Friday, November 5, 2010

Samak Mishwi (Oven-Barbecued Fish)

We didn't eat fish often when I was growing up. Chesapeake blue crabs and oysters, of course - I am a Maryland girl - but scaly finned fish, not so much. I love fish, as did my parents; it just was never part of the dinner repertoire. I think I remember my mom stating that she hated to clean fish; I understand how she feels. When I purchased the fish you see above I asked for the it to be cleaned but not de-scaled, for some reason thinking it necessary to keep the scales on. At home I looked at the recipe and saw that the scales needed to be removed. How hard can it be? I thought. Seth told me I should go outside. I told him that was completely unnecessary. Note: when someone has been fishing their entire life, listen to their advice. Apart from the indignity of being struck in my eyes about thirty times, I am still finding scales in the kitchen a month later. Those things fly everywhere.

For a dinner party or nice family dinner, this dish is perfect. As long as you have it cleaned and scaled by a professional, there is little work involved and the results are damn tasty. I didn't change a thing to recipe - surprising, since this cookbook tends to be spice-sparse (like the chicken shawarma.) I have no idea what kind of fish I used - some fish are known by different names, such as "zubaidi" for "pomfret" - but it had firm white flesh. The recipe suggests perch, trout or carp.

Samak mishwi
The Middle Eastern Cookbook

1 whole perch, trout or carp weighing about 3 1/2lbs
4tbsp vegetable oil
3 large onions, thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1tsp curry powder
1tsp ground dried lime or grated rind of one lemon
2tsp salt
2tbsp tamarind paste
1cup warm water
3tbsp parsley, chopped
3tbsp cilantro, chopped

1. Preheat broiler. Clean and scale fish, then cut it open lengthways from head to tail through the back (so the fish is cut open through the belly and along the spine.) Rinse and pat dry. Place fish under broiler for 5 minutes on each side until partially cooked, then transfer to an over-proof dish.

2. Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan. Fry onions and garlic until onions are tender. Stir in curry powder, dried lime (or lemon rind) and salt.

3. Dissolve tamarind paste in the warm water an add to onion mixture. Cook over medium heat for 25 minutes, until it becomes a thick paste. Add the parsley and cilantro.

4. Preheat oven to 400F. Spread onion mixture over the grilled fish. Cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes until fish is cooked. Then place fish under broiler for 1 minute, until a thin crust has formed on the stuffing. Serve hot.

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