What is Chermoula? A Moroccan Marinade You Need To Try

What is Chermoula? A Moroccan Marinade You Need To Try

Chermoula or charmoula (شرمولة) is the symbolic marinade of Maghreb cuisine. The Maghreb region being the northwestern most part of Africa along the Mediterranean Sea consisting of the countries of Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Tunisia and most famously Morocco. The direct translation is of the Arabic verb Chermel which is in reference to rubbing or marinating something, however in a more specific sense, mchermel is also a style of Moroccan cooking in which a dish calls for the use of a marinade before and during cooking. So the chermel or Chermoula marinade is itself a main ingredient used to season the braising broth or sauce of the dish or Tajine. 

So what is Chermoula? (And its variations)

Basic chermoula usually combines fresh herbs, several spices, and an acidic ingredient (usually lemon juice or preserved lemon). The herbs commonly used are fresh cilantro and/or parsley. The ratio of cilantro to parsley varies depending on families and the regions. Some may also go for cilantro only while others will prefer parsley only. As for the spices, sweet paprika, cumin, garlic, and sometimes ginger, turmeric and saffron are usually present. Usually preserved lemon, lemon juice or vinegar are the main acids considered and along with a good splash of olive oil make up the main liquids in this spice herb blend.

Of course there are variations to chermoula and they may include:

  • Green (without paprika and red elements)
  • With a red tone, due to sweet paprika (powder or paste) and sometimes harissa (for a hot version)
  • With a yellow tone, due to turmeric, saffron or even a food coloring powder used in Morocco. 
How is Chermoula Used?

Chermoula is used as a marinade, a seasoning rub but also as a sauce or condiment served on the side. With that in mind, you can use it to:

  • Use Chermoula As a Marinade or Tenderizer: use chermoula to marinate raw meat, fish, poultry or vegetables

  • Baste Ingredients With Chermoula As They Cook: chermoula sauce helps retain moisture and add a caramelized herbaceous crust to roast and baked meats and vegetables.

  • Add Chermoula as a Seasoning Ingredient: brighten the sauce in a stew, tagine or soup by adding it to simmering cooking liquids

  • Use Chermoula As a Side Accompaniment or Dipping Sauce: serve chermoula alongside grilled vegetables, fish or meat, a bit like a chimichurri or a sauce vierge.

  • Use Chermoula As Part of a Mchermel Style Tagine: use chermoula as the marinade and cooking sauce in a Moroccan tagine.  From chicken tagine to fish tagine to lamb tagine, chermoula is an excellent base marinade.

Chermoula is a condiment to have on hand.  Especially for the palates of people that prefer savory tang over sweet.  It's fresh and bold and livens up a variety of dishes. I find it works with a great variety of vegan recipes too from lentils to veggie burgers to roasted potatoes and butternut squash.  Don't underestimate the versatility of this traditional Moroccan sauce, it will transform your cooking.   

Chermoula in Tajine - ‘Mchermel'

First off, what is a tagine? 

A tagine can loosely be described as a North African stew. It is made of spiced meat, fish and vegetables prepared by slow cooking in traditional clay conical shaped tagine cookware. However unlike a stew which is slow simmering in a pot of liquid or stock, in the case of tajine, a minimal amount of liquid is added to the shallow earthenware dish. Instead it is predominately the steam and moisture contained within the ingredients themselves cooking in the earthenware dish that generates the moisture and creates an intense rich gravy or sauce.  The cone top of the earthenware dish is used to trap condensed steam and return it to the base of the stew, keeping it moist and flavorful. 

Traditionally a tagine is slow cooked over hot charcoal but most of us at home cook a tajine on the stove top or in the oven.  You can use a traditional tagine but must keep it on low heat (use a heat diffuser for the electric stove top) or cook on low heat in the oven (otherwise it may crack).  You can also use a thick heavy pot with tight fitting lid in the oven. 

Mchermel is one of the primary cooking styles in Moroccan cuisine. Mchermel dishes make use of a marinade (such as Chermoula) to flavor ingredients as well as serving as the sauce in which they’re cooked. Chermoula is traditionally a Moroccan seafood marinade which is fantastic with whole baked fish in a vegetable tagine. Famous Chermoula or chermel Tajines include chicken  marinated then slow cooked with onions and green or black olives.  

