Sabzi Polo baa Maahi
Fish and Seafood,  Persian Classics,  Persian Rice

Sabzi Polo Maahi – Fried Fish with Herb Rice

Norouz is fast approaching and this means it’s nearly time for one of my favourite dishes: Sabzi Polo Maahi! It is a classic Persian dish which translates to “herb rice with fish”. Iranians around the world traditionally prepare this delicious fish dish on Shab-e Norouz, the night before Norouz. Norouz, the Persian New Year is the most important Persian celebration at the beginning of spring. However this is not the only occasion on which we enjoy Sabzi Polo Maahi, it is a popular dish from Autumn through Spring.

Sabzi Polo Maahi | Fried Sea Bass with Herb Rice | igotitfrommymaman.com

Sabzi Polo Maahi can be prepared with a variety of different fish. In the north of Iran the go-to fish for this dish is maahi sefid (white fish) which can only be found in the Caspian Sea. Maahi sefid is my favourite (probably because that’s what my Maman used) but in other regions across Iran people use other fish like Maahi Kafaal, Kapour, Aazaad, Halvaa, Rashgoo, and many more.

All these kinds of fish are exclusive to Iran, so Iranians around the world have to improvise; some prepare it with salmon, sea bass, rainbow or sea bream. I usually go for sea bass because its flavour comes closest to the taste of maahi sefid.

Sea bass at the Billingsgate Fish Market

The fish is fried and traditionally served with rice and herbs, bergamot oranges (naarenj), and pickled garlic (sir torshi). You can find bergamot oranges in some supermarkets during the season but if you can’t get your hands on them good old lemons will do the job. Pickled garlic is also an essential side for Sabzi Polo Maahi. You can find it in most supermarkets, or make it yourself but I will explain more about this in another post. This time I used my own 2 year old pickled garlic and my Maman’s ancient garlic which is about 30 years old, almost as old as I am! That one just melts in your mouth and I’m telling ya it’s pure medicine!

Of course it’s very important that the fish is as fresh as possible and so we got up early last Tuesday morning and went to the Billingsgate Fish Market. If you’re in or near London I highly recommend you go and see it for yourself. This is were you get incredibly fresh fish for unbeatable prices. I got a whole bag of sea bass to freeze for future Sabzi Polo Maahi indulgence.

Billingsgate Fish Market

So once we got home I started the daunting task of gutting and cleaning all that fish but let me just say, it was well worth it. I haven’t eaten such fresh, delicious fish in a long time!

Two different ways of making rice

There are two ways of making Sabzi Polo Maahi.

Aabkesh

You can use fresh herbs in which case I recommend preparing Aabkesh style rice. This method of cooking rice takes longer but don’t worry, it’s mainly the resting that takes more time.

Kateh

If you are using dried herbs, meaning all the same herbs in dried form, together with dried garlic, you can totally make Kateh style rice. That’s what I did because I still have some of the dried herb mix for Sabzi Polo that my Maman brought on her last visit. If you also have a Persian Maman and happen to have this mix, you need less fresh garlic as it already contains a lot of it.

Either way this is the most delicious way to eat fish – not the healthiest but the most enjoyable! So now before diving into the recipe, one little disclaimer: Don’t make this the day before an important appointment! As you might have guessed by now it has loads of garlic in it! 😀

Ingredients (serving 4):

2 sea bass (approx. 1 kg together)

5 bergamot oranges or lemons

4 bulbs pickled garlic

1 bulb fresh garlic

450g basmati rice (2 1/4 cups)

1 bunch of each: Dill, parsley, coriander, garlic chives, fenugreek (if available)

1 stem leek (optional)

100 ml vegetable oil (1/2 cup)

3 tbsp ghee

1 tbsp turmeric

1 tbsp paprika

2 tsp black pepper

2 tsp garlic powder 

1/2 tsp saffron

3 tbsp salt + to taste

Time:

Prep: 30 min + cleaning fish

Rest: 4h

Cook: 40 – 60 min

Total:

Dried herbs and Kateh style rice: 1h 10 min

Fresh herbs and Aabkesh style rice: up to 1h 30 min + soaking time depending on rice used

Sabzi Polo Maahi | Fried Sea Bass with Herb Rice | igotitfrommymaman.com

Method:

Prepare the fish

Once your fish is clean, meaning it’s gutted, washed, and all the scales are removed, make a few cuts in both sides so it can absorb more of the spice rub you’re about to add. Season both sides and the inside with turmeric, paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, and salt, making sure it goes in all the cuts you’ve made. Slice up a lemon (or bergamot orange) and lay the slices on top and inside the cavity of the sea bass. Cover it with cling film and put it in the fridge. You can leave it there for a few hours until you are ready to prepare it. I added the spices in the morning and fried the fish around lunch time. 

