Reeling in Fish Stew

By Habeeb Salloum

One of the most important food products in history, fish has been the mainstay of people that are blessed by living near oceans and rivers that produce these vertebrates.  In some parts of the world, this commodity is inexpensive while in others, their weight could be almost weighed as gold.

In the future, there is little doubt that fish could be the deciding factor between starvation and plenty.  A truly versatile fare, which at times decided the destiny of empires, this ancient food has a bright future.

Fish can be consumed in various ways.  It can be eaten raw, baked, boiled, broiled, fried, pickled or steamed.  It is excellent prepared by itself, stuffed or as an ingredient in soups or stews. 

All fish are tender and cook quickly.  When the flesh turns white and can easily be flaked with a fork, the fish is done.  If over-cooked, the flesh becomes dry, tough and rubbery.

By whatever method fish is cooked, especially when fresh, it adds colour, flavour and distinction to any meal.  As this recipe from the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf will attest, fish dishes are flavoursome and enticing. 

Fish Stew – Yakhnat Samak
Serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2-pounds fresh firm flesh fish fillet
(such as cod or halibut), cut into serving pieces
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon dried thyme

pinch of cayenne
4 tablespoons tomato paste, dissolved
in 1/2 cup of water
1 cup water
2 cups cooked rice kept warm
1/2 lemon, sliced
1 small tomato, sliced
Few sprigs of parsley

Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the salt and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice on the fish and allow to stand for 1 hour.

In a frying pan, heat oil over medium-low then add onion, coriander, garlic, black pepper, turmeric, garam masala, thyme, cayenne and remaining salt and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring several times. Add diluted tomato paste, water and remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Place fish pieces in another frying pan then pour the first frying pan’s contents over the fish and bring to boil. Turn heat to low, cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Place rice on a serving platter then spoon the frying pan contents over the rice. Decorate with lemon slices, tomato slices and parsley.

Serve immediately.