Let’s head to La Goulette, in Tunisia, to discover the recipe of its legendary complet poisson!
What is the origin of Complet Poisson?
In Tunisian coastal towns, and especially in La Goulette, and on the islands, fishing is one of the most popular activities. It is precisely for this reason that you have the additional guarantee to be able to enjoy delicious fish dishes at home or in the best Tunisian restaurants or to buy excellent fresh fish at the port or at the market.
La Goulette is precisely where the complet poisson was born. La Goulette (حلق الوادي) is a Tunisian city that hosts the main port of Tunis, capital of the country. It is located about 6 miles north-east of Tunis.
I am sure to make many people nostalgic, especially in the Tunisian Jewish community, as I remind you of the famous Bichi restaurant. Bichi was nicknamed “the king of the complet poisson”. It was a small house on the ground floor with tables installed on the sidewalk of the main avenue of La Goulette, Franklin Roosevelt Avenue, where the most famous complet poisson was served! Tunisian Jews claimed that Bichi’s complet poisson, its pkaila, and akod were among the seven wonders of the world.
Bichi closed at the end of the 1970s, giving way to the Vert Galant restaurant, which also gave way to today’s famous Café Vert, which also serves one of the best complet poisson in the country.
How to make complet poisson
The complet poisson is an essential dish of Tunisian cuisine. It is a fried or sometimes grilled fish (whole fish with head and tail), French fries, a fried egg, a fried red or green hot pepper, fried vegetables, and usually tastira. It is very common for some to replace the tastira with slata méchouia, the equivalent of the hmiss of Algerian cuisine or the makbouba that is similar to the taktouka of Moroccan cuisine.
Tastira (Arabic: تسطيرة) is a mixture of fried green peppers and tomatoes; the mixture is then salted and sometimes garnished with olive oil, lemon, tabel, black pepper, green olives and parsley. It is sometimes added the scrambled egg and the whole is traditionally sliced with two knives well sharpened after frying.
As for the choice of fish: the complet poisson is served with mullet (milla or bouri in Tunisia), red mullet (trilia), sea bass (karous), sea bream (warka or ouarata) or sole (madas) or tuna and the ultimate is the fatty tuna. It goes without saying that when it comes to tuna, it will be a tuna fillet and not a whole tuna in a single plate.
Tunisian cuisine is colorful, tasty and spicy and the fruit of the civilizations that have written its history such as the Berbers, the Punics, the Arabs, the Jews, the Turks but also the Romans and the French. It is the undisputed cuisine of the sun.
Positioned strategically on the Mediterranean and with a hinterland in some very fertile regions, Tunisia is developed in the areas of fishing, breeding and agriculture. In fact, it offers a variety of fish and meat dishes, especially mutton, lamb, and camel accompanied by Italian bread and seasoned with olive oil and local spices such as paprika, cumin and tabel, the typical Tunisian spice blend, all flavored with fresh cilantro, or kosbor as they call it over there.
Tunisian cuisine has ancestral roots: the first recipes were passed from mother to daughter, from generation to generation, or through word of mouth.
Tunisian cuisine is not only couscous, but an incredible world of flavors and colors that trace a very old culinary tradition.
Hot pepper is one of the favorite ingredients of Tunisia, the undisputed capital of “hot pepper cooking” on the Mediterranean and North African coast. To better understand, you can just observe the red or green peppers stacked by hundreds on the stalls of the numerous souks of each Tunisian city.
It is so popular in Tunisia and now around the world. It is the sauce or condiment called harissa.
In Tunisia, there is no more emblematic preparation than harissa, although it has spread over time throughout North Africa. It is a sauce based on red hot pepper, garlic, cumin, olive oil and salt with a varying degree of spiciness but which tends to be strong.
It is always present on all tables and it is served as an appetizer, always with tuna and olives; it is often added in other preparations such as akod, merguez, felfel mehchi, batata bel kamoune, or even the ojja; and finally, it is also found in different sandwiches such as fricassés.
Tunisians use pepper in different ways: green as a simple vegetable, sliced in many salads, grilled or fried to accompany roast meat or fish, stewed to accompany couscous, or simply in brine.
When fully mature, red bell peppers and hot peppers are sun-dried, then their seeds are removed before being ground. In order to tame the hot pepper, Tunisians often serve a slice of frozen melon as a “fire extinguisher of the palate”.
There is a story that says that the wise man must judge the love of his wife to the amount of pepper used in the preparation of her food. If the food is bland, the clever man must suspect that the fire of her passion for him has extinguished.
