Slow-cooked salmon with preserved lemons and garlic confit
A clay pot helps deliver a moist and richly flavored filet.
I'd never slow-cooked fish, but there I stood, contemplating a filet of salmon. I needed to be doing other things and wanted to put it on the fire and walk away from it for a while. Then my eye fell on my tagra, a clay vessel typical of Mediterranean cooking.
I love cooking in clay pots. My beans are never so tasty as when they’re simmered for hours in a clay pot I keep only for them. Anyway, there was the fish, and there was the tagra. Now, clay’s big advantage is even heat that allows slow cooking without loss of moisture. I thought it made sense to cook the salmon in there. So I sliced up the filet to fit as many pieces as would comfortably fit in the tagra. I sliced a couple of red onions to line the bottom of it. And seasoned the fish as you’ll see below.
The salmon cooked on a low flame covered with a mat for an hour. Tagras come without lids, so I rested a slightly tilted pot lid over it, allowing some of the moisture that I knew would accumulate at the bottom of the tagra to evaporate. Can I tell you how delicious that salmon was? Not at all overcooked; moist, with a richly flavored, reduced sauce.
It calls for a couple of pre-made ingredients: preserved lemons and garlic confit. If you haven’t done your preserved lemons yet this fall, there’s still time. Garlic confit can be made with dried garlic; it’s just not quite as juicy as when the garlic’s fresh.
The fish’s flavor was also enriched by an ineffable ingredient: the last dish I’d cooked in the tagra. It was the sweet potatoes, carrots and prunes I’d done previously. As just a little experience with clay pot cooking will teach you, the pots becomes imbued with layers of flavors from previous cooking, releasing them upon getting heated next time. That’s why they say that the tastiest food comes out of old pots.
But if you don’t have a tagra, gentle reader, don’t despair. You can bake the dish in a low oven, using a casserole where the fish fits in snugly. Place a tilted pot lid or parchment paper over it (tented up slightly to allow some evaporation) and bake the dish at 325° F (160° C) until the salmon is cooked through – about an hour. Or do the same but cook it over a mat over the gentlest heat.
- 3 large slices of fileted fish
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large red onion, sliced thickly
- 4 halves of preserved lemons, rinsed in cold water
- 2 medium bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3-5 garlic cloves from confit
- Black pepper to taste
- Splash of dry white wine
Pour the olive oil into the tagra (or casserole); cover it with sliced onion. Slice another onion if needed to cover the bottom of the tagra/casserole, to prevent fish from sticking.
Place lemon pieces around the onions. Sprinkle spices over everything; place bay leaves inside as well.
Heat the above ingredients over medium heat, until the onions become wilted.
Place the salmon, skin side up, into the tagra/casserole. Allow the flesh of the fish to absorb some of the spices, just letting it rest there for about 3 minutes.
Carefully turn the fish over. Press the flesh out of the garlic cloves and smear the fillets with it. Cover the pot, allowing a small opening for the juices from the onions and fish to evaporate slowly.
Move the tagra/casserole to one side. Lower the heat to minimum and place a flame-tamer (simmer mat) over the heat. Put the fish back on and let it go for 1 hour, checking occasionally to make sure the liquids at the bottom aren’t drying out but slowly reducing to a thin syrup. After half an hour, splash a little wine over the fish and cover again, always allowing a little open space. When there’s only about 1/3 cup of reduced liquids in the pan, the dish is ready.
Adjust salt and pepper to taste and serve.