One of our favorite recipes using chermoula is our lamb tagine recipe. We use our North African Chermoula as a base marinade and sauce for this stew.  It contains most of the ingredients that you would make for a lamb tagine including cumin, coriander, turmeric, cilantro, olive oil, preserved lemon and saffron.  Along with the chermoula we used Ras El Hanout spice mix for the meat marinade and added onions, dried dates and apricots to the stew.  We finished the dish with fresh chopped cilantro and toasted sliced almonds.  The contrasting clash of the sweet spices and dried fruit with the lemony chermoula sauce added outstanding flavor and depth to the dish.

Pictured Below: Moroccan Lamb Chermoula Tagine Recipe 

How to Make Chermoula

The best chermoula is made using a pestle and mortar after first chopping all ingredients to release their oils. However, for a larger  batch or if you don’t have the mortar or patience to use one, a blender or food processor will do just fine. In that case, you might need to add some olive oil or tiny bit of water to help with blending.

Once blended, the only way to determine if the chermoula’s seasoning needs adjustment will be your personal preference. Indeed, some like it lemony, some like it hot. Or, we may prefer it different ways with different dishes. Consider a lemony chermoula most suitably paired with fish, chicken or even lamb to help cut the fattiness just like a vinegary mint sauce is designed to.

You will also want to make adjustments to the thickness of chermoula. It can be blended into a thick, relatively dry paste which can be used in the same manner as a spice rub. If it’s to be used as a marinade, the chermoula can be thinned considerably with water or olive oil. An in between consistency would be suitable as a condiment or basting sauce.

Knowing how you like your chermoula will open the door to a massive list of Moroccan recipes which rely on this incredible marinade. Far from boring and definitely adaptable, chermoula will become your go-to-condiment and marinade for dishes which impress family and guests.

Basic Chermoula Recipe: 

Considering the variation you might want to try from suggestions above and slight variations to consistency, this recipe should yield enough to fill a 12 oz jar

  • 3 cups fresh coriander (cilantro), - roughly chopped
  • 1 cup fresh flat leaf parsley - roughly chopped, leaves only
  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic - peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika, - powder or paste
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice with zest of 1/2 lemon

Optional Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp tomato paste - (double it for a red chermoula)
  • 1 tsp harissa paste, - or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric - (for a yellow chermoula)
  • 1 small preserved lemon, seeds removed (for a lemony chermoula)

    1. Roughly chop the herbs and the garlic. Place the herbs and the rest of the ingredients in the food processor. Give a few pulses until you are satisfied with the texture. While blending, add your olive oil and lemon juice and lemon zest. 

    2. Use immediately or store in a jam jar or similar sealed container. If the paste is quite thick, you could top it off with olive oil. Keep in the fridge for up to a week. 
Our Chermoula and How We Use It

Our North African Chermoula sauce is handmade with in house preserved lemons and fresh lemon juice, hand chopped cilantro, onion, garlic, ginger, cumin, paprika, turmeric and velvety saffron and olive oil.  We infuse aromatic sauteéd garlic with freshly ground spices and allow the spices to bloom as they slow cook. We allow the spices to cook for many hours before we even begin to finish the sauce with layers of bright lemon and fresh cilantro. 

With it's bold lemon zing infused with this medley of slow cooked exotic Moroccan spices, our chermoula is as excellent as if you had just prepared the marinade yourself. We use our chermoula as a marinade and sauce for fish, chicken, seafood and lamb.  We routinely use it as the base sauce for chicken and lamb tagine dishes and as a dressing for couscous and warm lentil salads.  Our chermoula makes a delicious savory marinade for roasted veggies including potatoes, butternut squash and roasted eggplant.  Mix with sour cream for a creamy dip for falafel or a sauce for lamb burgers and grilled chicken skewers. 

Pictured Below:  Chermoula Spiced Couscous with Dried Fruit and Orange

Picture Below:  Pan Seared Halibut in A Lemon Chermoula Butter Sauce with Chermoula Salsa 

Fish with Chermoula Sauce

Our North African Chermoula was the 2016 winner of the coveted NYC Fancy Food Show sofi™ Gold award for quality, excellence and innovation. The Moroccan marinade that was suddenly creating a buzz in the US culinary scene, had been a perfected part of our culinary repertoire and offerings, for the best part of a decade already, winning the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show back in 2010.

Wozz! North African Chermoula Sauce and Marinade

Wozz! Moroccan Sauces Trio - Our Moroccan Sauces Set includes our North African Chermoula Sauce, Moroccan Tomato Onion Relish and Simmer Sauce and our Sticky Date Candied Orange Chutney. 

Create everything from Savory Moroccan Tomato Chicken to Moroccan Rice to Lamb Tagine at home with our Moroccan Sauces Trio.









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