In Tunisia, couscous with lamb or fish is undoubtedly the national dish. Other basic recipes are tajine maadnous, common throughout the Maghreb region, a cross between a pie and a soufflé, the most classic being made from lamb, or lablabi, an excellent chickpea soup.
To accompany all these dishes, whether savory or sweet, no one would resist a delicious fresh lemonade!
Red cuisine (cuisine rouge)
Tunisian cuisine is nicknamed “red cuisine” because the vast majority of dishes include at least those three ingredients: tomato (often tomato paste), dried red pepper (nõra), and harissa.
This does not mean that Tunisian dishes are always red. There are very common preparations, such as couscous with dried fruits, in which other non-red spices are used or like mloukhia for example.
Thus, the main reason why Tunisian cuisine is called “red” is because it has many more dishes of this color than other cuisines, starting with the couscous which, in Tunisia, will be almost always more colorful than anywhere else.
Fish in Tunisia
In Tunisia, fish is not always used in cooking but also appears on amulets, pendants, keychains, decorative objects. You will see fish everywhere! Fish has always been the star since the dawn of time.
Fish, or houta for the Tunisians, was already associated among the Phoenicians to the cult of Tanit, Carthaginian goddess. It represented luck and prolificity.
In the early Christian religion, fish was a sign of recognition among the Christians pursued in Rome while, in the Jewish religion, it protected against the evil eye, as attested by this sentence of the Talmud: “The fish of the sea, covered by the waters on which the evil eye is powerless “.
Later, the Muslims made it the sign of vigilance because fish never close their eye.
By extension, it was decided that fish keeps the evil eye away and brings good luck.
Moreover, during wedding ceremonies in Bizerte or Sfax, the groom turns several times around a fish to ward off the evil one. There is also a famous Tunisian dish called the poisson malin (hout hmiïmi or “evil fish”).
- 4 whole fish (mullet, sea bass, sea bream, red mullet, sole) or 4 fillet of fatty tuna
- 4 eggs
- 4 green hot peppers
- 2 zucchini , sliced
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- Green salad with vinaigrette
- 3 green hot peppers
- 4 long green peppers (bull's horn)
- 6 tomatoes , quartered and seeded
- 3 cloves garlic , crushed
- 3 teaspoons ground cumin
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 lb potatoes (bintje)
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- Fine salt
- Add oil to a pan and heat.
- Fry the peppers on both sides for a few minutes.
- Set aside.
- Heat ½ cup of oil in a skillet over medium heat.
- Fry the zucchini slices until they soften a little.
- Drain in a colander.
- Season with salt, pepper and set aside.
- Add the vegetable oil into a skillet on medium-high heat.
- First fry the bell peppers and green hot peppers until the skin is blistered.
- In the same oil, fry the tomatoes over medium heat for 5 minutes.
- Peel and seed the peppers.
- Using two sharp knives, mince the tomatoes and peppers.
- In another pan, add the olive oil and heat over medium heat.
- Add garlic and sauté for about 10 seconds. Add tomatoes and the chopped peppers, and mix.
- Simmer for 10 minutes then add the cumin and salt.
- Cook over medium heat for a few minutes or until the liquids are reduced, stirring regularly.
- Set aside.
- Add a large volume of oil to a large skillet.
- Fry the fish for a few minutes on each side, or until they are cooked and golden brown.
- Place them on paper towels and set aside.
- Peel the potatoes and wash them, then cut them into thin or thick sticks (according to taste).
- Wash them again and dry them very well in a clean cloth.
- In a large saucepan or fryer, heat a large volume of oil to 300 F.
- Fry the potatoes for the first time for 7 to 8 minutes. Do not overload the pan or deep fryer. For 2 lb of potatoes, cook about ⅓ French fries at a time.
- Let the fries cool, while you prepare the fish and/or the rest of the dish.
- Just before serving, fry the French fries a second time in the oil heated to 375 F for about 3 minutes (they must be crisp without being hard). Season with salt.
- Just before setting the dish, prepare the sunny side up eggs.
- Heat a little oil in a pan, break the eggs and drop them gently.
- Cook for about 5 minutes over low heat until the edges are golden brown and lightly toasted.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Place the fish in the center of a large dish.
- Around, add 2 tablespoons of tastira, 2 tablespoons of zucchini, some green salad, some French fries, a sunny side up egg and a fried hot pepper.
- Serve immediately.