Friday, 12 February 2010

Harissa Spiced Salmon With Cucumber Herb Cous Cous and Sumac Roasted Tomatoes

Because my husband really doesn't like fish very much, I tend to cook it a lot less often than I would like. When I do, I try to compensate for my fishy offense by cooking it in a way I hope he'll like, with side dishes he enjoys. In a way, it's like trying to get a child to enjoy his veggies, but that's another blog post. I love to use spice with robust, oily fish like salmon and mackerel and the complex warmth of harissa is a prefect treatment, especially when served with a cooling cous cous salad and fruity sumac roasted tomatoes. I used to roast small on-the-vine cherry tomatoes, but they have a lot of fiddly skin, which I don't like on cooked tomatoes. Now, if I'm roasting them I use very ripe* vine-ripened tomatoes and they're lovely.

Harissa Spiced Salmon with Cucumber Herb Cous Cous and Sumac Roasted Tomatoes
Serves 4, takes 1 lazy hour.

1 500g salmon fillet (skin on, or off, whichever you prefer) pinboned
12 large dried chillies
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3 lg cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
Cous Cous Salad:
300ml (volume) cous cous
300ml boiling water
1 tsp sea salt
zest and juice of half a lemon (finely zested)
10cm piece cucumber
large handful curly leaf parsley
3 sprigs mint, leaves picked
3 large sprigs dill
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 large, red vine ripened tomatoes
3 tbsp (not extra virgin) olive oil
1 tsp crushed sumac ****
1 tsp coarse sea salt

First, sort out your cous cous and chillies. In a large, heat-proof dish, put your couscous and the salt, the dried chillies can go into a smaller bowl. Boil a kettle and pour enough water over the chillies to cover them and 300ml of water over the cous cous. Stir the cous cous and cover for a few minutes, then when all of the water has been absorbed, add the lemon zest and juice, fluff all of the grains with a fork, then put the bowl of cous cous in the fridge to cool while you prepare the rest of the meal.
Pour yourself a glass of wine or a G&T to sip.
Now to make the harissa. in a pestle and mortar, add the salt and spices and grind well to make a fairly fine powder (coriander seeds are hard to get too fine, but don't worry, they're fine a little coarser)
Then add the garlic to the mortar and mash into a paste with the spices. Drain the chillies and remove the seeds and stems, chop finely** and add to the mortar. Pound this mixture for a few minutes until you have a thick, fragrant paste, then mix in the oil and transfer to a small jar, as you wont need all of it.
Heat your oven to 180C/375F

With the salmon skin-side-down, cut the salmon fillet cross-ways to get four equal portions and spoon a couple of teaspoons of the harissa onto each one. Use a silicone brush or the back of the spoon to spread it evenly all over each piece, set aside for a few minutes.

For the tomatoes, wash them and use the tip of a sharp knife to cut out the tough spot where it was attached to the stem. Cut a shallow X about 2cm in each direction across the little hole and arrange them all clustered together in a small baking dish. Drizzle with the olive oil, then sprinkle with the sea salt and sumac. Put on the bottom shelf of the oven, saving the top shelf for the salmon.

Back to the salmon, heat a medium sized, oven-proof*** sautee or frying pan over a medium heat and when nice and hot, place spice-side-down. Don't try to move or prod the salmon for a couple of minutes, as you want a little bit of a crust to form. After two mins, use a spatula to gently turn over the fish, then put the whole pan into the oven, setting the timer for five minutes.

During these five minutes, cut the cucumber into 1 cm dice and finely chop the mint, parsley and dill. Remove the nearly cold couscous from the fridge and stir in the cucumber, herbs and olive oil.

Remove the tomatoes and salmon from the oven and serve immediately with the cous cous. The salmon should be just done but still very moist and tender.

This whole meal is also terrific cold, so if you make extra, you have a brilliant one-box lunch to take to work the next day.

Cook's Notes:
*I learned a few years ago not to store my tomatoes in the fridge. Toms will only retain their flavour well and ripen properly at room temp, while tomatoes stored in the fridge will lose flavour and go mealy. Once ripe, try to use within 3-4 days.

**I never learn personally, but it's a good idea to wear latex gloves when handling chillies. I can't count the number of times I've been temporarily blinded while washing my face hours after chopping these spicy little gits.

***If you don't have a frying pan that you can transfer into the oven, put a small baking dish in the oven to pre-heat. When you turn over the salmon, turn them into the piping hot baking dish and finish them in the oven.

****Sumac is a berry often used in North African and Middle Eastern cookery. The flavour is almost like a subtle cross between thyme, lemon and black tea. You can buy it in the spice section at your grocer, usually ground to the texture of black pepper and dark reddish purple.

Salmon on FoodistaSalmon

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