Olive Oil Poached Fish with Fragrant Salt

I just got back from Spring Break in Italy where I was inspired to restock my kitchen in Tunis with some specialty supplies.  First of all, the table at the agritourismo we stayed at had a bottle of chili oil every night and we got addicted to it,  wanting to pour a little on everything.   I bought the hottest chilies I could find at my market when I got home and got my own bottle started steeping.  This is such a simple thing that I had completely forgotten about making.  My friend, Lauren, just gave me this pretty Polish pottery stopper for my birthday so I made up a lovely bottle in minutes.  I wanted to keep most of those cute chilies whole so I just made slits in the ends so the oil could come into contact with the chili flesh and seeds. I filled the bottle to the top with our grassy, green olive oil.

Then, the PAM grocery store, outside Siena, had a tremendous selection of specialty salts.  I have about every salt I need now to cook through Mark Bitterman’s book, Salted, cover to cover.

I made up another salt mixture, based on a recipe from Saha, A Chef’s Journey Through Lebanon and Syria, by Greg and Lucy Malouf.  This is easy to put together and keeps for 6 months.  It is a nice quick cure for a piece of fish.

Fragrant Salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds, ground
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt

Put the ground spices, toasted sesame seeds and salt in a skillet and gently warm through so they merge into one fragrant powder.  Store in an airtight jar.

Olive Oil Poached Fish

adapted from Saha, by Greg and Lucy Malouf

Dust the fish all over with the Fragrant Salt and refrigerate for an hour to lightly “cure”.  Before cooking, rinse the fish and dry it thoroughly.

In a deep cast iron skillet or fish poacher, put a layer of sliced onions.  Place the fish on top, skin side up.  Pour in enough olive oil to barely cover onions and fish.  Put the pan on the stove and heat gently to 140 degree F.  Cook for 8 minutes then remove from the heat and let the fish sit in the oil for another 2 minutes.  You can easily skin the fish at this point, if desired.  Carefully lift the fish out of the oil and place it on paper towels to drain.

Make the Tarator.

Tarator

  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pistachios, toasted and finely chopped
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, finely shredded
  • 1 small purple onion, very finely diced
  • 1 red finger-length chili, seeded and finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sumac
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and pack onto the top of the poached fish before serving.

Winter Preserves Pork Ribs

There is a reason why humans invented the preservation methods of drying, candying, smoking, freezing, and keeping foods in airtight jars.  Of course, we all know it was to extend the life of foods a little beyond the growing season and to prevent starvation during the dormant months. The other motivation was to keep foods so they could be transported from an entirely foreign climate which would allow people to enjoy pineapples, and cloves, and even herring when they had no way of harvesting those foods themselves.

            When I travel, I am always picking up interesting dried herbs and spices, dried fruit, potted meats, and fruit preserves.  It is a luxurious feeling to know I have exotic hard spices or a glistening jar of preserves in the pantry, but sometimes, those “special” items get passed over when I am cooking because they require a little bit of imagination or preparation such as toasting and grinding.  Also, it is true that people just don’t eat so many jams and jellies as they used to even though we still love the idea of them.  Rather than waiting for the odd piece of receptive toast, this type of recipe is a great way to use those gems.
            My intent today was to use a good quantity of my pantry items with pork ribs as the vehicle. The recipe is then easily adaptable to your own pantry.  If you think of your basic barbecue sauce you usually take a base like tomatoes, contrast it with mustard and vinegar, and then add a few spices for flavor.  With that formula in mind, I made ribs that were akin to the sticky Chinese style, without replicating that icon.
Spice Mix
2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced or 1 tbsp. dried
Artisinal salt to taste
Grind the following in a spice grinder:
½  tsp. each of cardamom, cloves, dried peppers, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, yellow mustard seeds,  black mustard seeds, and star anise (I also added a Tunisian specialty of dried bitter orange blossoms.  If you want the extra orange essence, you can add some orange zest.)
Mix all spice ingredients together.
Marinade
½ cup black sesame paste
½ cup orange or lemon marmelade
1/3 cup tomato vinegar or ketchup
1/3 cup soy sauce
Stir spice mix into marinade ingredients.
Dice 1 large onion.  In a deep baking dish, layer chopped onions and rib sections that have been covered on both sides with the marinade mixture.  Intersperse so the onions touch all sides of the pork.  Pour 1 cup water around the side of the meat.  Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 300 degrees for two to three hours or until the meat is completely tender.  Uncover for the last 30 minutes to reduce the liquid and caramelize the meat.  If the cooking liquid is still watery, remove the meat and reduce the liquid in a saucepan on the stovetop until it thickens.
In a small foil pan or open topped foil packet (approx.. 6” square), combine ½ cup black or green tea, ½ cup dry rice, and ¼ cup brown sugar.  Place in the bottom of a barbecue with a lid.  Heat barbecue to medium heat.  When tea mixture begins to smoke, add ribs for approximately 15 minutes or until they have taken on a subtle smoky flavor.  Remove ribs to a platter.    When cool, discard tea packet.
 Spicy, bright, sweet, smoky.  Very nice for a winter Sunday supper.  What’s in your pantry?