Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Salmon in Chriameh Sauce

To start, I'm of Libyan-Jewish background and I grew up eating a dish called chriameh, which is fish cooked in a spicy tomato sauce.  I have fond memories of my Libyan-grandmother making mass quantities for Shabbat dinner to serve her 16 children (plus their spouses, children and grandchildren). It was astonishing.

On a whim, I tried Yotam Ottolenghi's version from his book Jerusalem. It has similar ingredients to my own family "recipe," but is different as ours is not written down anywhere and measurements are all eyeballed. I've had many friends request my chriameh recipe, but giving instructions on a dish with very imprecise quantities is challenging. But now, thanks to the brilliant Ottolenghi (you'll eventually realize I am slightly obsessed), I have found the perfect recipe to recommend to my friends, patients, and (blog readers? ha)... It's savory. It's spicy. It's the real deal!  Guaranteed to make you feel warm and happy inside. And it's also good for you!

[Tangent] Many (but not all) my dishes focus on heart-healthy, often Mediterranean style foods. If you couldn't guess from the blog name, I'm an Internal Medicine resident at Emory University with an interest in Preventative Medicine and Cardiology. Healthy cooking (without sacrificing taste) is right up my alley, so that's sort of the direction I plan to focus my blogging. Though I have some great..uhh..less healthy recipes that are too good not to share. Life's all about moderation, right?
Anyway, back to the chriameh...Though we usually serve this fish as an appetizer on Friday evenings, it most definitely can (and should) be made as a main course. Truthfully, it deserves all the limelight! It should be served with couscous, rice, challah bread, or even matzo on Passover. Really any vessel that allows you to enjoy every last lick of delicious red sauce is appropriate. It's traditionally served with white fish (sea bass, halibut, snapper, tilapia, etc), but I very much prefer making it with salmon. Salmon is my favorite fish (probably food in general), so many more salmon posts to come! You should cook the dish in a large, round frying pan with a lid. I used a 3 quart cast iron enamel paella pan, but any pan that distributes heat evenly is perfect.

Below is the recipe, but first here are a few tricks/tips to make the perfect salmon chriameh. 
  1. Quality salmon is best enjoyed medium-rare (or rarer).
    •  It's okay to prepare the sauce ahead of time, but the salmon should be cooked just before serving!
    • I suggest only cooking the fish for 7 minutes as it will continue to cook in its sauce.
  2. For those making this in advanced for Shabbat and plan to use a warming plate, you should significantly cut back on the cooking time or you'll dry out the fish!
    • There are very few things worse than dry fish.
    • At least for salmon chriameh, I'd probably keep the fish close to raw in the middle as it will continue cooking on the warmer for several hours before it's served. This should result in a beautiful salmon cooked to medium rather than a well-done misery. Gross.
  3. White fish dries out quite easily.
    •  So cook times are especially important!
    • I'd still recommend salmon, though, for its superior taste as well as its "good" fats.
  4. This recipe is not complicated, but has a bunch of ingredients. I always do all the prep before starting so that I have a mise en place to keep me organized.
    1. Measure out all spices ahead of time and organize them into mini bowls or a little platter
    2. Wash, cut, peal, etc any veggies
    3. Read the recipe in its entirely at least once before starting

Chriameh Ingredients:
  • Scant 1/2 cup sunflower oil (I prefer olive oil)
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour (Optional. I generally omit)
  • 1 lb salmon fillets (skin on) cut into 3-4 equal sized pieces
    • Alternatively may use white fish (sea bass, halibut, snapper, tilapia, etc)
  • 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds, dry toasted and freshly ground (fresh pre-ground spices are ok if grinding isn't your idea of fun, but worth trying at some point)
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (a bit more if you want it extra spicy)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 green chili, coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp superfine sugar
  • 1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges, plus 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chriameh Recipe:
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat in a large frying pan with a lid
  • (Option 1): Place the flour in a shallow bowl seasoned generously with salt and pepper
    • Toss the fish in it
    • Shake off the excess flour
  • (Option 2): Skip the flour and just season both sides of fish with salt and pepper
  • Sear the fish for a minute or two on each side, until golden
  • Remove the fish and wipe the pan clean
  • Place garlic, spices, chili and 2 tablespoons of oil in a food processor and blitz to form a thick paste. Add a bit more oil if needed to combine the ingredients
  • Pour the remaining oil in the frying pan, heat well, and add the spice paste
  • Stir and fry for just 30 seconds, so that the spices don't burn
  • Carefully add the water and tomato paste to stop the spices from cooking further
  • Bring the sauce to a simmer and add sugar, lemon juice, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and some pepper
  • Season to taste
  • Put the fish in the sauce, bring to a gentle simmer, cover the pan and cook for 7 to 11 minutes
    • Cook time will vary depending on thickness of fish, but cook till just done (or slightly under done)
  • Remove the pan from heat, take off the lid, and allow to cool slightly
  • Serve the fish just warm or at room temperature with cilantro and lemon wedges as garnish

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