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

Sabzi Polo baa 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 baa Maahi! It’s 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 baa Maahi | Fried Sea Bass with Herb Garlic 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, bitter oranges (naarenj), and pickled garlic (sir torshi). You can find bitter 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 baa 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 you it’s pure medicine!

Of course it’s 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 where you get incredibly fresh fish for unbeatable prices. I got a whole bag of sea bass to freeze for future Sabzi Polo baa Maahi indulgence.

Billingsgate Fish Market

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

Maman’s tipp for freezing fish: If you plan on freezing the fish remove the scales but leave the guts in. Transfer it to a freezer bag and close it, removing the air.

Leaving the guts in keeps the fish tasting fresh for longer and makes gutting it much easier. When you want to prepare it let it defrost a tiny bit until it’s possible to cut the stomach open. The guts will still be mostly frozen and removing them will be easy and clean.

Equipment needed

1 frying pan large enough to fit the fish

1 non-stick pot with lid for the rice (I highly recommend this cast aluminium pot with ceramic non-stick coating. My tahdig always turns out perfect in this one and the coating is toxin-free. The 22cm size is ideal for 4 portions of rice.)

Chef knife

Paring knife

Chopping board

Cooking spoon

Heatproof utensils to turn the fish

Clean kitchen towels

Sieve (fine enough for draining the rice)

Bowl

Spoon

Serving plates

Pestle and mortar (for crushing the saffron threads)

Glass

Ingredients (serving 4)

For the fish

2 whole large sea bass or 4 small ones (approx. 1 kg / 2.2 lbs together)

If you prefer, you could use 4 sea bass fillets

4 bitter oranges or lemons to serve

5 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp garlic powder 

Salt to taste

For the rice

400g basmati rice (2 cups)

30g/1oz fresh parsley (about half a bunch)

30g/1oz fresh dill (about half a bunch)

30g/1oz fresh chives (about half a bunch)

30g/1oz fresh coriander (about half a bunch)

2 tbsp dried fenugreek (if fresh fenugreek is available to you you can use 15g/0.5oz fresh fenugreek instead)

10 cloves garlic (about 1 bulb)

3 tbsp vegetable oil

1/4 tsp saffron

2 tbsp salt

2 ice cubes

Time

Prep: 15 min

Cook: 1h

Total: 1h 15 min

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

Method of preparing Sabzi Polo baa Maahi

Wash the herbs

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

Bloom the saffron

If you have saffron strands grind them in a pestle and mortar or in a saffron mill. Alternatively you could use the bottom of a glass and a plate to crush them.

Transfer the ice cubes to a glass and sprinkle the ground saffron over it. Keep the glass aside in a warm place. 

Season 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 spices. Season both sides and the inside with turmeric, paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, and salt.

If you are seasoning the fish ahead of time, you can slice a lemon or bitter orange and lay the slices on top and inside the cavity of the sea bass. Cover it and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to cook it.

Preparing sea bass for frying - Sabzi Polo baa Maahi

Prepare the rice

Chop the herbs and garlic

Finely chop the herbs and combine them in a bowl. If using dried fenugreek, combine it with the herb mix now.

Peel and finely chop or slice the garlic, the choice it yours. Add it to the herb mixture and combine it well.

Parboil the rice

Wash the rice by moving it around with your hand in a bowl of water and then draining it. Repeat this process 4 to 5 times.

Fill a pot with water and bring it to boil. Add the 2 tbsp of salt to the water. Don’t worry about it being too much. Any excess will be rinsed off later. Once the water is boiling add the rice to it.

After 3 carefully remove a rice corn with a spoon to see if it is parboiled. You can split the rice corn and look at it. The outside should be soft and translucent but the centre should still be firm and opaque.

It may take anything from 3 to 10 minutes to parboil the rice to this stage. Check on it every minute or so and be sure to keep an eye on the time, so next time you’ll know how long this particular rice brand takes to parboil.

Once ready drain the rice in a colander and rinse it with cool water to wash off the excess salt and interrupt the cooking process.

Layer the rice

Add 3 tbsp of vegetable oil to a non-stick pot with lid and turn the heat on medium. Transfer a quarter of the parboiled rice to a bowl and combine it with a quarter of the herb mixture and the saffron water.

Once the rice turned evenly yellow and the herbs and garlic are evenly distributed, transfer the saffron-herb-rice to the pot and spread it out evenly. Don’t mix it inside the pot, as the oil should remain in the bottom of the pot if possible.

Now add a layer of white rice on top and then sprinkle a small handful of herbs on top. Repeat this process, creating several layers until all the ingredients are used up.

Poke three holes in the rice with the other side of a wooden spoon. This will allow the steam to rise more easily. Pour 2 tbsp of water over the rice. Line the lid with a clean kitchen towel, so more moisture can be absorbed.

Once you see steam rising from the pot, firmly cover it with the lid and reduce the temperature to something between low and medium. Let the rice steam for 45 minutes.

