This is a simplified version of a traditional Persian stew with all customary sweet and sour flavours, but assembled in minutes with larder staples. It works well with any firm white fish such as cod, hake or halibut. I like to lightly cure the fish for a few hours before cooking it in the sauce. This not only gives some added seasoning to the delicate white fish, it also draws out any moisture and keeps the fillets firm as they gently cook in the light sauce. If you are serving this for a crowd, the sauce can be made in advance and warmed before adding the fish.
For the gentle fish cure:
6 fillets of white fish, skinned, such as cod, hake or halibut or sea bass (approx 150g each) 1tbsp salt
1 tsp caster sugar
zest of 1 lime (reserve the lime for the sauce)
1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and crushed in a mortar and pestle 1 tsp pink or black peppercorns
thyme sprigs or bay leaves
For the sauce:
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped 1 tsp salt
8 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tsp peeled and grated fresh ginger
80ml pomegranate molasses
3 tbsp lime juice (approximately 3 limes)
1 large bunch (approx 75g) fresh coriander including stalks, chopped, plus a little extra for garnish 1/2 large bunch (approx 50g) dill, chopped, plus a little extra for garnish
Note: Instead of fillets you can always cure a whole loin of cod and then cut it into equal pieces before cooking.
Start by curing the fish. You can do this up to 36 hours ahead but try to give it at least 4 hours in the fridge as a minimum before bringing it up to room temperature. (if you don’t have time to cure the fish, season it well before removing it from the fridge and cook as instructed below. It will still be delicious).
Pat the fish dry to absorb as much excess moisture as possible. Place in a non-reactive dish, preferably on a rack, and sprinkle over the cure ingredients. Try to keep the fillets close together so that most of the cure is on the fish and not in the dish.
Cover tightly and place in the fridge. Remove the fish from the fridge an hour before you are ready to cook. Gently rub off any excess cure. Don’t worry if a few bits linger, it will add to the flavour and the beauty of the dish. The fish fillets will be firm and a little translucent.
To make the sauce:
Toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a dry pan until fragrant and crush in a mortar and pestle.
Warm the olive oil in a large sauté or rondeau pan over medium heat with a tight-fitting lid. Add the onions and a good pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally until translucent and tender 8-10 minutes. Do not let them brown or caramelise too much. You want them to be soft and almost melt into the oil.
Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Then add the paprika, coriander and cumin seeds and stir until the onions are coated in the spices.
Add the pomegranate molasses and 2 tbsp of lime juice and stir through followed by the chopped coriander and dill.
Turn the heat down to medium/low and place the lid on the pan. Simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, until the flavours have blended, for about 15-20 minutes. Add 125-250ml of water as needed to the sauce to loosen it as it cooks.
Taste for seasoning and adjust with more lime juice and salt as needed.
Gently lower in the cured fish fillets and nestle them into the sauce, keeping the heat quite low. The sauce should be happily simmering but not wildly bubbling. Let the fillets cook/poach in the sauce for 7-10 minutes, depending on their thickness. Do not touch them or they may break apart into the sauce. When they are cooked they will be opaque and tender to the touch.
Sprinkle over a little reserved coriander and dill, an extra squeeze of lime juice and a few pomegranate seeds if you have any to hand and serve.