Lebanese Spicy Fish with Tahini and Pine Nuts
Mar 10, 2023, Updated May 16, 2023
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Lebanese Spicy Fish with Tahini and Pine Nuts (samke harra) is such wonderful and refreshing preparation for fish! Delicate white-fleshed fish with a dash of heat, tahini and golden pine nuts.
Somehow, of all of the many recipes we cook here, fish too often gets lost in the shuffle. Among the few ways that I turn to to prepare fish is the excellent–no surprise!–Lebanese way with delicate filets of white fish. The flavor makers here are the golden sauté, a dash of heat and warm spice, and a silky tahini sauce.
Don’t be afraid of the sauté aspect of my version samke harra, which is typically baked fish. With a quick sauté, the fish takes on so much golden beauty, and that carmelization that tastes so very goo. I used to be wary myself until I made so many pans of sautéed fish in culinary school that it took all of the scary out! My simple method will have you there in no time, no stress.
Read my story about how I came to appreciate frozen fish here!
Ingredients to make Lebanese Spicy Fish with Tahini and Pine Nuts
Much of the ingredients here are pantry staples, which allow us to decide on a whim to make samke harra!
The fish. Traditionally this recipe calls for Snapper filets. Any delicate white fish filet works. I often go for frozen fish filets because fresh isn’t always best where I live in Michigan. Frozen fish works beautifully here and tastes sweet and fresh.
Spices. The seasoning could not be simpler–these let the tahini sauce and garnishes do their thing. A little salt, pepper, and cayenne do the trick. You adjust the heat level to your own taste with the cayenne. I go easy on it. My sister Peg, she goes heavy!
The tahini sauce. This is our tried-and-true tahini sauce with garlic and lemon juice. And that secret smoothing ingredient: cold water! Whisked in right on past any lumps until a silky sauce is at hand. The flavor of the tahini is KEY, because tahini can have a bitter taste. I like this one, my favorite.
Finishing touches: these are important to the flavor and texture of this dish. Chopped parsley is there not just for color. It’s fresh taste is wonderful. Then, the toasty pine nuts. Hallmark Lebanese, no?!
How to make Lebanese Spicy Fish Recipe
Step 1. First, thaw the fish if using frozen. Whether using frozen or fresh fish, we want the fish at room temperature. Pat the room temp fish filets dry. This is important! Dry fish encourages the golden sauté that looks and tastes so good. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne.
Step 2. Make the tahini sauce either by hand in a bowl or in the food processor. This is a blend of tahini, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and water.
Step 3. Sauté the fish by first heating a large heavy pan over high heat. Cast iron works very well here because it holds the heat so well. Once the pan is hot, reduce the heat and add a knob of butter and a drizzle of olive oil. The butter will foam; now add the filets to the pan, leaving space around each one. The pan should sizzle when the fish is added.
Step 4. Cook fillets until golden brown on one side, about 3 minutes, flip them over
and cook until golden brown on the second side and fish is opaque and flaky in
the center, another 2-3 minutes.
Step 5. Spread the tahini sauce on a platter. Lay the fish over the sauce and
sprinkle the fish with toasted pine nuts and parsley. Serve the fish very warm!
FAQs and Tips for making Lebanese Spicy Fish
Can I use frozen fish for this recipe? YES! I love frozen fish filets because they have such sweet, fresh flesh.
Here’s how to thaw frozen fish: two options. Thaw fish in the refrigerator over night. For a quicker thaw, place the fish in its packaging or in an airtight bag in a bowl of tepid water (not hot water). The fish will thaw in an hour or two. In either case, after thawing, remove the fish from its packaging and pat dry. Proceed with the recipe from there.
What type of fish is best to use for Lebanese Spicy Fish? Traditionally this recipe calls for snapper, but any delicate, thin, white-fleshed filets will work beautifully. Try whitefish, cod, sea bass, flounder or tilapia. Salmon is also an option. Just be sure the fish you select is not too thick.
Can I make this dish ahead? Not really…. Sautéed fish is best eaten hot, right from the pan. Reheating fish can overcook it and make the flesh dry.
Can I make tahini sauce in advance? Tahini sauce holds really well in the refrigerator. I keep some on hand in a jar all of the time, so it’s ready to go. Tahini sauce keeps well in the refrigerator for at least one week.
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Lebanese Spicy Fish Recipe
For the tahini sauce:
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup cold water
For the Fish:
- 2 filets red snapper or other thin, white fleshed fish
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley
- Make the tahini sauce by whisking together the tahini, garlic, salt, and lemon juice. Slowly whisk in the cold water. Lumps may form; keep whisking until smooth, adding more cold water if needed. Set aside.
- Season the fish with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Bring refrigerated fish to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
- Heat a large heavy pan over high heat. Once pan is hot, reduce heat to medium high and add the butter and olive oil. Once the butter foams up and is very hot (but not browned yet), add the fish fillets to the pan, being sure to leave space between them. The fish should sizzle the moment it touches the pan. If it doesn't, remove the fillets and wait for pan to get hotter.
- Cook fillets until golden brown on one side, about 3 minutes. Carefully flip them over and cook until golden brown on the second side and fish is opaque and flaky in the center, another 2-3 minutes longer.
- Spread the tahini sauce on a platter or two dinner plates. Lay the fish over the sauce and sprinkle the fish with toasted pine nuts and parsley. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.