Thursday, March 10, 2011
Different fish, different chermoula
I've been thinking a lot about how I should introduce this recipe. Or if I should really call it a recipe as it is a recommendation, a spur-of-the-moment suggestion made by my mother-in-law more than a year ago while we were talking about fish, soups and the newly planted lavender in our front yard.
Chermoula is a bold, garlicky, spicy sauce and marinade used all over Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to spice up not only fish and seafood, but also poultry, meat and vegetables. Though recipes differ from one cook to another, its base is usually a harmonious mixture of garlic, spices (usually cumin and sweet paprika), fresh herbs (cilantro or parsley) and acid (lemon juice or white vinegar). Some might add onions, others saffron, preserved lemons, cayenne peppers, or even nuts, in which case we are leaning more towards pesto. But just like pesto, the process is as easy as peel, measure, pound and enjoy. The result is a zesty pool where every fish would like to swim in and every one of your senses would enjoy.
And while the world does not need another chermoula recipe, these two versions, as my mother-in-law explains, are interesting in respecting the quality and variety of fish you are cooking. The spice infused chermoula complements the robust flesh of oily fish while the less conventional thyme and ginger chermoula balances the delicate flavor and texture of white fish without being overpowering.
I came home last Saturday from the Italian market with gorgeous salmon steaks, plump garlic and fresh cilantro; chermoula was the first intuition that came to mind for an enticing yet light and effortless dinner. The garlic peeled, the cilantro washed and its leaves plucked I set to put everything along with spices, lemon and olive oil in my tiny food processor. A few noisy twirls later, my chermoula was finally ready to embrace the salmon. After the pan was heated and the olive oil shimmering, I added my salmons. Cook, do not disturb, four minutes, flip, do not disturb, four minutes, serve. A squeeze of lemon, maybe some rice or greens on the side and there you have it. Quick, easy, exquisite. No recipe reading required. Just head to the kitchen and start cooking.In the near future, I'll share with you my chermoula recipes for poultry and vegetables.
Chermoula for oily fish: salmon, trout, sardines, swordfish, whitebait, fresh tuna, anchovies, eel, mackerel, smelt and bluefish. Grilling, baking, steaming and pan-frying are all ideal cooking choices for oily fish.
Recipe: Salmon Chermoula
- 4 salmon steaks
- 1 small onion, roughly diced
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 heaped tbsp parsley
- 2 heaped tbsp cilantro leaves
- 1/2 tomato, peeled and roughly diced
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp lemon or white vinegar
- A pinch of kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Extra lemons to finish the fish
Mix all the ingredients in a food processor. Season the salmon steaks, or any oily fish you are using, with salt and black pepper on both sides. Coat evenly with all the chermoula and marinade for at least one hour. In a pan, heat 1 1/2 tbsp of canola oil until shimmering but not smoking. Cook over medium heat until browned and cooked to your liking, 3 to 4 minutes per side. To have a perfect crust, avoid disturbing the fish while it's cooking.
Transfer the salmon to a plate and squeeze some lemon on top.
Chermoula for white fish: fish like cod, haddock, sea bass, whiting, sole, halibut, flounder and turbot.
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped
- 1/2 inch fresh ginger finely grated
- 1tsp lemon juice
- A pinch of salt and black pepper
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. Season the white fish lightly with salt and pepper on both sides and coat generously with the chermoula. Marinade for an hour and cook as desired.
It is best to cook white fish using a method such as steaming, poaching, baking in parchment parcels or poaching, so that most of the moisture is retained.
When grilling or baking white fish, it is best to marinate it or cook it in a sauce. You can add some fresh tomato sauce or chicken broth to the chermoula to make a sauce and let it thickens at the end.