From Beirut to London in 100 Dishes

Samak al Salmoon maa riz bil za’fraan — Salmon with dill and honey on a bed of saffron rice

Dill Sauce for salmon.JPG www.samaracuisine.co.uk

This is a dish that combines my lives in Lebanon and in England.  Fish was always seen as a great luxury by my family in Beirut.  Partly of course because it is expensive there.  DSC_0265The fish restaurants on the Corniche were some of the most opulent in the city, with terraces gazing away from the chaos of the city and out over the Mediterranean.

 

DSC_0350Up the road in Baalbek, the epicentre of Lebanon’s cosmopolitan glory in the 1960s and 1970s was nestled in fish restaurants around the ancient harbour.  I’ve already mentioned Pepe’s Fishing Club in an earlier piece on how Lebanon featured in 60s spy films.  DSC_0357It’s still there, too, although a shadow of a shadow of what it once was.  Anyway, that is all just to give a sense of why fish seemed such an exclusive and special food for me growing up in Beirut.  The irony is that when I finally left Lebanon, I found myself within a few months working in a fish and chip shop in Queens Park in west London.  Nothing could have contrasted more brutally with my idea of fish as a delicacy.  Kitted out in a grubby uniform, stinking of oil and vinegar, fighting off abusive and drunk customers, it should have killed off my love affair with fish.  But it didn’t.  I hated the job, but loved the fish and chips — something we don’t have in Lebanon.  And so cheap — like shawarma or mana’ish for us.  So, in all the years since then, I have experimented over and over again with fish — all the different kinds that are good value and easily available here. It may seem odd, but I only discovered salmon here.  I never had it in Lebanon.  This recipe is a mixture of elements from the two cultures — with the saffron rice adding a Lebanese touch.

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Ingredients for the salmon

Salmon with Safron Rice.JP www.samaracuisine.co.ukG1 large salmon, 2 to 3 kilos

1 large bunch of dill

2 large oranges

2 lemons 

4 large spoons of wholegrain mustard

5 large spoons of good quality honey

4 large spoons of olive oil

1 large spoon of salt

1 tea spoon of black pepper

Wild rocket for garnish

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  • Scale the fish and clean thoroughly with fresh water inside and outside
  • Then cut the skin diagonally in 3 places on both sides
  • In a separate bowl, grate the skin of the 2 oranges and 2 lemons, then squeeze the juices
  • Add the chopped dill, honey, mustard, oil, salt and pepper, stir well and divide the sauce in two
  • Rub the fish with the first half of the sauce, cover and leave in the fridge to marinate overnight or for an hour before cooking
  • For the second portion of the sauce, put in a small pan and bring to boil for 5 minutes
  • 40 minutes before serving the fish, put it in a large baking tray and cover tightly with foil, and bake in a hot oven, 200 degrees, on the middle shelf for 15 minutes
  • DSC_0308Remove the tray from the oven and turn the fish on the other side, cover with foil and bake for another 15 minutes
  • Serve the fish hot with the rest of the sauce and garnish with slices of lemon and wild rocket leaves

DSC_0351Ingredients for the rice

400g of basmati rice

2 glasses of water

1/2 tea spoon of saffron

1/2 glass of hot water for the saffron

1 large spoon of sunflower oil

1/2 tea spoon of salt

1 tea spoon of butter 

1/2 cup of pomegranate seeds for the garnish

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  • Wash and soak the rice in hot water for half an hour
  • Meanwhile, put the saffron in a small pan, add water and boil for a couple of minutes
  • In a medium size non-stick cooking pot, heat the sunflower oil
  • Strain the rice and add to the pot, stir for few seconds
  • Then add 2 glasses of fresh water, the saffron including the yellow coloured water, salt and butter, stir well and cover
  • Once the rice starts to boil, reduce temperature to the minimum and leave to cook for 25-35 minutes
  • Don’t stir the rice as you need the golden crust on the bottom of the pot intact
  • When it is ready, put a large plate on the pot and flip it upside down by holding the pot and plate together.
  • Garnish with pomegranate seeds and serve hot

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