A fish in three parts is a conversation starter – and requires far less effort than it sounds. First, go for a wild fish, if you can. I love salmon for its fatty meat but I treat myself to it only occasionally because of the un-sustainability of farming practices.
The head is the best part. It’s the sweetest, most succulent, most nutritious meat, especially the rapture-rousing flesh on the cheek and the collar bone. While not exactly made as Al Baghdadi had suggested, the recipe is in fact inspired by one in his 13th century Book of Dishes that called for a fish “whose head is roasted, whose middle is baked and whose tail is fried.” In my version, the Persian curry ghalieh (which is also a hit at my supperclubs) supplies adventurous eaters a more enticing dining experience. I’ve accounted for extra sauce as it can be enjoyed across the different thematic parts of this fish, should you wish.
A 2 kg (4 lb 6 oz) whole salmon should feed 6–8 people, alongside other side dishes. Ask your fishmonger to prepare the salmon into the following parts: head reserved, tail reserved (skin on), and two fillets, skins reserved.
Serves 8–10 as part of a multi-course
Prep 45–50 minutes
Cook 1 hour
For the fish head ghalieh with tamarind and fenugreek:
• Salmon head
• 250 g (9 oz) pre-packaged tamarind pulp
• 80 ml (2 ⁄2 fl oz/1⁄3 cup) rapeseed oil
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
• 1 small hot red chili, deseeded and finely chopped
• 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
• 2 handfuls coriander (cilantro) leaves, finely chopped
• 1–2 handfuls parsley leaves, finely chopped
• 1 garlic head, peeled and finely chopped
1. Put the tamarind pulp in a large heatproof bowl, pour over 480 ml (16 fl oz) just-boiled water and leave to soak for about 10 minutes. With a fork, mash the tamarind until it dissolves in the water, leaving you with a thick, sauce-like paste. Strain through a fine sieve, discarding the seeds and tough fibres. Set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Line a baking sheet with baking (parchment) paper and lightly grease with oil.
3. Heat the remaining oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and fry for 3 minutes until translucent and lightly brown. Add the turmeric, chili, and fenugreek, and cook for a further 3–4 minutes, until aromatic. Add the coriander, parsley, and garlic and cook for 2–3 minutes, until the herbs wilt and darken in color, stirring often. Add the tamarind paste and reduce the heat to low. Partially cover with the lid and simmer for 30 minutes.
See roasting of the salmon head in the next steps
For the skin-wrapped salmon milieu with vegetables:
• 600–800 kg (1 lb 5 oz– 1 lb 12 oz) whole side of salmon, skin removed and reserved
• 21⁄2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to grease
• 3–4 radishes, thinly sliced
• 3–4 small purple potatoes, very thinly sliced
• 1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
• 1⁄2 leek, thinly sliced
• 1⁄2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced lengthways
• 5 Cherry tomatoes, sliced
1. For the skin-wrapped salmon milieu, lay the salmon skins vertically on the prepared baking sheet. Place the salmon on top, so it is horizontal on skin, and season with salt and pepper and half the oil. Arrange the vegetables around the salmon, brush with the remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. Fold the edges of the salmon skins onto the salmon. The skin should partially cover the salmon, like in the picture on the following page.
2. Next, generously brush the salmon head with the rapeseed oil and place on a separate baking tray. Roast both the salmon and head for 25–30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender, the salmon cooked through and the skin crisp.
3. 3 minutes, until the skin has crisped up and the flesh is almost cooked through. Repeat for the other side, searing for another 3 minutes until the flesh has cooked through.
For the salmon tail with date molasses and toasted sesame seeds:
• 1 salmon tail, skin-on, pat dry using paper towels
• 45–60 ml (11⁄2–2 fl oz) rapeseed oil
• 1 tablespoon Bezar spice mix
• 1–2 tablespoons date molasses
• 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
• Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. During the final 5 minutes of the roast salmon, prepare the salmon tail with date molasses. Place a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil. Season the salmon tail with salt, pepper and the bazaar spices, and brush the skin with more oil. Place the tail, skin-side down, into the pan and sear on each side for about
Transfer the salmon tail to a serving plate, drizzle with the date molasses and toasted sesame seeds. Stand the salmon head on a serving plate and spoon the sauce around it. Slice portions of the skin-wrapped salmon into individual portions and serve with the vegetables.
Bethany Kehdy is a celebrated Lebanese-American chef, award-winning cookbook author, culinary anthropologist, presenter, and former Miss Lebanon (2002). The entrepreneur has cooked and consulted for restaurants, gourmet events, and high-profile figures the world over to full restaurant consultancies from New York to Mykonos. Kehdy believes cooking and eating should have no bounds and follow no superficial rules. Pushing the boundaries and dreaming up trailblazing takes on classics, neglected cuts and forgotten ingredients excites her. “I believe that cuisine, especially Middle Eastern cuisine, should evolve as it always has,” she says. “I also think it’s important that we become acquainted with the roots and history first in order to build on this knowledge and maintain the cuisine’s soul essence.”