Fish is easily overcooked, which makes it a strong candidate for slow cooking and an easy night's work for the cook--unless of course you complicate matters by throwing something tricky into the mix. I love a culinary dare. Rich fish like salmon and mackerel are delicious served with beans, but the two cook at such different rates, they typically can't be cooked together. By using red lentils, which are the softest of dried beans, and a forgiving fatty fish, like farm-raised salmon, I found I could trim the difference to about 10 minutes. A brief simmering of the lentils on their own does it; then the salmon is added and everything slow-bakes together in a low oven.
This is a heady, aromatic, elegant one-pot meal. A rainbow of spices elevates this homey dish to a sure thing for a splash at a dinner party--and stirring them together may be the most labor-intensive part of the simple slow-cooking method.
For the spice rub:
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp coarse sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the salmon:
- 1 1/2 lb/680 g farm-raised salmon fillet, in 1 large piece about 1 1/2 in/4 cm thick, skin removed (see Skinning a Fish Fillet, below)
- 2 bacon strips
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup/180 g red lentils
- 1/2 cup/120 ml canned diced tomatoes, with juice
- 2 cups/480 ml good-quality low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
To make the spice rub: In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients.
Rub 2 tsp of the mixture into the flesh of the salmon fillet; set aside for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200°F/95°C.
In a large cast-iron skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp and the bottom of the pan is coated with the rendered fat, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain, then cut into small pieces.
Put the skillet over high heat. When the fat is hot, gently put the salmon in the pan, pinker-side down. (One side of a salmon fillet will be bright pink and the other side will have a strip of dark flesh running down the center. The bright pink side is the one you want to brown.) Sear until nicely browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Using two large spatulas, carefully transfer the salmon to a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil, browned-side up.
Add the onion to the fat in the pan and sauté over medium-high heat until translucent, about two minutes. Add the garlic and the remaining spice blend and stir until aromatic, about 20 seconds. Stir in the lentils, tomatoes with their juice, and broth and simmer for 10 minutes.
Using the foil as a kind of large spatula, carefully slide the salmon onto the lentils. Cover the skillet with a lid or a clean sheet of heavy foil and bake until the thickest part of the fish flakes to gentle pres¬sure and the lentils are tender, about 1 hour.
Garnish with the chopped cilantro and slip onto a large platter or serve directly from the pan.
Store: for up to 1 day, covered in the refrigerator. Reheat gently in a low oven.
Variation: In a Slow Cooker
Follow the directions in the recipe. Use a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil 2 ft/60 cm long for resting the browned salmon. Scrape the lentil mixture into a 5- to 6-qt/4.5- to 5.7-l, oval-shaped slow cooker. Using the foil as a plate, set the salmon, still on the foil, on top of the lentils. Drape the long ends of the foil up the sides and over the edges of the slow-cooker crock, like handles. Cover and cook on low for 2 hours. Lift the salmon on its foil sling. Mound the lentils on a serving platter and carefully slide the salmon from the foil onto the bed of lentils. Garnish with the chopped cilantro and serve.
Skinning a Fish Fillet
To remove the skin from a fish fillet, place the fillet skin-side down on a cutting board, long side facing you. Have the tail end closest to your knife-holding hand. Slip a thin-bladed boning knife between the skin and the flesh of the tail end of the fillet. Holding your knife blade parallel to the board and angled slightly toward the skin, run the blade between skin and the fish flesh, sawing gently to strip the skin from the flesh. Try to leave as little flesh on the skin as possible.