Grilled Sea Bass with Chilli and Mango Sauce

I am lucky enough to have access to a great fishmonger, and I’m always buying his fresh-caught sea bass. It has a lovely flavour and firm flesh, is an easy fish to work with, and whatever you pair it with it makes an impressive dish to put in front of guests. To prepare it, you need to gut and descale it, remove the fins and cut out the gills – but if you don’t fancy the work your fishmonger will happily do it for you.

This recipe comes courtesy of Gizzi Erskine, and it is perfect. It’s definitely one that I will make again and again, my wife demands it.

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RECIPE – serves 2

2 small sea bass
4 tbsp Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
3 tbsp shao hsing wine or sherry
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce
juice of 2 limes
1 fresh red chilli, chopped
½ firm mango (green underripe mangoes are great if you can find them), peeled and cut into matchsticks
200ml water
1 tsp tamarind paste
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp cornflour, mixed with 2 tbsp of water
To garnish, a handful of fresh coriander leaves 


METHOD 

Using a sharp, serrated knife, make 3 or 4 cuts on each side of the fish.

Put the fish into a bowl, pour 2 tbsp of the fish sauce over it and leave to marinate for 5–10 minutes.

Heat the grill to a high heat.

Put the rest of the fish sauce and all the remaining ingredients, except the cornflour and the coriander, into a saucepan. Place over a medium heat and bring gently to a simmer.

Pour in the cornflour mix and stir until thickened. Cover and keep warm.

Grill the fish for 8 minutes on each side or until crisp and golden on the outside but firm and flaky when pushed in its meatiest part.

Place on a serving platter and pour over the sauce. Finally, sprinkle with the coriander.

Hake with Tomatoes and Puy Lentils

The trouble with always trying to make something new is that you often forget the gorgeous things that you have made in the past.  That’s why I keep a recipe notebook, in which I write down the final versions of everything that I make that I wish to one day make again. Pushed for time and inspiration last night I was flipping through the book and came across this richly delicious, and ridiculously quick, dish that I haven’t made in a couple of years.

What was I thinking? This is fabulous. I wish I knew where I initially found it, credit is most definitely due.

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RECIPE – serves 2 or 3

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
150ml vegetable stock
400g can chopped plum tomatoes
1 heaped tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
1 tsp hot smoked paprika (pimentón picante)
210g dried Puy lentils OR 400g can Puy lentils
2 or 3 skinned hake fillet (or other firm, white fish)
flat-leaf parsley, chopped to garnish


METHOD 

If using dried lentils, submerge them in clean water and agitate to rinse them, pick out anything that looks like it doesn’t belong then add to a large pan and cover with around 1 1/2 inches of cold water – DO NOT ADD ANY SALT or anything with salt added, it will make the skins tough and essentially inedible. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes (depending on the age of the lentils) until they are just soft enough to eat. Drain and leave to cool on a plate.

Heat the oil in a large, nonstick sauté pan or cast iron casserole with a lid. Add the onion and fry over a medium-high heat for 10 minutes or until browned, turning up the heat a little if necessary. You want the flavour that a well-browned onion will give you so be brave!

When the onions are almost done, add the sliced garlic and fry for a couple of minutes until the garlic also browns, moving it around just enough to ensure it doesn’t catch. Burned garlic is bitter and ruins a dish, so be brave but take care to keep a close eye on things. You can always arrest the cooking by adding the stock…

Ah, the stock. Please, please, please, make your own. I have provided a link to my recipe in the ingredients list, so use that or use somebody else’s but whatever you do using a stock cube or bouillon powder should be your absolute last resort – the difference between home-made and powdered in the final dish is like the sun and the moon.

Lay the fish to dry on kitchen paper, and pat the top side of each fillet dry as well. Lightly season with salt and pepper and allow to sit for a few minutes while you carry on.

Add the stock to the onions and garlic and let it bubble for a few seconds, then tip in the tomatoes followed by the sun-dried tomato paste, paprika and lentils. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes before seasoning with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Lay the fillets on top of the tomatoes and lentils, pressing them lightly into the sauce without submerging them, then cover the pan. Simmer over a very gentle heat for 10 minutes or until the fish is just cooked. The fish will poach on the underside and steam on the top side because of the lid, and will remain tender even if you slightly overcook it.

Serve in warmed bowls with crusty sourdough or wholemeal bread.

 

Indonesian Coconut Fish Curry

What makes this curry very different from what you get in your local takeaway is the shrimp paste. The flavour that it adds to the dish is indescribable, at least by me. Together with the lime, lemongrass and coconut it makes something midway between a Thai curry and a Keralan curry, but different enough from both to be worth putting into a category all its own.

