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

This coriander rice and coriander sauce combo checks all the boxes.
This coriander rice and coriander sauce combo checks all the boxes. Photo: Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post

My colleague Olga lent me The Kitchen Shelf cookbook, and as I read through the recipe she recommended, coconut rice with salmon and coriander sauce, 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 coriander 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.

Its authors offer time-saving tips. For example, in this recipe, they suggest two ways to cook the salmon. The faster and easier way is to steam the fillets atop the rice as it cooks. If, however, you prefer a crispy salmon skin, you can allow the rice to cook on its own and pan-fry your salmon.

For me, however, the salmon is the least interesting thing here.

The rice cooked with softened onion, garlic and a pinch of sugar in coconut milk is creamy and divine on its own. The coriander sauce – a whole bunch of the herb leaves whirred in a food processor with a syrup made of water, sugar and chilli flakes – goes over the rice, but I could just eat that up with a spoon.

When I realised that I have now made this dish several times and have made the rice and coriander sauce to go with other kinds of fish, grilled prawns shrimp and pan-fried skirt steak, I knew it was time to share it with you, too.

Coconut rice with salmon and coriander sauce

The recipe calls for salmon, but tuna, prawns, any firm white-fleshed fish or even beef or chicken would taste great with this rice and sauce. Or try it with fried tofu.



For the rice and salmon

  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1½ cups basmati rice, rinsed until the water runs clear
  • 400ml can full-fat coconut milk
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 4 skin-on salmon fillets (85g-115g each)

For the sauce

  • scant ½ cup water
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • ½ tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes, plus more as needed for serving
  • 1 large bunch fresh coriander, leaves and tender stems, coarsely chopped
  • 4 lime wedges, to serve (optional)


  1. Make the rice: In a large lidded skillet or frypan, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens and just starts to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 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.
  2. Cook for 5 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 5 minutes more. (If the rice is not tender, but the salmon is cooked, remove the fish, re-cover the pot and continue cooking for a few minutes more.)
  3. Make the sauce: While the rice and salmon are cooking, in a small pan over high heat, combine the water, sugar, salt and chilli flakes and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and simmer the sauce until slightly reduced and syrupy, about 5 minutes, then remove from the heat.
  4. Place the coriander in a food processor and pulse to chop. Gradually, pour in the syrup and pulse the coriander 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 chilli flakes, sugar or salt, as needed.
  5. To serve, transfer the salmon off the rice to a plate. Gently stir the rice and divide the rice across 4 plates. Top with a salmon fillet and drizzle the sauce over. Sprinkle with additional chilli flakes, if desired, and serve with a wedge of lime, if using.

Serves 4


  • Alternative for the salmon: If you prefer a pan-seared salmon fillet, cook it separately from the rice. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Heat a large non-stick skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles when it hits the surface. Add the fillets, skin side up, and cook until just lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn the fillets over and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the salmon looks almost cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes; you can check using the tip of a sharp knife. You should see a slightly darker centre. The cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the fillet.
  • With either fish preparation, if you prefer to serve the salmon without the skin, it is easier to remove it after cooking the fish.

Recipe adapted from The Kitchen Shelf by Rosie Reynolds and Eve O'Sullivan (Phaidon, 2016). Buy now

​The Washington Post