Lake Isle Press

Bluefish with Red Rice and Vegetables (Theibou Jen)

This unique combination of fish stuffed with vegetables and cooked in a thick tomato sauce is a signature Senegalese dish.

Bluefish with Red Rice and Vegetables (Theibou Jen)


  • 2 cups broken white rice or regular basmati rice
  • 1/2 cup peanut oil
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 1 plum tomato, peeled and chopped, or 1/4 cup finely chopped canned tomatoes (pulp only)
  • 1 cup tomato paste
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 generous pinch sugar
  • 5 pounds whole blue fish or other firm, white-flesh fish, cut into 10 steaks about 1 1/2 inches thick, heads reserved
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 7 tablespoons rof stuffing for the fish steaks
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 large green cabbage, cut into 3 wedges
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
  • 1 (1-pound) yuca, peeled and cut into thirds
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into large chunks or wedges
  • 12 okra pods
  • 1 habanero pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind paste, diluted in 1/4 cup water
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons fish sauce
  • limes, cut into wedges, for garnish


Serves 10

1. Wash the rice well under cold running water until the water runs clear. (This will eliminate the extra starch and will make the rice less sticky.)

2. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Sauté the onions until soft but not brown, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the tomato and stir. Dilute the tomato paste in 1 cup of the water and add to the pot; stir well. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt, and stir to dissolve. Cover the pot and reduce the heat. Simmer until the oil rises above the tomato mixture, stirring occasionally and adding water if needed, 1/2 cup at a time, about 30 minutes. Make sure the tomato does not stick to the bottom of the pot.

3. Meanwhile, season the fish with salt and pepper. Make two 2-inch-long slits in each steak, and stuff each crevice with about 1 teaspoon rof.

4. Add the remaining 5 cups water and the bay leaf to the pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Carefully place the stuffed fish steaks in the broth, along with the fish heads and the cabbage, carrots, yuca, butternut squash, and okra. Add the habanero. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about 1 hour over medium heat, removing the fish after about 30 minutes and vegetables as they cook through, when they are easily pierced with a knife.

5. Add the tamarind paste to the broth. Adjust the seasonings and let simmer 20 more minutes until oil rises to the surface of the broth.

6. Remove a few ladles of broth to a separate bowl and add the fish sauce. Stir well. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning again. Remove the habanero, unless you prefer an extra spicy thieb.

7. Add the rice to the pot, returning some of the reserved liquid to the pot if necessary, to just cover the rice. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover the pot with a tight lid and cook until tender, about 30 minutes.

8. Arrange the rice on a platter, then distribute the vegetables and fish evenly over the rice. Sparingly, spoon some of the reserved cooking liquid over the thiebou jen before serving. Serve with lime wedges.

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