Recipe: Josh Niland's John Dory tagine

19 August 2021
Recipe: Josh Niland's John Dory tagine

Taken from Take One Fish: The New School of Scale to Tail Cooking and Eating by Josh Niland (Hardie Grant Books, £26)

Serves 6

  • 6 x 150g John Dory tail shank chops or darnes
  • 60ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt flakes
  • 30g sultanas (golden raisins) or currants
  • 7g coriander leaves
  • 5g mint leaves
  • Couscous, to serve (optional)

Tagine paste

  • 12g chilli flakes
  • 25g ras el hanout
  • 2tbs ground cumin
  • 2tbs ground coriander
  • 2tbs ground turmeric
  • 3tsp sweet paprika
  • 3 large onions, finely diced
  • 6 large garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 100g peeled ginger, coarsely chopped
  • 2 long red chillies, seeds removed
  • 12 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
  • 1 bunch coriander, washed
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, washed
  • 12 salted anchovy fillets
  • 250ml extra-virgin olive oil

Tagine base

  • 100ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 × 400g tins crushed tomatoes
  • ½ star anise
  • 500ml brown fish stock (see below)
  • Pinch of sea salt flakes
  • 1 × 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 large fennel bulb, coarsely diced
  • Generous pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 60 ml boiling water
  • 90g honey
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Lemon juice, to taste
  • Garum (see below) or fish sauce, to taste

Salt and vinegar pine nuts

  • 80g pine nuts
  • 1tsp fine salt
  • 3tsp sherry vinegar

Preserved lemon yogurt

  • 90g preserved lemon, pith removed
  • 350g natural yogurt

To make the tagine paste, blitz all the ingredients in a blender until completely smooth.

For the tagine base, warm the olive oil in a large, wide-based saucepan over a medium heat. Add the tagine paste and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes, until thoroughly cooked out and aromatic. Add the crushed tomatoes, star anise, stock and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes until thick and fragrant, then add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Rub each of the John Dory shanks with a little olive oil and season lightly with salt flakes.

Using a tagine pot or flameproof casserole dish with a fitted lid, pour in enough of the sauce to completely cover the base to a depth of roughly 2.5cm, then nestle the shanks into the sauce. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then cover with the lid, reduce the heat to low and leave to simmer very gently for six minutes, or until the fish registers 46°C-48°C when a probe thermometer is inserted into the thickest part, close to the bone. Remove from the heat and leave the residual heat of the tagine to finish cooking the fish.

To make the salt and vinegar pine nuts, add the pine nuts and salt to a dry frying pan set over a high heat and toast for 3-4 minutes, tossing the nuts as you go, until evenly coloured all over.

Add the sherry vinegar, and continue to cook, tossing, for two minutes, until the nuts are thoroughly dried out. Remove from the heat. For the preserved lemon yogurt, place the preserved lemon in a blender and blitz to a fine paste, adding a splash of warm water if necessary to deliver a silky smooth finish. Stir into the yogurt and set aside until needed.

To serve, bring the tagine to the table and serve with the pine nuts, preserved lemon yogurt, sultanas or currants, coriander and mint leaves, and couscous, if you like.

Brown fish stock

It's important not to wash your fish bones; soaking a fish frame in water to ‘purge off the blood' or wash away impurities is backward logic as it only dilutes the qualities of the fish frame. Frames that have been allowed to dry slightly in the fridge overnight will take on colour better and give you greater flavour.

The ingredients list should only be viewed as a rough guide; the main thing is to follow the proportions indicated by the percentage points. Feel free to scale up or down and substitute flavours as you like. That said, it is important to note that a stock should not be seen as a compost bin that you can throw any scrap into. Be considerate with the quality of ingredients as this will be the difference between a good stock and an amazing one.

  • Ghee or neutral-flavoured oil, for pan-frying fish frame pieces (85%)
  • Evenly chopped vegetables, such as onion, garlic, leek, fennel and celery (10%)
  • Hard herbs (thyme, rosemary) and toasted savoury aromatics (star anise, fennel seeds, coriander seeds) (up to 5%, depending on the requirements of the stock)

Heat enough ghee or oil in a wide, heavy-based saucepan or stockpot over a high heat to a light haze. Carefully distribute the fish frame pieces around the base, taking care not to overlap them or overcrowd the pan. (Work in batches if necessary.) Cook for about five minutes until browned, then remove and set aside.

Keeping the heat high, add the vegetables and coat well with the fish fat and caramelised scratchings from the base of the pan. Cook for 5-6 minutes, then remove the vegetables and reserve, and discard any oil from the pan. Return the fish frames to the pan, then pour in enough cold water to just cover the ingredients.

Cook over a medium-high heat, without skimming the surface, for 15-20 minutes. Return the par-cooked vegetables to the pan, along with any aromatics you are using, and cook for a further 10 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half and developed a beautiful tan colour.

This lack of skimming may go against the grain, but the impurities that rise to the surface have a lot of flavour and I prefer a richer, more viscous stock to one with less intensity. Adding the vegetables and aromatics in the later stages of cooking results in a cleaner profile, allowing the individual ingredients to be articulated rather than tasting one-dimensional.

Pass through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the solids.


To produce the garum, calculate the total weight of heads, bones and scraps you have from small fish such as sardines, mackerel, anchovies or gurnard (make sure that the gall bladder is removed as it will make the finished sauce extremely bitter). Measure 50% of that weight in water and add to the trimmings. Calculate 20% of the combined weight and add this quantity of fine salt.

Mix together, then transfer to a mason jar, seal and place in a circulator bath set to 40°C. Leave for seven days, stirring once a day.

Store the garum in a sterilised mason jar or airtight container in the fridge for up to a month.

Photography by Rob Palmer

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