently to coat the fish and vegetables evenly, turning the fish over so it gets coated on both sides. Pour the water-saffron-butter mixture and then the olive oil over all, and gently toss again. Lay the lemon slices on top. Roast 25 minutes, then transfer to a serving bowl and serve immediately.