- 2 1/4 cups cold water, for poaching the fish
- 2 lime leaves, torn into pieces
- 4 salmon fillets (approximately 1-inch thick), preferably organic, skinned (about 1 1/2 pounds in total)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon oil
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 3 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
- 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves, plus more, for garnish
- 1 lime, zested and juiced plus lime segments, for garnish
- Fish sauce, to taste (recommended: nam pla)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
This is because the easiest way to poach salmon for this dish is to do it in the oven. So: pour the water into a roasting pan, add the lime leaves and then the salmon. Cover the pan with foil, put in the oven and cook for about 15 minutes, by which time the salmon should be tender. Remove the pan from the oven and drain the liquid off into a pitcher. Keep the fish warm simply by replacing the foil on the pan.
Melt the butter in a wide, heavy saucepan that has a tight-fitting lid, and add the oil to stop the butter burning. Soften the onion in the pan and add the spices, then keep cooking till the onion is slightly translucent and suffused with soft perfume of the spices. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon so that it's all well coated. There's not enough onion to give a heavy coating: just make sure the rice is fragrantly slicked.
Pour in the reserved liquid from the pitcher, about 2 1/4 cups, and stir before covering with the lid and cooking gently for 15 minutes. If your stove is vociferous you may need a flame tamer.
At the end of the cooking time, when the rice is tender and has lost all chalkiness, turn off the heat, remove the lid, cover the pan with a dish towel and then replace the lid. This will help absorb any extra moisture form the rice. It is also the best way to let the rice stand without getting sticky or cold, which is useful when you've got a few friends and a few dishes to keep your eye on.
Just before you want to eat, drain off any extra liquid that's collected in the dish with the salmon, then flake the fish with a fork. Add to it the rice, egg, cilantro, lime juice and a drop or 2 of fish sauce. Stir gently to mix - I use a couple of wooden paddles or spatulas - and taste to see if you want any more lime juice or fish sauce. Sprinkle over the zest from the 2 juiced halves of the lime and serve. I love it served just as it is in the roasting dish, but if you want to, and I often do (consistency is a requirement of a recipe but not of a cook), decant into large plate before you add the lime zest, then surround with lime segments and add the zest and a small handful of freshly chopped cilantro.
This is one of those rare dishes that manages to be comforting and light at the same time. And - should you have leftovers, which I wouldn't count on - it's heavenly eaten, as all leftovers demand to be, standing up, straight from the fridge.
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