Shrimp paste is widely available in supermarkets, but if you do struggle to get it you will get an acceptable result by using one anchovy and a teaspoon of fish sauce. The result will still be lovely, but different. Please please please, make and use your own curry powder – it is dead easy and it makes an incredible difference to the finished dish. You will find my recipe here.

All it requires to complete it is some plain boiled or steamed Basmati rice. If you keep the woody parts of your lemongrass stalks, add these to the cooking water for a delicate citrussy edge to the rice. Delicious!

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RECIPE – feeds 2

1 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
a big piece of fresh ginger (4cm or so) finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tsp shrimp paste (or 1 anchovy and 1 tsp fish sauce)
4 birds-eye chillies, left whole but with a 1 cm slit in the side
2 lemongrass stalks, tough outer leaves removed, soft parts finely chopped
I heaped tbsp curry powder
I tbsp jaggery (or dark muscovado sugar)
a bunch of fresh coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped
1 tin of coconut milk
3 loins of cod, hake or other firm white fish, cut into large chunks
200g raw king prawns
finely grated zest and the juice of 1 lime


METHOD 

Prepare all your ingredients.

In a large frying pan, melt the ghee over a medium-low heat, add the onions and fry gently for 5 to 10 minutes until soft and translucent.

Add the ginger, garlic, chillies, lemongrass and shrimp paste. Cook for two minutes or so until aromatic and starting to take a bit of colour, then add the jaggery and curry powder. Cook on for a minute or so, keeping everything constantly moving so nothing catches, then add the coconut milk. Stir well and bring to a gentle simmer for 5 minutes.

At this point I like to turn everything off and let the sauce rest for a few hours. This softens the edge of the spices and makes everything more flavourful. However, you can carry straight on…

Add the coriander stalks and the white fish, simmer for three minutes and then add the lime zest, half the lime juice and the prawns. Simmer for a further two minutes then add the rest of the lime juice and scatter the coriander leaves over the top.

The fish and prawns should be just about cooked – don’t forget that they will cook on in the heat of the sauce.

Serve with plain steamed or boiled Basmati rice, flavoured with lemongrass stalks if you like.

 

Thai Hake Curry with Lemongrass and Lime Leaf

I am always jotting down notes alongside recipes, especially in my own notebooks where I record the definitive versions of everything worth making again and again. There are a lot of recipes in those notebooks, so sometimes a few words will enable me to remember something about the dish if I haven’t made it for a while.

Alongside this dish I saw the following: “Wow!”

How could I not make it again after seeing that? I made it last night, my wife and I looked at each other and we both said… wow!

I have called it a curry, but only because it has a little heat from the chillies. There are no dried spices here, just the intense natural flavours of shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chillies and lime. When everything is prepared, just sitting there in a raw pile it smells heavenly. Apply the heat and you lose none of that but gain a lot more.

Everything I blog about is worthy of your time, but you really, really must give this one a try.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

2 tbsp groundnut oil

4 shallots, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

40g fresh ginger, finely chopped

4 lemongrass stalks, tender parts only, finely chopped

6 kaffir lime leaves, shredded (fresh are best, but dried are fine)

3 green chillies, finely chopped (seeds removed if you want less heat)

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

2 tbsp fish sauce

a bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks chopped separately

3 hake fillets, cut into large chunks

200g tin sliced water chestnuts

1 lime, zest and juice


METHOD

Prepare all the ingredients, EXCEPT the lime and chopping the coriander leaves, these should be prepared immediately before serving so they are absolutely at their best.

Heat the oil in a large pan or wok, when hot add the kaffir lime leaves and allow to sizzle for ten seconds or so, then add and stir-fry the shallots, garlic cloves, fresh ginger, lemongrass and green chillies for 2 or 3 minutes until soft and aromatic.

Add the coconut milk and fish sauce and continue to cook for a few minutes until the mixture is just starting to simmer. Now add the chopped coriander stalks.

At this point you can turn the heat off and allow it to sit for a few hours until you are ready to eat. I do this a lot; I tend to make anything with a lot of aromatic ingredients in the afternoon and allow it a few hours for the flavours to really develop, it really does make a difference. You can of course just carry straight on…

Add the water chestnuts and the pieces of hake and gently cook until the fish is just done, this will take no more than a few minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the lime zest and juice, and chop the coriander leaves.

When the fish is done, add the lime juice, sprinkle in the lime zest and coriander leaves and stir thoroughly. Take it to the table and fall in love.

This dish works perfectly with Basmati rice, cooked with the tougher trimmings of the lemongrass stalks. Waste nothing! There is flavour everywhere.

