Rich and chunky tomato, pepper and onion spiced with cumin, bay and saffron – that’s shakshuka. Instead of customary eggs, there are pieces of fresh salmon coddled in the fragrant sauce.
All (shak)shook up
Shakshuka is an immensely popular Israeli dish that functions as all-day breakfast, has eggs poached in thick and spicy pepper, onion and tomato sauce and is all cooked and served in one pan.
‘Shakshuka’ means roughly: ‘all shook up’ - which it is, peppers and other veg shaken and stirred as they cook, until eggs land in the mix and then it all calms down.
It’s a great sharing dish. You can place it in the middle of the table, hand out heels of crusty bread and everyone can dip and dunk, spoon and slurp the mix of egg yolk running into tomato base.
No wonder it has gained such popularity in the west, so much so that most people think ‘shakshuka’ means ‘eggs’.
But of course, it doesn’t.
And I say defiantly that it is as good without any eggs involved.
Shakshuka with fish
Since it’s a ‘shook up’ dish, what you add to the sauce to poach in it is down to your fancy and inspiration. It is permissible to include cheese, herbs or meats so boldly I set out to make my own version of shakshuka: with fresh salmon.
Poaching fish is an age-old method of cooking but the poaching medium is usually water, broth or milk. But that’s boring and invariably makes the fish taste BOILED.
I know a better way: sometimes I cook my fish fillet atop stewing vegetables. When the veg are practically cooked you can place the fillet onto them, cover the pan with a lid and the fish will poach-steam beautifully, not losing any moisture and gaining the flavour from the aromatics underneath.
Which is exactly what happens here: the tomatoes, peppers and onions make a bed for the salmon chunks to beautifully poach. An entirely new dish, made by simply swapping eggs for fish in a classic shakshuka.
How is shakshuka sauce made?
The secret is in the order in which the vegetables go into the pan, and allowing them to take their time, soften and impart the flavours to their companions.
Onions start the show, cooked with toasted cumin on high heat. Then the peppers join in, with garlic, bay leaf and a pinch of sugar to help caramelisation. After a good while tomatoes can be added, with the spices and herbs. This stage takes the longest, and you need to keep an eye on whether the sauce needs a stir or a splash of water.
Once it has bubbled down to a saucy, rather than soupy thickness – though it depends on tomatoes’ quality – it’s ready to receive the salmon. In skinless chunks, it should be portioned to about the same size each as an egg. You should cover the pan to let the fish coddle in the steam. If you don’t have a matching lid, use a baking tray.
This takes at most 12 minutes, for the salmon to turns opaque enough to your liking but not overcooked. I like mine slightly translucent in the middle but you can prod one chunk and check whether it isn’t too translucent and whether it flakes easily.
The outcome is divine
The sauce is awesome which is no surprise since I based it on Ottolenghi’s recipe for his shakshuka (with eggs).
The cumin, garlic and saffron together make a wonderful spice symphony riding the waves of the tomato-pepper sea (oh wow – where has THAT come from?). It is truly wonderful and even if you think my idea of plonking fish into shakshuka is bonkers, and you will steadfastly crack your eggs into the sauce, that’s fine.
But if you give it a go, you might be surprised.
More salmon recipes
Salmon and potato bake is actually best cooked under the grill. A combo of creamy topping on the salmon and crispy Parmesan potatoes, it is as quick as it is irresistible.
A new take on the old-fashioned party dish: steamed salmon with Asian flavours, lovely both warm and cold.
Slow roasting at low oven temperature gives a similar result as sous-vide cooking, only without all the water everywhere. This is slow roasted salmon with dill sauce.
More Middle Eastern recipes
I can’t imagine a batter accompaniment to shakshuka than lavash bread, Turkish and Persian specialty flatbread which is cooked on the hob in ghee.
Muhammara is a roasted red pepper and walnut dip, flavoured with pomegranate molasses and Aleppo pepper flakes.
Vegetarian salad of giant or Israeli couscous, with tomatoes, roasted peppers and feta cheese.