Persian Spicy Fish and Herb Stew | Ghalieh Mahi
Chef Behzad Jamshidi trained in high-end French and Italian restaurants for many years until returning to his home cooking of Persia. This recipe is a version of one of his mother’s favorite stews that is built on Persia’s trademark fenugreek and Amani limes. Those limes are brined and dried and bring a bright and earthy note to this recipe. You can easily find them in Persian and many Middle Eastern stores. Behzad made this recipe for us with fish that he had packed in salt and roasted, but we found it just as delicious using fish filets. Also, you will have extra sauce with this recipe, for you to use in whichever way you like, poach some shrimp, nestle in some lamb meatballs, spread on garlicky toast, you get the idea.
[Ed. Note: hear chef Behzad Jamshidi and Francis Lam make the dish and share more thoughts on the process in their cooking lesson segment.]
Heat the oil in a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, Amani lime pieces, turmeric, Aleppo chile, coriander, cumin, and fennel and cook, stirring 2 minutes. Add the cilantro, scallion and fenugreek and cook on low heat until the mixture resembles a paste, about 30 minutes, stirring constantly so that the herbs don’t burn.
Add the tamarind paste and continue to cook on low, stirring constantly, for 20 minutes to develop the sugars.
Add 4 cups of water and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce the heat and cook at a low simmer until thickened and the flavors are very well blended, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until smooth (be careful when blending hot liquids.) Return to the pot, and thin with water if necessary, to make it a thick but pourable consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add additional Aleppo chile if desired.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking pan with parchment paper.
Put the 4 pounds of salt in a large bowl and add the egg whites; mix together until all of the salt is moistened.
Place a 1/2-inch layer of salt on the baking pan in the general shape of the fish and lay the fish on top. Top with the rest of the salt and pack it all around the fish so that there are no cracks.
Bake the fish until the crust is golden brown all over, 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Crack the salt crust in various places with the bottom of a saucepan or the bottom of a wooden spoon. Carefully clean off the salt from the top and sides. Carefully turn the fish over and remove the salt from that side.
Using an off-set spatula, peel away the skin of the fish, and lightly drag the tip of the offset in between the two fillets of the fish. Using the off-set to support it, lift the fish and peel it away from the bone line in the center of the two fillets to get large piece of the fish fillet without any bones in them. Carefully turn the fish over and repeat the process for the bottom fillet.
Carefully transfer the fillets to the warm sauce or place them on a plate and serve with the sauce on top. Serve with Persian rice or crusty bread.
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