Fry the fish

In the meantime 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, then turn it around. My medium sized sea bass takes about 5 minutes on each side but the time may vary depending on the size of the fish.

Serve and enjoy

Replace the lid with an upside down plate and carefully flip the rice over. If you have a non-stick pot, it will come out easily. If you don’t have a non-stick pot, you can fill your kitchen sink with a bit of cool water and submerge the bottom of the pot in it. This may help the tahdig (crispy rice bits) to come off.

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

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

Sabzi Polo baa Maahi
5 from 1 vote
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Sabzi Polo baa Maahi

Course Main Course
Cuisine Persian
Keyword fish, herbs, maahi, Rice, sabzi polo, sea bass
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Hami

Ingredients

For the fish

  • 2 large whole sea bass (approx. 1kg / 2.2 lbs together) (or 4 small ones)
  • If you prefer, you could use 4 sea bass fillets
  • 5 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • Salt to taste

For the rice

  • 2 cups basmati rice (400g)
  • 1/2 bunch fresh dill
  • 1/2 bunch fresh parsley
  • 1/2 bunch fresh coriander
  • 1/2 bunch fresh chives
  • 1/4 bunch fresh fenugreek (if available) or 2 tbsp dried fenugreek
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 tsp saffron
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 ice cubes

Sides

  • 4 bitter oranges or lemons
  • pickled garlic

Instructions

Wash the herbs

  1. Wash the herbs and spread them out across a clean kitchen towel to dry.

Bloom the saffron

  1. If you have saffron strands grind them in a pestle and mortar or in a saffron mill. Alternatively you could use the bottom of a glass and a plate to crush them. 

  2. Transfer the ice cubes to a glass and sprinkle the ground saffron over it. Keep the glass aside in a warm place. 

Season 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 spices. Season both sides and the inside with turmeric, paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, and salt. 

  2. If you are seasoning the fish ahead of time, you can slice a lemon or bitter orange and lay the slices on top and inside the cavity of the sea bass. Cover it and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to cook it. 

Prepare the rice

Chop the herbs and garlic

  1. Finely chop the herbs and combine them in a bowl. If using dried fenugreek, combine it with the herb mix now.

  2. Peel and finely chop or slice the garlic, the choice it yours. Add it to the herb mixture and combine it well.

Parboil the rice

  1. Wash the rice by moving it around with your hand in a bowl of water and then draining it. Repeat this process 4 to 5 times. 

  2. Fill a pot with water and bring it to boil. Add the 2 tbsp of salt to the water. Don’t worry about it being too much. Any excess will be rinsed off later. Once the water is boiling add the rice to it.

  3. After 3 carefully remove a rice corn with a spoon to see if it is parboiled. You can split the rice corn and look at it. The outside should be soft and translucent but the centre should still be firm and opaque. 

  4. It may take anything from 3 to 10 minutes to parboil the rice to this stage. Check on it every minute or so and be sure to keep an eye on the time, so next time you’ll know how long this particular rice brand takes to parboil. 

  5. Once ready drain the rice in a colander and rinse it with cool water to wash off the excess salt and interrupt the cooking process. 

Layer the rice

  1. Add 3 tbsp of vegetable oil to a non-stick pot with lid and turn the heat on medium. Transfer a quarter of the parboiled rice to a bowl and combine it with a quarter of the herb mixture and the saffron water.

  2. Once the rice turned evenly yellow and the herbs and garlic are evenly distributed, transfer the saffron-herb-rice to the pot and spread it out evenly. Don’t mix it inside the pot, as the oil should remain in the bottom of the pot if possible.

  3. Now add a layer of white rice on top and then sprinkle a small handful of herbs on top. Repeat this process, creating several layers until all the ingredients are used up. 

  4. Poke three holes in the rice with the other side of a wooden spoon. This will allow the steam to rise more easily. Pour 2 tbsp of water over the rice. Line the lid with a clean kitchen towel, so more moisture can be absorbed. 

  5. Once you see steam rising from the pot, firmly cover it with the lid and reduce the temperature to something between low and medium. Let the rice steam for 45 minutes.

Fry the fish

  1. Once the rice has been steaming for about 30min 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. 

  2. Carefully transfer the fish into the pan and fry until it has the desired colour and crispiness, then turn it around. My medium sized sea bass takes about 5 minutes on each side but the time may vary depending on the size of the fish.

Serve and enjoy

  1. Replace the lid with an upside down plate and carefully flip the rice over. If you have a non-stick pot, it will come out easily. If you don’t have a non-stick pot, you can fill your kitchen sink with a bit of cool water and submerge the bottom of the pot in it. This may help the tahdig (crispy rice bits) to come off.

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


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

I hope you enjoyed making Sabzi Polo baa Maahi! If you have any questions please let me know in the comments, I’m always happy to help.

I’d love to see your Sabzi Polo baa Maahi! Feel free to tag me with @igotitfrommymaman on Facebook or Insta so I can take a look and give you a thumbs up!

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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