Tip: Back in the days when I could only manage to cook a small handful of simple dishes, the one and only thing that I could cook well was rice. In my hands it always had perfect bite coupled with softness, each grain was distinct and separate from its neighbour and there was no hint of stodginess. Then it all went wrong.

I learned that the way I cooked rice was incorrect. I convinced myself that I should be using exact volumes of rice and water, cooking for exact times, sealing pan lids, leaving it to sit for ages, using tea towels as steam absorbers – the more instructions I followed, the more I got away from the simple pleasures of cooking rice simply, the worse my rice got.

My wife was in despair; “you have lost your rice mojo” she told me. Eventually I did the sensible thing and went back to cooking my rice the wrong way, and now it’s perfect again.

In my world, you put your rice in the largest pan you have and cover it in a lot of cold water, at least an inch of water over the level of the rice. Season the water with a very little salt and over a high heat bring the water up toward boiling point. Before it actually boils, turn the heat right down so that the water settles into a very gentle simmer. This will prevent the rice grains from bursting.

The time it takes your rice to cook can differ greatly, so check your rice after 3 or 4 minutes at the simmer and check it every minute thereafter. Your grains should be soft but with a definite firmness to the grain. Overall, your pan of rice should emerge as clean, distinct grains that will be a pleasure to eat.

Sea Bass with Lemon and Fennel

I wish it were possible to transmit an aroma over the internet. The smells than come from this dish are just incredible.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

2 small sea bass – about 300g each

1 heaped tsp fennel seeds

1 heaped tsp cumin seeds

1 heaped tsp brown mustard seeds

1 heaped tsp ground turmeric

olive oil

2 fennel bulbs, very finely sliced

2 red chillies, very finely sliced

the juice of a lemon, plus 1 lemon, sliced, plus wedges to serve

a small handful of fresh coriander, chopped, to serve


METHOD

Prepare the fish: remove the scales and gills, and gut the fish; your fishmonger will be happy to do this for you, you only have to ask.

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Mix the spices together in a small bowl and prepare the remainder of the ingredients.

Cut two large lengths of foil, drizzle a little olive oil in the middle of each and spread it around with your fingers. Scatter the thinly sliced fennel over the oiled section, mounding it up so it is roughly the shape and size of your fish. Sprinkle most of the sliced chillies over the fennel, followed by roughly a third of the spice mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Now lay the fish on top of the fennel and work the remaining spice mix into the cavity of the fish and all over its skin, using your fingers. Stuff the cavity of each fish with the sliced lemon, ensuring it is filled from end to end. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and generously with lemon juice.

Fold the sides of the foil up and over the fish, and roll the sides together. Do the same with the ends, ensuring that you end up with a sealed foil package.

Place the two fish parcels on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes, remove from the oven, remove everything from the foil and serve on a bed of red rice, noodles, or toasted bulghur wheat (pictured). This also goes well with fennel chips.

Scatter with coriander and serve alongside a simple green salad.

Spanish Cod With Spinach and Chick Peas

Every time we eat this my wife says that it doesn’t need the cod to be a complete meal. That’s true, but the cod is delicious as well as being a great source of protein. Bearing her comment in mind, if you don’t fancy the fish you can easily just make the sauce with spinach and chick peas. It is very filling indeed.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

2 tbsp olive oil

3 small red onions, finely chopped

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tbsp chilli bean sauce

1 tsp fish sauce

3 sun dried tomatoes, chopped

15 black olives, chopped

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tin of chick peas, drained

300g baby leaf spinach

2 cod loins or fillets

juice of a lemon

lemon wedges to garnish

rocket leaves to serve


METHOD

First make the sauce: heat the oil and gently fry the onions and garlic for five minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the dried oregano and stir thoroughly, then add the chilli bean sauce, sun dried tomatoes, olives, tinned tomatoes and fish sauce. Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer and let it gently bubble away until it is nice and thick. This will take 15 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Add the chickpeas to the sauce and continue to simmer. Meanwhile, cut a large piece of baking parchment and lay the fish in it. Season the fish with salt and pepper and drizzle with the lemon juice. Fold the sides of the parchment into the middle and fold in on themselves to make a seal, then bring the ends in and fold them. You should now have a sealed parcel of parchment. Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately ten minutes until the fish is just cooked and flakes easily.

While the fish is baking, add the spinach to the sauce and stir it through, it will wilt down.

Put a good handful of rocket into each of two bowls, and spoon the sauce on top of the rocket. Lay the cooked fish on top of the sauce and garnish with a couple of lemon wedges each.

