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Creamy Shellfish Tagine with Fennel & Harissa

I recently inherited both a tagine and an accompanying recipe book: “Tagine, Spicy Stews from Morocco” by Ghillie Basan. Never having used a tagine before, but having been assured that they’re dead-easy to use, I combed through the book till I found a recipe that appealed.

[h3 underline]Creamy Shellfish Tagine with Fennel & Harissa[/h3]

Serves: 4-6 (yeah right, more like 2)
Accompaniments: Rice or crusty bread


  • 1 lb fresh mussels in their shells, scrubbed clean and rinsed
  • 1 lb shrimp in their shells, thoroughly rinsed
  • freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4-6 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 1-2 teaspoons harissa paste
  • 2/3 cup of cream
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a generous bunch of coriander, finely chopped



  1. Put the mussels and shrimp in a wide saucepan with just enough water to cover them. Add the lemon juice, cover the pan, and bring the liquid to a boil. Shake the pan and cook the shellfish for about 3 minutes, until the shells of the mussels have opened. Drain the shellfish, reserve the liquor, and discard any mussels that have not opened. Refresh the mussels and shrimp under cold running water and shell most of them.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a tagine on the stovetop. Stir in the shallots and fennel and sauté until soft. Stir in the harissa paste and pour in 1 and a 1/4 cups of the reserved cooking liquor (from the shellfish). Bring the liquid to a boil and continue to boil for 2-3 minutes, reduce the heat, and stir in the cream. Simmer gently for about 5 minutes to let the flavours mingle, season to taste with salt and lots of black pepper, and stir in the mussels and shrimp. Toss in half of the coriander, cover with the lid, and cook gently for about 5 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the remaining coriander over the top and serve immediately.


[h4 underline]On the second go, I made some changes, which in my opinion improved the recipe[/h4]

  • I use New Zealand green-shell mussels, available from (my favourite) Woolworths … and no, they are not sponsoring this blog … yet
    These come par-cooked and cleaned, which cuts down the prep time. I don’t like the liquid they come in though, far too murky for me to just throw into the tagine, so I strain the liquor through a paper-towel lined sieve. Well worth the 3 minutes waiting for it to seep through, as you get a lovely, clear, flavourful liquid. This changes Step 1, in that you don’t have the cook the mussels anymore, they just get heated through in Step 2.
  • Thoroughly recommend swapping shrimp for Black Tiger Prawns (or any other large variety prawn available to you). Remember to clean them and then cook them in a little butter (instead of the water) and lemon juice, as per Step 1.
  • I don’t know much about fennel (blush) and it isn’t always easy to get here in South Africa, so I skip this ingredient altogether and instead chop up some red chillies and spring onion, as a substitute.
  • For colour and sweetness, I stir in some halved cherry tomatoes right at the end, when I add the shellfish to the tagine, to allow them to heat through, but retain their shape.


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