Sayadieh, food of the brave

This post is dedicated to the brave people of Latakia, Baniyas, Jableh and Al-Bayda village. God bless you and bless your martyrs.


One of my earliest, and most vague, memories of food was in a small seaside restaurant on some Syrian coastal town, most likely in Tartous. My dad and great uncle where invited by our waiter to come and chose our table fish. I tagged along and we were taken to the fish monger part of the restaurant. A normal fish monger with loads of fish over crushed ice but on the corner of the shop there was a glass tank with loads long fish swimming around. "Can we have these?" I excitedly shouted. A firm NO from my dad followed. "These are no good".

I was very disappointed. We missed out on the great prospect of "catching" our fish then have it cooked for us. Why is it no good? It is fresh. It must be better than the dead fish on ice. Never the less, we ended up picking some Sultan Ibrahim (a type of sea bream). The fish was simply deep fried served with lemon wedges, flat bread and Taratour sauce. As simple as it sounds, it was one of the best and most memorable meals til this day.

I came later to discover that the fish in the tank was a fresh water farmed carp. A lot cheaper but with considerably inferior quality.

Syrians by large are not a fish eating nation. The only exception is the coastal area where naturally fish is an integral part of everyday diet. People of Damascus traditionally ate fish no more than once or twice a year. Other types of seafood are not that popular either. I know many many people of Damascus who never tried drawn or crab. Clamps and oysters are out of question. The mere thought of eating such a thing is totally off putting to most Damascene I know.

Over the last 10 years or so things changed considerably. Off goes cheap bland farmed fresh water fish and in comes good quality sea fish. Most fish mongers and even large supermarkets offer cooking service where you buy your fresh fish then have it fried to prevent your house stinking with fried fish for days. Even fish and chips (a very Syrianised version) made its way to Syrian tables.

Most of the fish eaten in Syria is deep fried. Simply score the skin, marinade in lemon, salt, pepper and cumin then deep fry. Simple but really tasty. Other methods include oven baked and Samakeh Harra, an oven baked fish in spicy sauce common in coastal cities.

Today's recipe Sayadieh is another coastal region specialty. The name roughly translates to Fisherman's dish. It is a rice pilaf cooked in fish stock and served next to fried or baked fish.


Here is my Sayadieh recipe:

Sea bass 4 fillets
Basmati rice 2cups
Fish stock 3cups
Four onions
Olive oil
Cinnamon stick
Allspice 1/2 tsp
Salt
Pepper
Small onion or few shallots
Vegetable oil

The first thing to prepare is the cooking broth. This is a lengthy procedure but you need to take your time to create a flavoursome and deep coloured broth. It is the broth that makes this dish. If you don't have fish stock you can either use stock cubes or as I often do a chicken stock and few table spoons of Thai fish sauce.

Slice and fry the onions in olive oil in a heavy bottom pot on medium to low heat. The slow cooking process brings out the natural sugars of the onion and allows it to caramelise and get darker and darker without burnt taste. This step might take up to 30 minutes but the darker you get the onions the better the dish.

Once the onions are ready add the fish stock, allspice,salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for good 15 minutes to extract all the flavours.

Add the washed rice to the stock. Bring to a hard boil then reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes stirring once or twice to prevent the rice sticking. If the rice getting too dry add a little of boiling water. Turn of the heat and allow the rice to steam for 5 minutes.

Heat a heavy-bottom large pan. Season the fish with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add a little oil to the pan and cook the fish fillets skin side first. You need to press the fish fillet down with your hand to prevent the skin curling. Once started cooking you can add the next fillet and repeat the same process. Once the skin is gold and crispy turn the fillet to cook the other side. The whole cooking process should not take more than few minutes.

To finish slice the small onion and deep fry in vegetable oil until dark brown.

Serve the Sayadieh rice with the Seabass fillets. Sprinkle the fired onions on top. Serve with some salad and Tahini sauce.

20 comments:

Joy said...

I want some today!
Best wishes always

yasmeen said...

sayadieh is one of my absolute favorites. your method is a bit different than mine but nonetheless sounds mouthwatering.

