Libyan fish in tangy, spicy, garlicy red sauce
Chraime is a staple in any Libyan household, easy enough to make during the week, but delicious enough to have a place on the shabbat table. Whenever I eat chraime it brings back fond memories of my Libyan-grandmother making mass quantities of food for Shabbat dinner to serve her 16 children (plus their spouses, children and grandchildren). It was astonishing!
My family usually serves this fish as an appetizer on Friday evenings, though it most definitely can be made as a main course. Truthfully, it deserves all the limelight! It’s best served with couscous, rice, challah-bread, or even matzo on Passover. Really any vessel that allows you to enjoy every last lick of delicious red sauce is appropriate.
Before we get into the recipe, here are a few tricks/tips to make the perfect salmon chraime:
- It’s okay to prepare the sauce ahead of time, but if possible, the fish should be cooked just before serving to keep it as close to medium-rare as possible.
- It’s best to cook the dish in a large, round frying pan. I often use a 3 quart cast-iron enamel “paella pan”, but any pan that distributes heat evenly is perfect.
- I suggest only quickly searing the fish and letting it finish cooking in the sauce.
- For those making this in advanced of Shabbat and plan to use a warming plate, you should significantly cut back on the cooking time to minimize drying out the fish. I’d keep the fish close to raw in the middle, as it will continue cooking on the warmer for several hours before being served.
- I always “prep” before starting to cook, so that I have a mise-en-place to keep me organized. That means, measure out all spices ahead of time and organize them into mini bowls or a little platter. Read the recipe in its entirely at least once before starting.
- Traditionally chraime is served with white fish, though I prefer making it with salmon. It’s absolutely okay to use an alternative fish, such sea bass, halibut, snapper, tilapia.
- If using fish with the skin on, make sure to get your pan really hot and properly grease the pan before searing . While searing, it might seem that the skin is stuck to the pan, but resist the urge to forcibly scrape the bottom of the fish. Be patient, after a few minutes the skin will release itself from the pan. If you feel nervous about this step, opt for skinless.
Chraime with Salmon
- Large round frying pan - I often use a 3 quart cast-iron enamel “paella pan”, but any pan that distributes heat evenly is perfect
- vegetable oil
- 1.5 lb salmon fillets (skin-on, optional) cut into equal sized portions
- 1 head garlic, crushed
- 2 tbsp sweet paprika
- 1 tbsp hot paprika
- 1 tbsp caraway seeds, dry toasted and freshly ground (fresh pre-ground spices are OK if grinding isn’t your idea of fun)
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper (a bit more if you want it extra spicy)
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup water
- 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon
- lemon wedges, for garnish
- cilantro, for garnish
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat in a large frying pan.
- Season both sides of fish with salt, pepper and a pinch of caraway. Sear the fish for a minute or two on each side, until skin is golden. Remove the fish and wipe the pan clean.
- Add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in pan.
- Place garlic, paprika, cumin, and caraway into the pan. Stir and fry for about 30 seconds so that the spices don’t burn.
- Add tomato paste and let cook for another minute.
- Add water, and lemon juice and bring to a simmer; mix occasionally.
- Add salt and pepper and adjust seasoning, if needed.
- Place the fish in the sauce, lower heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 7 minutes (cook time will vary depending on thickness of fish).
- Remove the pan from heat and allow to cool slightly.
- Sprinkle a little caraway onto the fish pieces and serve the fish with cilantro and lemon wedges as garnish.