Fish in Olive Oil, Lemon, and Cilantro Sauce

Reem Kassis

The Palestinian Table, Philadelphia

“The inspiration for this dish came from an appetizer I once had at a restaurant by the sea in Akka many years ago: sardines fried in olive oil and plenty of garlic, drizzled with a mixture of cilantro and lemon juice. I still remember that burst of flavor in my mouth from the zingy lemon juice and sharp garlic. After experimenting several times with the dish, I finally settled on this version—it has more fire from the chiles and more sauce, making it a perfect meal to serve with rice or couscous or, my personal favorite, plenty of fresh crusty bread.” —Reem Kassis in her 2018 Beard Award–nominated The Palestinian Table.


  • 1 3/4 pounds firm white fish fillets (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 10 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 to 4 green chiles, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup (4 fl oz) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 packed cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
  • Crusty bread for serving


Season the fish on both sides with the salt, cumin, and black pepper and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large, lidded skillet (or frying pan) over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant but not colored, then add the green chiles and fry for another minute.

Turn the heat up and add the fish fillets without crowding the pan. Leave the fish to cook until almost done (this will depend on the fish you are using; you are looking for a white opaque color), then flip them over and allow them to finish cooking all the way through. If the garlic starts to brown, reduce the heat and continue cooking.

When the fish is done, pour in the lemon juice, sprinkle over the cilantro leaves, and cover with the lid. When the sauce starts to simmer again, after about
1 minute, remove the skillet from the heat and let stand for 1 minute before serving.

Sprinkle with crushed red chile flakes and enjoy with crusty bread to mop up the delicious, tangy sauce.

Note: “I prefer to use firm, thick, white fish so it can be completely skinned but still retain its shape during cooking. I most often use pollock or halibut, but the best choice is whatever is fresh and in season in your area. I have tried this dish with shrimp and scallops and both are excellent alternatives as well, just adjust the cooking time to avoid overcooking the shellfish.” —Reem Kassis


Adapted from The Palestinian Table by Reem Kassis (Phaidon, 2017)


4 to 6 servings