Deborah said...

I was introduced to this dish by a Saudi neighbour of mine years ago and I've loved it ever since. They seem to do it a little differently here but, my goodness, isn't it a scrumtpious way to eat fish?

Anonymous said...

cumin seasoned fished is so delicious..great post...

myriam said...

hi just discovered your great blog..im trying to get a hold of a good ouzi recipe..what the ratio of meat to rice that you recommend.and what spices?...thanks

myriam said...

ps..I of course mean the syrian ouzi..the spiced /meat rice phllyo pies.

Kano said...

@Joy
Come around and I will cook you some.

@Yasmeen
how do you cook yours?

@Deborah
I tried couple of different versions of rice and fish while I was living in Saudi Arabia. My favourite uses Mastic to flavour white rice.

@Anonymous
Thanks!

@Myriam
Welcome to my blog.
The meat to rice ratio depend on how formal the occasion is. The more important the guests the more meat you need :) I don't do exact measurement but I think one portion meat to two rice is a good ratio.
I don't use much spices myself apart from salt, pepper and allspice. When cooking meat I like to add two cloves and two cardamoms to give the stock a nice fragrance.

Julia said...

I much prefer fish that has been simply cooked like this. Here in Turkey, the fish is usually grilled or fried and then just served with rocket leaves and lemon wedges. Perfect.

Anonymous said...

the rice sounds delicious, I will try this soon. sarah

Kano said...

@Julia
I agree with you. I like fish to taste simply like fish. Same applies to most ingredients.
One of the best things about Syrian cuisine that we allow the ingredients to speak for themselves without excessive spice and flavouring.

@Sarah
Let me know how it goes.

tasteofbeirut said...

Love seeyadiyeh and have fond memories of Tartous and Latakia where our dad took us on a rare family vacation decades ago; I second your appeal to the martyrs of these cities and to all of Syria's martyrs at this most tragic time in this extraordinary country's history.

Levantinelass said...

I continue to love your blog - thank you, and please don't disappear for so long again!
I think you mean "carp" not "crap" as the name of the fish!
Praying and thinking of my beloved Syria - my adopted homeland! - in these times.

Kano said...

@Levantinelass

Thank you very much for the correction and nice words.

I am doing my best to keep writing but I am finding it heard with all the awful events taking place. I feel silly writing about Syrian food while Syrians are dying in their hundreds.

Kano said...

@tasteofbeirut

Thank you very much for the nice words. I hope Syria will go back to the nice happy place we know.

Lucy Wallwork said...

I can't think of a more fitting or honourable tribute to such courageous people than with such beautiful, simple Syrian food. Looks extraordinary!

Lucy
http://thecolourofpomegranates.blogspot.com/

Kano said...

@Lucy

Thank you very much for the nice words. I just had a quick look at your blog and already love it. Very very little out there on the Caucasus cuisine. I need to go on the blog to take a good look and may be try some recipes.

By the way, my mother has Chechen roots. We used to eat few Chechen dishes as children and I still cook some from time to time.

You might be interested to see my tribute posts to my late grand father:

http://syrianfoodie.blogspot.com/2009/06/galnesh-spirit-of-mountains.html

http://syrianfoodie.blogspot.com/2009/06/granddad-may-your-soul-rest-in-peace.html

RISHAD N M said...

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Anonymous said...

bonjour

Béni le jour où les tyrans dictateurs seront mis à la porte mais n'oubliez pas libérer le pays de ce despote est bon mais ne pas offrir son pays à israel, l'europe et les usa est encore meilleur.

Nosheen said...

I recently discovered your blog and I really like it.

Ah man... I really know what you're talking about. Syrian people basically do not eat fish. To me it is a very tiring task to remove the fish bones, and the taste is really not worth it. I'd rather have chicken with the same cooking method.

I do not eat it unless someone invites me, even then, I might skip it if I do not like the taste of the served dish.

The idea of fish stock scares the hell out of me!

Kano said...

@Nosheen

Welcome to my blog.

If fish stock scares you should try Thai fish sauce.

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