Sayadieh (الصيادية), or Fish with Rice, was a staple meal for my sisters & me as we were growing up. It’s a wonderful and simple amalgam of white fish, rice, onion, saffron, and lemon that we would eat until we were in food coma. Two of my aunts ( عمـاتـي), Ahlam and Layla, considered to be the best cooks in the family, make sublime Sayadieh. However, the best I have ever eaten is from my mom. I still don’t know what she does, but Mom’s Sayadieh is, and I’m not exaggerating, ethereal.
I’m not sure what the origin of this dish is, but it does figure prominently in Lebanese cuisine. Like any other regional dish, it has its variations – with caramelized onions, with a spice blend (or, specific individual spices), pine nuts, almonds, lemon… The list goes on. The two must-have ingredients, however, are, of course, fish and rice. The fish is always a firm-fleshed white fish (i.e. tilapia, haddock, cod) and the rice is always long-grain white. Some recipes have the fish cooked separately from the rice while others have them cooked together.
This is very close to the recipe I grew up with. The fish is marinated in lemon, lightly breaded, browned, and then cooked with the rice. The dish is usually served with a tahineh-radish sauce (recipe follows).
1 lb. white fish
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. chicken broth or water
1 c. clam juice, fish stock, or water
1/2 tsp. saffron (opt.)
1/4 c. olive oil
1 med. onion, diced
1 1/2 c. rice
1/2 tsp. cumin
Salt & pepper to taste
3/4 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds, lightly toasted
On a large plate or in a large bowl, carefully toss the fish with the lemon juice and a good pinch of salt. Let the fish marinate for at least 1/2 hour, tossing if needed to make sure the pieces are evenly marinating.
Meanwhile, if you are using saffron, heat the stocks or water in a separate small saucepan with the saffron. As soon as it comes to a boil, remove the saucepan from the heat and set aside. If you aren’t using saffron, you can skip this step. (But, it doesn’t hurt to have the liquid hot or at least warm before you add it for the final cooking.)
Remove the fish from the lemon juice and lightly dredge it in the flour, carefully shaking off any excess. Save the lemon juice.
In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, place the fish in the oil and let brown. (You may need to do this in batches.) You don’t need to let the fish cook all the way through, just enough for the flour to brown. Take care not to try to turn the fish too soon or the coating will stick to the bottom; the fish will let you know when it’s ready to turn.
If there is any burned flour, take the saucepan off the heat and carefully wipe it out with a thick layer of paper towels.
When each batch of fish is done, take it out of the saucepan and set aside on a plate.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the saucepan, turn the heat up to medium-high, and add the onions. Saute the onions for 5 – 7 minutes, or until they begin to soften and become translucent.
Add the rice and saute another 2 – 3 minutes.
Add the cumin, salt, and pepper. Saute another 2 – 3 minutes. (You want to be careful how much salt you add, especially if you are using commercially made stock – those are loaded with salt.)
Spread the onion-rice mixture into a fairly even layer on the bottom of the saucepan. Lay the fish on top.
Carefully pour over the stock or water and reserved lemon juice (from the marinating). Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cover the saucepan.
Let the Sayadieh cook for 25 – 30 minutes, or until all the rice is cooked and the liquid has been absorbed. (Occasionally, some of the rice at the very top will be undercooked. If this happens, quickly pour another 1/4 cup broth or water over the top and quickly put the lid back on. Let the rice cook for another 5 minutes and it should be cooked through.)
Sprinkle with the browned pine nuts or almonds and serve with the Tahineh-Radish Sauce.
1 c. tahineh (make sure it is thoroughly mixed; it will separate in the jar)
1 bunch radishes, washed and trimmed
1 c. chopped parsley
2 tbsp. lemon juice, or to taste
Water, as needed
Salt to taste
Place a small strainer over a medium bowl and use a small-holed (i.e. fine) grater to shred the radishes.
Once you have shredded all the radishes, press down on the shreds in the strainer to get out as much of the liquid as you can. Remove the strainer from the bowl, pour off the liquid, and place the shredded radishes back in the bowl.
Add the tahineh, lemon juice, and a good pinch of salt. Mix. The tahineh will start to thicken due to the lemon juice (it’s an acid-base reaction; chemistry!).
Add water until the sauce loosens up and becomes a smooth consistency. Adjust the seasoning.
Once the sauce has smoothed out and it is the consistency you like, stir in the parsley.
Serve with the Sayadieh.