This coconut rice with salmon and cilantro sauce deserves a spot in your regular recipe rotation

Ann Maloney

THE WASHINGTON POST – One of the most gratifying experiences I can have as a food writer occurs when readers send an email to tell me that a dish I’ve shared is now part of their regular recipe rotation. I do a little happy dance in my desk chair.

Inevitably, that recipe already is on repeat in my own kitchen because it comes together quickly and is delicious, but also has that little something extra – a surprisingly bold flavour, a touch of elegance or a sauce or component that I find myself carrying over to other dishes.

Right after I started at The Washington Post in December, my new colleague Olga Massov shared a recipe with me that she frequently served to her family: Coconut Rice With Salmon and Cilantro Sauce from The Kitchen Shelf by Rosie Reynolds and Eve O’Sullivan (Phaidon, 2016).

Olga lent me the cookbook, and as I read through the recipe, I thought this little number checks all the boxes. Yes, it has three parts: the rice, the fish and the sauce, but each of those parts is easily executed.

The cookbook’s full title includes this phrase: “Take a few pantry essentials, add two ingredients and make everyday eating extraordinary.” The idea is that you use common pantry ingredients with just a couple of fresh additions – in this case cilantro and fish – and you can put a scrumptious meal on the table.

Although it was written four years ago, the cookbook fits in perfectly with the way we are cooking during the pandemic – from our pantries, with minimal extra shopping.

Coconut Rice With Salmon and Cilantro Sauce. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST


40 minutes | Four servings

The rice and sauce are the thing here. Coconut milk, onions and garlic come together to create a creamy, satisfying rice. For the sauce, cilantro and a spicy-sweet syrup are quickly whirred in a food processor. Together, they are sublime. The recipe calls for salmon, but tuna, shrimp, any firm white-fleshed fish or even beef or chicken would taste great with this rice and sauce. Or try it with fried tofu.

Make Ahead: The sauce can be made up to one day ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container.

Storage Notes: Leftover salmon and rice can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days.


For the rice and salmon

One tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

One medium onion (about four ounces), finely diced

One clove garlic, finely minced

1 1/2 cups basmati rice, rinsed until the water runs clear

One (14-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

Four skin-on salmon fillets

For the sauce

Scant 1/2 cup water

1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, plus more as needed for serving

One large bunch fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems, coarsely chopped

Four lime wedges, for serving (optional)


Make the rice: In a large lidded skillet or pan, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens and just starts to brown, eight to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, one to two minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat it in the oil. Add the coconut milk, then half-fill the empty can with water and add it to the pan. Add the salt and sugar, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low so the mixture is at a simmer and cover the pan.

Cook for five minutes, then uncover the pan. Carefully place the salmon fillets on top of the rice, re-cover the pot and cook until the rice is just tender, the salmon cooked, and the liquid has been absorbed, about five minutes more. (If the rice is not tender, but the salmon is cooked, removed the fish, re-cover the pot and continue cooking for a few minutes more.)

Make the sauce: While the rice and salmon are cooking, in a small pan over high heat, combine the water, sugar, salt and crushed red pepper and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and simmer the sauce until slightly reduced and syrupy, about five minutes, then remove from the heat.

Place the cilantro in a food processor and pulse to chop. Gradually, pour in the syrup and pulse the cilantro until very finely chopped, and the sauce is combined. Taste and adjust the seasonings; the sauce should be slightly sweet, with a hint of heat. Add more crushed red pepper, sugar or salt, as needed.

To serve, transfer the salmon off the rice to a plate. Gently stir the rice and divide the rice across four plates. Top with a salmon fillet and drizzle the sauce over. Sprinkle with additional crushed red pepper flakes, if desired, and serve with a wedge of lime, if using.


Calories: 619; Total Fat: 30g; Saturated Fat: 20g; Cholesterol: 47mg; Sodium: 332mg; Carbohydrates: 65g; Dietary Fibre: 2g; Sugars: 6g; Protein: 24g.