Preparing sea bass for frying - Sabzi Polo baa Maahi

Cook the rice

If you are using fresh herbs make Aabkesh style rice

Wash the rice by moving it around with your hand in a bowl of water and draining it. Repeat this process 4 to 5 times. In Iran the rice is soaked in water for a few hours before cooking. However I found that the rice you get here in the UK doesn’t necessarily need any soaking. I’m usually using Tilda basmati rice which softens and cooks quickly. Depending on the rice you’re using, you might wanna soak it for a while in salted water. Unfortunately there is no one-fits-all recipe for this, it needs some experimenting.

Wash the herbs and spread them on a clean kitchen towel to dry. 

Transfer the saffron into a glass and add a few tbsp freshly boiled water to it. Stir it well and set it aside in a warm place. 

Chop the herbs in about about 1 cm / 0.4” long pieces. Skin off the fresh garlic and cut it into fine slices, then mix it in with the herbs.

Pre-cook the rice

Add 18 cups of water to a large pan and bring it to boil. Drain the rice and add it to the boiling water. Add 3 tbsp of salt. Don’t worry about adding too much, it will be rinsed off later. Keep the temperature medium to high.

After 3 to 10 minutes carefully remove a rice corn with a spoon to see if they are ready. You can cut one rice corn or bite through it to test. The outside should be soft but the centre should still have quite a bit of bite. If ready drain the rice in a colander and rinse it with cold water to wash off the excess salt and interrupt the cooking process. Again, the exact time depends on how quickly your rice cooks. The Tilda rice I used was pre-cooked after only 3 minutes.

Complete the cooking process

Now add 3 tbsp of ghee to the pan and put it on low heat. Once it has melted add 2 tbsp of water. Then spread about a handful of your fresh herbs across the bottom of your pan and cover it with a layer of rice. Taste a bit of the pre-cooked rice to see if it needs any additional salt. Add more herbs again, and more rice, creating several layers forming a tall heap or a cone shape. Poke some holes in the rice with the wrong side of a wooden spoon. This will allow the steam to rise more easily. Line the lid with a clean kitchen towel so more moisture can be absorbed and cover the pan with it. Leave it over low heat for 45 to 60 minutes.

When steam is rising from the pan you know it’s ready, however you can leave it longer for a darker, crispier tadig. Tadig is what we call the crispy part of the rice from the bottom of the pan. To get the rice including your tadig out easily, you can fill your kitchen sink with a bit of cold water and submerge your pan into it, then transfer the rice on a serving plate.

Prep the rice for serving

Transfer up to a quarter of your rice into a separate bowl and add the saffron infused water to it. Stir it until it’s evenly golden yellow. Arrange it on top of the rest of the rice on a serving plate.

If you are using dried herbs make Kateh style rice

Transfer the saffron into a glass and add a few tbsp freshly boiled water to it. Stir well and set it aside in a warm place.

Wash the rice until the water a few times until the water runs clearer. Add about 4 1/4 cups of water to the rice. A helpful tip is to hold your index finger vertically in the pan with the rice until it barely touches the surface of the rice and add water until your fingertip is covered. Add salt and put it on medium heat.

Skin off 5 cloves of fresh garlic and cut them into fine slices. 

Once most of the water in the rice pan has evaporated and small holes start forming in the rice, add in the dried herbs, fresh garlic, and ghee and stir them in. Add the lid (line it with a clean kitchen towel to absorb more moisture) and reduce the temperature to low. After 40 minutes your rice should be ready. You can test it by wetting the edge of a kitchen towel and touching the outside of the pan with it. If it makes a sound like zshh and dries immediately it means the water has evaporated and the rice is done.

Get the rice ready to serve

Transfer up to a quarter of your rice into a separate bowl and add the saffron infused water to it. Stir it until it’s evenly golden yellow. Arrange it on top of the rest of the rice on a serving plate.

Fry the fish

Put a large frying pan on high heat and add the vegetable oil. You can test if the oil is hot enough by holding your wooden spoon in. If bubbles build around the spoon the oil is hot enough to fry the fish. Carefully transfer the fish into the pan and fry until it has the desired colour and crispiness, than turn it around (mine took about 3 minutes on each side).

Sabzi Polo Maahi | Fried Sea Bass with Herb Rice | igotitfrommymaman.com

Serve and enjoy

Serve your fish with the herb rice, fresh bergamot oranges or lemons, and pickled garlic. Enjoy! 


Sabzi Polo baa Maahi

Course Main Course
Cuisine Persian
Keyword fish, herbs, maahi, Rice, sabzi polo, sea bass
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Resting Time 4 hours
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Hami

Ingredients

For the fish

  • 2 whole sea bass (approx. 1kg / 2.2 lbs together)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (100ml)
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • Salt

For the rice

  • 2 1/4 cups basmati rice (450g)
  • 1 bunch dill
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 1 bunch coriander
  • 1 bunch garlic chives (or regular chives)
  • 1 bunch fenugreek (if available)
  • 1 stem leek (optional)
  • 1 bulb fresh garlic
  • 3 tbsp ghee
  • 1/2 tsp saffron
  • Salt

Sides

  • 5 bergamot oranges or lemons
  • 2 bulbs pickled garlic

Instructions

Prepare the fish

  1. Once your fish is clean, meaning it’s gutted, washed, and all the scales are removed make a few cuts in both sides so it can absorb more of the spice rub you’re about to add. 
  2. Season both sides and the inside with turmeric, paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, and salt, making sure it goes in all the cuts you made.  

