Mahi Zafaroni (Pan-Seared Fish with Saffron and Dried Lime)

A saffron spice rub and saffron tea imbues this flakey and tender fish with earthy, floral flavors.

Pan Seared Fish Fillet with Saffron and Sun-Dried Lime

Ellen Silverman

Active Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 35 mins
4 servings

Saffron gives this fish from Nasim Alikhani, the chef and owner of Sofreh in New York City, a golden color and sweet floral flavor. Meanwhile, dried limes, a popular Persian souring ingredient, add a slight kick of citrus along with earthy, fermented flavor. Alikhani prefers a lean but moist fish like red snapper or a white, meaty fish like striped bass. While she prefers to buy the fish whole and fillet it herself, a good fishmonger will provide a high-quality fresh fillet.  If needed, an equal amount of freshly squeezed lime juice can be used in place of the dried lime juice. Alikhani serves this fish as part of her celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Dried limes and dried lime powder can be found in most Middle Eastern grocery stores or online at


Dried Lime Juice

  • 3 dried limes (about 1/3 ounce), halved (about 1/4 cup) (see Note)

  • 1 cup water

Fish Spice Rub

  • 2 teaspoons dried lime or black lime powder (see Note)

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more to taste (optional)


  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron powder

  • 1/3 cup hot water

  • 4 (5-ounce) skinless red snapper fillets, pin bones removed

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil

  • 1 medium-size fresh lime (about 4 ounces), thinly sliced

  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


Make the dried lime juice:

  1. Place dried lime halves in a medium bowl, and cover with 1 cup water. Let steep at least 1 hour or up to 3 hours. Pour through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a container; refrigerate until ready to use. Discard dried limes.

Make the fish spice rub:

  1. Stir together lime powder, garlic powder, ground cumin, ground turmeric, smoked paprika, and cayenne pepper, if using, in a small bowl; set spice rub aside.

Make the Fish:

  1. Place saffron powder in a small heatproof bowl. Add 1/3 cup hot water, and stir to combine. Let saffron mixture steep at least 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, pat snapper fillets dry using paper towels, and rub fillets evenly with fish spice rub. Transfer fillets to a plate, and refrigerate, uncovered, 15 minutes.

  2. Place flour in a shallow dish. Evenly sprinkle fillets with salt; dredge each fillet in flour, pressing to coat well. Shake off any excess flour.

  3. Heat olive oil in a large stainless-steel skillet over medium-high until hot but not smoking; reduce heat to medium. Add fillets to pan, and cook, flipping once, until fish is golden brown on both sides and easily releases from pan, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Immediately and carefully pour reserved saffron mixture over fillets in pan. Increase heat to medium-high, and cook, shaking skillet, until liquid is sizzling and reduced to about 2 tablespoons, 1 to 2 minutes.

  4. Remove skillet from heat; drizzle about 2 tablespoons dried lime juice over fillets. Reserve remaining dried lime juice for another use. Transfer fish to a serving plate; pour any remaining pan juices over fish, and serve immediately.

Suggested Pairing

A lime-scented, dry Riesling like Rieslingfreak No. 10 Zenit Riesling works nicely with this dish.

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