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Monkfish & saffron pilaf

The traditional fish used for this dish from Central Asia is sturgeon, which we don’t see so often in Dublin, so we substituted monkfish to very good effect. Don’t be shy with the pepper as this really informs the character of the dish providing a warm and distinctive flavour. We were really excited by the flavours here and have made this a few times now as we enjoy it a lot.

Wine Suggestion: Black pepper has it’s own umami-rich tannins which for some people means that it won’t work with wine very well. What you need to do, though, is work with this and use either a red with appropriate tannins or spices, or a white with pepper characteristics too. We chose a rich, dry F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Loibner Loibenberg which we picked up from our friend Gerard Maguire in Glasthule. A stunning wine that stood up magnificently to the bold pepper flavours; a lighter wine would have felt short and inadequate.

Fish & Saffron Pilaf – serves 4

  • 275g basmati rice
  • 4 onions (1 halved and 3 thinly sliced)
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a small bunch of flatleaf parsley
  • 4 sturgeon, monkfish or halibut fillets
  • 4 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 carrots, sliced into matchsticks
  • a small handful of dill
  • 1 tsp dill seeds (optional)
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • large pinch of saffron strands, soaked in 3 tbsp water
  • 120g sour cream
  • juice of 1 lemon

Put the rice into a large bowl, cover with water and leave to soak.

Bring 1 litre of water to the boil in a large pan and add the halved onion, crushed peppercorns, bay leaf and parsley stalks (keep the leaves aside for now). Season the water well with salt and gently lower in the fish fillets. Cook at a very gentle simmer until just opaque, about 10 minutes depending on how thick your fillets are. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon and set aside. Strain the cooking liquid and reserve. Set the pan aside for using again later.

Heat a second large cooking pot for cooking the rice. Heat the sesame oil until almost smoking, then add the onions and carrots. Stir-fry until starting to soften. Drain the rice and add to the pot, smoothing it down with the back of a spoon. Pour over the fish broth until it covers the rice by about 1cm and add plenty of salt. Bring to the boil and cook on a high heat until the broth has boiled off. Poke a few steam holes in the rice with the end of a spoon to help it along. Cover with a lid or tight-fitting layer of foil and remove from the heat. Leave to steam for 20 minutes by which time the rice will be cooked through.

Chop the parsley and dill and add to the empty fish pan. Add the dill seeds (if using), ground black pepper, saffron and its soaking liquid and season with salt. Stir in the soured cream and set over a low heat to warm through. Carefully return the fish fillets to the pan to warm through before serving.

Turn the rice out onto a large platter and squeeze over the lemon. Spoon the fish and creamy sauce over the top.

(Original recipe from Samarkand by Caroline Eden & Eleanor Ford, Kyle Books, 2016.)

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