Masgouf: An Iraqi Delicacy that withstood the tides of time…
“It’s more about tradition rather than just a dish,
Masgouf is much more than just a grilled fish…” – A Food Lover
Ask any Iraqi about Masgouf and you will see a twinkle in his eyes as he proudly explains what the dish is about and what makes it different. Such classy and old school recipes deserve not only honourable mention but more exposure among people who have no idea what Masgouf is!
Masgouf is an Iraqi fish dish, which due to its popularity is often referred to as the national dish of the country. The fish used in Masgouf is ‘freshwater Carp’, which is butterflied, marinated, grilled next to open fire using skewers.
To attain a crispy exterior, the fish is coated in salt before cooking as a part of the marinating procedure. This dish has a special place in cities along the rivers Tigris & Euphrates and restaurants in the Abo Nawas Street (the Corniche) in Baghdad on the shores of Tigris River, where families used to enjoy Masgouf together after a brief walk. Good Times!
An amazing fact about the dish is that the name ‘Masgouf’ actually refers to the technique of cooking, but is interchangeably used as the name of the dish itself. Iraqis consider eating more or less like a ritual, which is why Masgouf is a dish of value for them, however, people today prefer to eat the dish in restaurants due to its long procedure and traditional style.
Every restaurant will have their own recipes and taste, but the basic procedure remains the same. Enjoyed in a group, Masgouf is enjoyed with freshly baked naan bread (some people prefer it without bread as well), tomatoes, grilled vegetables and onion sauce.
Traditional Masgouf is prepared over a special kind of wood that adds a pleasant aroma while it is being cooked, thus adding to the mouth-watering taste.
Ingredients (May differ due to variations available)
- 2 medium carps (can use another firm white-fleshed ) gutted, and scaled
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 Tablespoons freshly pureed whole tomatoes, strained
- 1 teaspoon salt
The fresh fish is clubbed, partially scaled and gutted, after which it is split lengthwise down the back. After careful washing, the fish is spread into a single flat piece, thus giving it an appearance of a large symmetrical circle with an intact belly.
You have to coat the inside with a combination of olive oil, rock salt, tamarind and ground turmeric. At times, people also add crushed tomatoes and coriander to enhance the taste.
Traditionally, Masgouf has a unique way of being grilled vertically on two sharp iron spikes. At times people place it in a big iron clamshell grill – designed specifically for this dish. In either way, the fish is placed next to the fire on the ‘fire altar’.
Masgouf typically takes between 1-3 hours, till most of the fish’s fat is burned. The guests indulge themselves in appetizers until the fish is ready to be served.
Once cooked, the fish is laid on amber coals skin side down, a technique that helps crisp the skin and release flesh from it for eating ease. Traditionally, the whole fish is laid on a large tray garnished with Narenj or Lime or Lemon and Iraqi pickles. If you happen to taste this dish in Baghdad, you will find it served with Mango Chutney. In some restaurants, the tray is covered by a large crispy and freshly baked flatbread, to keep the content hot till it is served.
People prefer to savour this dish using their bare hands and that is the perfect way to keep the Iraqi authenticity alive.
We’re sure you will love this simple yet mouthwatering recipe. Happy Eating!