It might seem a bit odd to deliberately cook for a long time something that can be done in a couple of minutes, but really I often prefer a long build up. Things like stir fries, where everything has to come together right on time, make me nervous. I like the sort of food that is non-attention seeking, that will sit on a back hob and simmer away to itself while I wander off and make a salad dressing or chop some greens (though somehow, I never ever make time to tidy as I go – did I learn nothing in Home Economics?)
If you ever come to mine for dinner, you’re likely to get a stew or a tart or something roasted, in other words, something I can pull out of the oven ready prepared, all “here’s one I made earlier”. I could pretend that that’s because I want to spend more time with you and less in the kitchen, but given the size of our flat, spending time in the kitchen is the same thing as spending time with you. It’s actually because co-ordinating cooking times AND having to make conversation AND people watching me stresses me out. Given that I harbour dreams of cooking professionally, this may be something I have to get over.
So, maybe you’re a far less neurotic cook than me and you’ll happily carry on grilling or griddling your salmon and have done with it. I could try and convince you by telling you that this way, the salmon ends up softer and juicier, almost poached in texture, which it does, but it’s not better than grilled salmon, just different. Maybe it’s just nice to have options sometimes.
Slow-cooked salmon with Arabic spices Serves 2
A quick note on ingredients: this recipe calls for za’atar, which is a Middle Eastern spice mixture. I always understood it as a mix of dried thyme, sumac and sesame seeds, though I’ve read that varieties can differ. It’s quite easy to get hold of now – Bart’s do a version, which I got from Waitrose. Otherwise, of course, if you have dried thyme, sumac and sesame seeds you can just blend your own. Use a couple of tablespoons of thyme and sesame, a couple of teaspoons of sumac. I usually add salt, too.
1 tbsp za’atar
1 tsp sumac
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 salmon fillets
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to its lowest possible heat (probably about 100c). Brush the salmon generously with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Mix the sumac, za’atar and thyme together and smear it over the fish, covering the surface (you may not need all of it, but I’ve given full quantities as the half measures I used were a bit sparse). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and place the salmon on top.
Cook the salmon in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes, then check to see that it’s not cooking too fast – the telltale sign is milky liquid oozing out of the fillets. In this case, leave the oven door open for the remainder of the cooking time. Otherwise, close the door and continue cooking for a further 20 minutes. The salmon flesh should be opaque when it’s done.
Serve with your choice of accompaniment. I made a broad bean pilaf with fried onions, basmati rice and frozen baby broad beans cooked in vegetable stock, garlic and lemon juice stirred in at the end.
Adapted from Greg and Lucy Malouf’s ‘Arabesque’.