My French teacher is from Djibouti, a tiny country in Africa near Ethiopia that has an important port and was once colonized by the French. His French is très bien but I was intrigued to learn about his native cuisine.
After hearing about Mukbasa (also called Yemenite poisson), I was able to get a rough recipe for it and found a few hints online. It seems to be a whole fish that resembles a tilapia, grilled in a wood fire pit. It is served with an assortment of sides including tomato dipping sauce and a thin flatbread like Indian chapati mashed with bananas, sometimes with honey or dates also.
I decided this would be a fun and challenging dish for Thanksgiving dinner, slightly modified to our taste – we don’t like that much sweet in a savory dish. The first challenge was the fish, after visiting 4 grocery stores looking for a whole white fish similar to the ones found in Djibouti, we settled on rockfish fillets.
- 2 whole fish or fillets of firm, non-oily white fish
- 2 tablespoons each of coriander (seeds that you grind yourself recommended), red pepper flakes and black pepper
- 2 pieces of cheese cloth (optional)
- 1 lemon (not traditional, you could skip)
- 4-5 tablespoons walnut or other oil
- 2-4 flat bread such as Indian chapati
- 1-2 plantains (or ripe bananas if you want it sweeter and more traditional)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Salt to taste
- Prepare the grill early enough to get it hot, this takes about an hour for me with natural charcoal and hickory chips
- Meanwhile, grind the coriander and pepper, if they are seeds
- Place the fish on a plate or in bowl and squeeze half a lemon over each, and a tablespoon of oil
- Place the cheese cloth over the fish (this ensures the biggest bits aren’t left on the fish)
- Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of the 3 spices mixed together
- Marinate for at least 30 minutes if you can
- If using fillets, wrap in tinfoil and remove cheesecloth, then put in covered grill for ~10 minutes (tinfoil to prevent it flaking apart)
- If using a whole fish, butterfly it and place on the grill directly or in tinfoil, remove cheesecloth and cook for 10-20 minutes or until firm
- Peel and cut the plaintains into 1 inch pieces crosswise, fry in oil for 4-5 minutes until golden brown on each side, and soft-ish to a fork
- Place the chapatis in a warm oven to maintain heat
- When all items are done, place a chapati or two on the plate, put the fish and plantains on it, salt the fish to taste