You can’t go wrong with choosing to cook salmon for an elegant dinner, right? Wrong, (1) if it’s the first time you’re cooking salmon, (2) if you’re not only trying to serve a beautiful salmon, but one that has been cooked Moroccan style. I always tend to push myself to the limits, taking the most complicated route instead of the easy way out. The first time I cooked salmon was for a dinner at home with my family. I wasn’t satisfied with the boring lemon juice and olive oil marinade, so I opted instead for the oriental flavors of sauce rouge à la marocaine — a sauce made by mixing oil with paprika and other herbs to reach a vivid red color. I followed the handwritten recipe I had received to the dot, and yet my salmon turned from bright pink to practically charcoal on one side in a matter of minutes. OK, I most probably had the heat on ultra-high, but in my defense, this was years ago when I just started to learn how to cook. I tried as hard as I could to salvage the other half of the salmon, lowering the heat and cooking it just enough for it to look crispy and appetizing. Contemplating my ugly salmon with tears in my eyes, I decided to serve it anyways, with the burnt side hidden so that it would pass, hopefully, unnoticed.
My salmon may have concealed its ugly side long enough to reach the dinner table, but it didn’t take long for my family to cringe with perplexed looks on their faces when they took the first bite. “Sharon, honey, it’s delicious, the best salmon I’ve ever had!” my Dad said, trying to make me feel better. Mind you, he’s never been a fan of fish; the less fishy a fish tastes the better it is for him. I guess my salmon was so burnt that he couldn’t taste a darn thing!
I’ve never burnt a fish since then — probably because I’ve never tried to cook salmon with a sauce rouge again — however I still regularly cook salmon for my family, and when I do, my father always brings up the famous burnt salmon, claiming that no fish I’ll ever make will ever be as good. One day, Jon will probably turn around and request me to master the art of saumon à la sauce rouge marocaine — a recipe that all wives married into Moroccan families are supposed to cook so beautifully well — but until then, I’ll be experimenting with other types of sauces, such as my own version of sauce rouge, made with red pepper, turmeric, paprika, garlic, onion and tomato paste.
Preparing this sauce is so simple. The most annoying part is chopping the red pepper, onion and garlic into a very small dice, but once you’re done with all the prepping the rest is pretty quick. Simmering the onion, garlic and red pepper at the same time as the salmon renders the fish so tender and infuses it with Mediterranean flavors. Serve the salmon pieces in a platter topped with red pepper and a bit of sauce, and you’ll surely impress a crowd. Even my dad ate it and loved it when I made it for dinner over the weekend — and that’s a great sign!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 garlic clove, diced
- 8 thin salmon fillets, without skin
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1 ½ cup water
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- 1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat the olive oil in the biggest skillet you have over medium heat. Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper.
- Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and sauté for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the salmon fillets and fry for 3 minutes on both sides, just to give them some color. Don't let them cook through, the rest of the cooking will be done in the sauce. Be sure not to let the onion and garlic burn, if they start to turn too golden move them to a plate and return them to the skillet when you prepare the sauce.
- Add the red pepper, water, turmeric, paprika and tomato paste. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the salmon is cooked through, about 7 minutes.
- Serve salmon on a platter topped with a bit of sauce and red peppers.