You could add a simple green side salad if you wish, but really this stands as a perfect dish all by itself.

Pan-Fried Sea Bass on Pita with Labneh, Tomato and Preserved Lemon

A straightforward middle-eastern inspired dish that utilises a handful of delicious ingredients all working together. If you make your own pita and labneh it goes from delicious to stunning.

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RECIPE – feeds 2  

2 sea bass fillets, skin on

3 tbsp olive oil

2 small preserved lemons, pulp removed, skin cut into thin strips

2 pita bread (white or wholemeal) each cut into 3 pieces

labneh (or some thick Greek yoghurt mixed with olive oil)

2 tbsp pomegranate seeds

2 tsp za’atar

2 good handfuls of rocket

For the salsa:

2 ripe tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and finely diced

1 long red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

a small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

juice of a lemon


METHOD

First combine the salsa ingredients. To de-skin your tomatoes: boil a kettle, lightly score a cross in the base of the tomato and put it into a cup. Pour the just-boiled water over the tomato and leave for 15-20 seconds. Empty the hot water out and immediately refill it with cold water. Lift out the tomato, insert the point of a knife under the score and lift the skin away, you should find that the skin peels off easily. If you leave the tomato in the hot water for too long it will begin to cook, and the skin will not come so easily.

Cut the tomatoes into quarters and cut out the seeds, then slice into thin strips, then slice across to make fine dice. Season, then put the salsa to one side.

Prepare the remainder of the ingredients. Pat the sea bass fillets dry with kitchen paper, season, then heat the oil in a large frying pan.

Lightly toast the pita.

Fry the fillets, skin side down, over a medium heat for approximately 3 minutes until the skin is crisp and the fish moves freely in the pan. Carefully flip the fish over and cook for a further minute.

To serve: put a good handful of rocket in a large bowl, place the cooked fish on top. Scatter the salsa on top of the fish and all around it. Tuck the pita into the rocket and under the fish, spoon some labneh on each piece of pita and sprinkle some za’atar over the top. Scatter the strips of preserved lemon and the pomegranate seeds over everything.

Pour a glass of good dry white wine and enjoy yourself.

Tuna with North African Spices and Roasted Pepper Salad

We eat a lot of tuna, mainly because we love it but also because it is a great source of protein, is filling and very affordable. The challenge for me therefore is to come up with a wide range of different ways to serve it, lest we get bored. Tuna is such a meaty fish that it copes well with deep flavours, and anything involving spice pairs very well with it.

The star of the show here (apart from the tuna) are the roasted peppers. They’re a bit of a faff, but only a bit. If you have never roasted peppers yourself before I will give you a quick tutorial below, and once you have tried them I am sure they will become a staple part of your repertoire.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 

2 yellowfin or other sustainable, line-caught tuna steaks

6 garlic cloves

1 small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped

1 small bunch of parsley, roughly chopped

1 small bunch of mint, leaves only,

150ml olive oil

3 tbsp ground cumin

2 tbsp ground coriander

1 tbsp paprika

a pinch of hot chilli powder

2 lemons, juice only

1 red pepper

1 yellow pepper

3 ripe tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and cut into thin strips

a pinch of ground cumin


METHOD

First, place the peppers on your largest gas ring, turning regularly until they are completely blackened.

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If you don’t have a gas hob, put your grill on its highest setting and blacken them under it.

When they are completely blackened, place them in a sealable plastic bag and leave for ten minutes.

Put the garlic, coriander, parsley (reserving about a tablespoon), mint, 135 ml of olive oil, ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika, hot chilli powder and most of the lemon juice into a food processor or blender and blitz until it is a paste. Tip onto a plate and place the tuna steaks on top. Using your fingers, completely coat the tuna with the paste. If you are making this for more than two people then this amount of paste will easily coat up to four steaks. Cover and chill for 15 minutes – don’t leave it any longer, the lemon juice will start to ‘cook’ the outside of the tuna.

By this point your roasted peppers are ready for some more work.

While they are still in the bag, rub the blackened skin off the peppers. Then take them out and wipe off the remaining blackened skin with some kitchen paper until they are clean.

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Now cut them in half and pour out the liquid that is inside them, remove the stalk, seeds and the internal membranes and slice thinly.

Now de-skin your tomatoes: boil a kettle, lightly score a cross in the base of the tomato and put it into a cup. Pour the just-boiled water over the tomato and leave for 15-20 seconds. Empty the hot water out and immediately refill it with cold water. Lift out the tomato, insert the point of a knife under the score and lift the skin away, you should find that the skin peels off easily. If you leave the tomato in the hot water for too long it will begin to cook, and the skin will not come so easily.

