We don't know why we don't make this dish all year. Maybe because the flavors are so simple yet memorable, we want to save it for special occasions. Originally a dish recommended for Passover, which we served at home on the holiday during lockdown, this saffron fish also has a place at our Christmas Eve all-seafood meal. The saffron pleases the palate and the timing pleasing the cook - prepare it a day in advance and be rewarded with stronger, more simpatico flavors. All meals should be this effortlessly delicious.
Serves 4 as an appetizer.
½ tsp saffron strands
2 TBS olive oil
3 TBS If & When Preserved Meyer Lemon Paste (Cumin Garlic Preserved Lemon for a more savory finish; Moroccan for floral undertones)
3 red bell peppers, trimmed, quartered, seeded, then halved crosswise
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1 bunch cilantro, leaves and delicate stems separated and chopped
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
8 skinless fish fillets (about 4 ounces each), such as salmon, sea bass, striped bass, whitefish or rockfish (we used whitefish and loved it)
1 tsp ground sweet paprika
½ tsp red-pepper flakes
¼ cup pitted green Moroccan (or Sicilian) olives
Rub fish with 2 TBS of If & When Moroccan Preserved Meyer Lemon Paste and place in fridge. This can be done hours or moments before preparing this dish. The longer the paste rests on the fish, the stronger the flavor.
Pour 2 cups boiling water into a bowl and sprinkle with saffron strands. Use a spoon to press the saffron strands against the side of the bowl to release the flavor. Cover the bowl with a plate and set aside.
Heat oil in a large skillet over low. Add bell peppers, onion, tomatoes, garlic and cilantro stems, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium-high and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is transparent.
Nestle fish into vegetables, sprinkle with paprika, red-pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper. Pour the prepared saffron water over everything. (We did this one day in advance, and refrigerated until we cooked the fish, but it’s not mandatory. Overnight the flavors melded beautifully.)
When ready to cook, add olives and 1 TBS If & When. Bring mixture to a boil over high, reduce to low, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, basting the fish every 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the cilantro leaves during the last few minutes of cooking.
Taste for seasoning and serve, setting the fish on top of the vegetables. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Our local fishmonger had just under 2 lbs of white fish remaining, but we kept the portions above. We served it as a main course for two and had only 1/2 fillet remaining. It's that good.
Adapted from the recipe, “Saffron Fish with Red Peppers and Preserved Lemon," by Joan Nathan for The New York Times, March 15, 2021