  3. Slice up a lemon (or bergamot orange) and lay the slices on top and inside the sea bass. Cover with cling film and put it in the fridge. You can leave it there a few hours until you are ready to prepare it.

Start frying the fish about 10 minutes before the rice is ready

  1. Put a large frying pan on high heat and add the vegetable oil. You can test if the oil is hot enough by holding your wooden spoon in. If bubbles build around the spoon the oil is hot enough to fry the fish. Carefully transfer the fish in the pan and fry until it has the desired colour and crispiness, than turn it around (mine took about 3 minutes on each side).

Cook the rice

IF YOU ARE USING FRESH HERBS MAKE AABKESH STYLE RICE

  1. Wash the rice by moving it around with your hand in a bowl of water and draining it. Repeat this process 4 to 5 times. In Iran the rice is soaked in water for a few hours before cooking. However I found that the rice you get here in the UK doesn’t necessarily need any soaking. I’m usually using Tilda basmati rice which softens and cooks quickly. Depending on the rice you’re using, you might wanna soak it for a while in salted water. Unfortunately there is no one-fits-all recipe for this, it needs some experimenting.

  2. Wash the herbs and spread them on a clean kitchen towel to dry. 
  3. Transfer the saffron into a glass and add freshly boiled water to it. Stir well and set it aside in a warm place.

  4. Chop the herbs in about about 1 cm / 0.4” long pieces. Skin off the fresh garlic and cut it into fine slices, then mix it in with the herbs.
  5. Add 18 cups of water to a large pan and bring it to boil. Drain the rice and add it to the boiling water. Add 3 tbsp of salt. Don’t worry about adding too much, it will be rinsed off later. Keep the temperature medium to high.

  6. After 3 to 10 minutes carefully remove a rice corn with a spoon to see if they are ready. You can cut one rice corn or bite through it to test. The outside should be soft but the centre should still have quite a bit of bite. 

  7. If ready drain the rice in a colander and rinse it with cold water to wash off the excess salt and interrupt the cooking process. Again, the exact time depends on how quickly your rice cooks. The Tilda rice I used was pre-cooked after only 3 minutes.

  8. Now add 3 tbsp of ghee to the pan over low heat and once it has melted add 2 tbsp of water. 

  9. Then spread about a handful of your fresh herbs across the bottom of your pan and cover it with a layer of rice. Add more herbs and more rice, creating several layers forming a tall heap or a cone shape. 

  10. Poke some holes in the rice with the wrong side of a wooden spoon. This will allow the steam to rise more easily.
  11. Line the lid with a clean kitchen towel so more moisture can be absorbed and cover the pan with it. Leave it over a small heat for 45 to 60 minutes. Start frying your fish about 10 minutes towards the end.

  12. When steam is rising from the pan you know it’s ready, however you can leave it longer for a darker, crispier tadig. Tadig is what we call the crispy part of the rice from the bottom of the pan. 
  13. To get the rice including your tadig out easily, you can fill your kitchen sink with a bit of cold water and submerge your pan into it. 
  14. Transfer up to a quarter of your rice into a separate bowl and add the saffron infused water to it. Stir it until it’s evenly golden yellow. Arrange it on top of the rest of the rice on a serving plate.

IF YOU ARE USING DRIED HERBS MAKE KATEH STYLE RICE

  1. Transfer the saffron into a glass and add a few tbsp freshly boiled water to it. Stir well and set it aside in a warm place. Wash the rice until the water a few times until the water runs clearer. 

  2. Add about 4 1/4 cups of water to the rice. A helpful tip is to hold your index finger vertically in the pan with the rice until it barely touches the surface of the rice and add water until your fingertip is covered. Add salt and put it on medium heat.
  3. Skin off 5 cloves of fresh garlic and cut them into fine slices. 

  4. Once most of the water in the rice pan has evaporated and small holes start forming in the rice, add in the dried herbs, fresh garlic, and ghee and stir them in. Add the lid (line it with a clean kitchen towel to absorb more moisture) and reduce the temperature to low. 

  5. After 40 minutes your rice should be ready. You can test it by wetting the edge of a kitchen towel and touching the outside of the pan with it. If it makes a sound like zshh and dries immediately it means the water has evaporated and the rice is done.
  6. Transfer up to a quarter of your rice into a separate bowl and add the saffron infused water to it. Stir it until it’s evenly golden yellow. Arrange it on top of the rest of the rice on a serving plate.

Serve

  1. Serve with the fish, bergamot oranges, or lemons, and pickled garlic. Enjoy!


Sabzi Polo Maahi | Fried Sea Bass with Herb Rice | igotitfrommymaman.com

I hope you enjoyed making Sabzi Polo baa Maahi! Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

You can save the recipe for later by pinning it to your recipe board or printing the printable recipe above.

Wanna cook more Persian classics? Get some inspiration here!

Thanks for stopping by!

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