Cut the tomatoes into quarters and cut out the seeds, then slice into thin strips. Put the tomato strips into a salad bowl with the sliced peppers, stir through the pinch of cumin, the remaining lemon juice and parsley, 1 tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Set aside for later.

Heat a ridged griddle pan to a high heat, just short of smoking. Scrape the marinade off the tuna steaks and lay them in the pan. Cook for approximately 1 minute per centimetre thickness on one side, and half that on the other – to make that clear, a 2 cm thick tuna steak would be cooked for 2 minutes on one side, then flipped over and cooked for a further 1 minute. Do not move the tuna while it is cooking, it is likely to stick until it is properly cooked, and you want well-defined char lines where the ridges are. Cooking it this way should ensure the outside is well-sealed and the very middle is still quite rare, the tuna steak will cook on even when it is on your plate though.

Serve on warmed plates with the roasted pepper salad, a baked sweet potato is the perfect partner.

Keep your marinade! You can use it again and it will easily keep in a sealed container in the fridge for a week. Try it with salmon steaks for equally delicious results.

Prawns in a Spicy Tomato Sauce

Cumin and cinnamon add a delicious, subtle spiciness to this simple Middle Eastern recipe.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 generously 

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

4 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tbsp tomato puree

120ml fish stock

200g raw, peeled king prawns

juice of a lemon

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a bunch of fresh parsley, leaves only, chopped


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onions and fry for approximately 5 minutes until golden, then add the garlic and fry for a further minute. Add the tomatoes, then the cumin and cinnamon and stir for a minute on the heat.

Add the stock and tomato puree and stir well; bring to the boil then simmer for 15-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the liquid to reduce and intensify, and for the tomatoes to break down to a pulp; do not season the sauce yet.

When the sauce is thick and intense, season then bring back to high heat then add the lemon juice and prawns. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes until the prawns just turn pink then stir in most of the parsley

Serve with plain rice, garnished with the remainder of the parsley.

Lemon Salmon with Cherry Tomato Cous Cous

When you’re dieting, the biggest issue is always feeling full enough that you don’t eat more than you should, and aren’t tempted to snack. The other problem is that if you are relying on pre-packaged ‘diet’ foods they can be bland (a problem which is often overcome by chemical additives – not good). This fantastic dish solves both issues: it is very filling, without being heavy on the stomach, and tastes divine. It’s quick too, what’s not to love?

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RECIPE – feeds 2 generously

2 salmon fillets

2 tsp fine sea salt

1/2 tsp paprika

zest and juice of a lemon

a large knob of fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 tbsp and 1 tsp garlic-infused oil (see method)

140g cous cous

210ml freshly boiled water

1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

200g cherry tomatoes

a handful of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

First prepare your garlic infused oil: slice a clove of garlic into an egg cup, add 1 tbsp and 1 tsp of olive oil and leave for at least 30 minutes to infuse. Do this in the morning to save time later.

Now prepare the salmon: pat the fillets dry with kitchen paper, zest the lemon over a plate, add 1 tsp fine sea salt, 1/4 tsp paprika and stir in 1 tbsp of garlic-infused olive oil. Mix thoroughly then lay the fillets in the mix, turning over and using your fingers to coat the fillets thoroughly with the marinade. Cover and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

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Put the cous cous in a large pan that has a lid, add 1 tsp of fine sea salt, 1/4 tsp of paprika and the ginger. Mix thoroughly then add the water. Over a gentle flame, stirring continuously, cook for a minute. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for ten minutes.

Meanwhile, put the onion and lemon juice in a bowl, stir thoroughly and set aside.

Also, halve the cherry tomatoes and in a separate bowl toss in the remaining 1 tsp of garlic-infused oil. Set aside.

After ten minutes, put a large frying pan with a little oil or a ridged griddle pan on a high heat and get it hot but not smoking. While it is heating up, fluff up the cous cous with a fork, then add the onion and lemon juice, stir thoroughly, then add the tomatoes and oil, mix again, check and adjust the seasoning. Now add most of the chopped coriander and cover the pan again, put to one side while the fish cooks.

Place the salmon fillets in the hot pan, skin-side down if it has any, without scraping off the marinade. Cook for approximately 3 minutes on one side, then flip over and cook for a further minute or so on the other side. Do not try to move the fish around while it is cooking, it will stick until it is cooked. The exact time it will take to cook will depend on the thickness of your fillet.

Tip the cous cous on a serving platter and place the fillets on top, the crispy, seared side uppermost. Garnish with the remainder of the coriander and serve with a simple green salad, dressed with a little fresh lemon juice.