Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Favourite Salmon Recipe

After several consecutive days of sunshine and relative warmth, Saturday was cool, cloudy, and occasionally drizzly here in the Seattle area. Despite this turn for the worst in the weather, I had a lovely day. Andrew and I spent the morning wandering around the Redmond Farmer’s Market and buying ingredients for a decidedly summery dinner, and then we got tamales and ate them while watching the market’s live entertainment. During the afternoon, a friend and I scoped out a couple of wineries and distilleries that were having release parties, and I got a bottle of Soft Tail’s crisp, clean vodka. Then, it was home again to rebel against the weather and put together that summer-invoking meal. I made something I have made many times before, but, incredibly have never blogged about here.
Since moving to the Pacific Northwest, Andrew and I have been consuming a fair amount of the wonderful wild salmon that is so plentiful around here, and I have come up with my absolute favourite way of preparing it. The dish consists of three complex (not really) layers of multi-textured goodness that all work together in perfect harmony (yes, really). Layer one: the spice rub.
The rub I make that differs slightly each time, depending on my mood and what I have on hand, but always with the same general flavour profile. If I had to name it, I would call it a chilli-chipotle rub. I use quite a bit of regular chilli powder, chipotle chilli powder, and paprika (often smoked), along with some garlic powder, cumin, salt, and a little cayenne. I rub most of it on the salmon and let that sink in for about ten minutes.
The next layer is really just an extension of the first, a way of taking those same flavours from the spice rub and transforming them into something creamy and cool. Allow me to introduce layer two: chilli-chipotle crema.
Layer two is so simple, it’s almost embarrassing. Or maybe it’s beautiful in its simplicity. Either way, it opens the door to a whole array of possibilities for the use of plain old sour cream. All I do here is mix the remainder of the spice rub with some sour cream, and add a few drops of lemon juice for a bit of brightness. Lime juice would work as well. I’m tempted to puree some avocado in with it too—I’m sure it would be outstanding. But before I get too distracted with the multitude of crema possibilities, I had better move on to layer three: caramelized onions.
So actually, I lied; step three is usually not caramelized onions. In the past, I have always made crisp-fried shallots, and they have always been a magnificently successful layer three for this salmon. This time, though, I guess I was feeling adventurous and I decided to throw caution to the wind and try something different. I bought some sweet Walla Walla onions at the market that morning, so I sliced them up and caramelized them. I did not regret the deviation from my usual routine: the caramelized onions were savoury-sweet, a perfect finishing touch to a favourite meal. The shallots are good too, though, so I’ll give instructions for both options below.

To cook the salmon, I pan-sear it and finish it in the oven. This is my favourite way to cook a piece of fish: it gets a lovely caramelized layer of crispness on the outside, while remaining soft, moist, and flavourful on the interior.
I usually serve this with some kind of rice (this time, brown), and a vegetable side. In this case, I took full advantage of the start of asparagus season by roasting some with olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs.
I have given this recipe out to several people, and they have all come back with stories of success, both on the cooking and the eating fronts. It’s a recipe I know I will come back to again many times, because it always makes for a good ending to any day.

Chilli-Chipotle Rubbed Salmon with Crema
Serves 4

1 lb. onions, preferably sweet OR 2 shallots

If caramelizing onions:
1 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
Pinch sugar

If frying shallots:
1 tbsp. flour
Vegetable oil for frying
1 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. chilli powder
1 tbsp. chipotle chilli powder
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 lb. salmon fillet, skinned, and pin bones removed
½ cup sour cream
1 tsp. lemon juice

If caramelizing onions: thinly slice the onions. Heat a sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the butter and olive oil. Once the butter has melted, add the onion, and toss. Cook slowly over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. After about fifteen minutes, stir in the salt and sugar. Continue cooking until the onions have turned a deep golden colour, about 25-30 minutes total. Set aside.

If frying shallots: in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat ½” vegetable oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Meanwhile, thinly slice the shallots and toss with the flour. When the oil is hot enough, add the shallots in in batches, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. They will crisp up in about a minute. When they do, remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper towel, and sprinkle with salt. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Prepare the spice rub by combining the chilli powders, paprika, garlic powder, cumin, salt, and cayenne. Gently rub about two-thirds of the mixture onto the nicest-looking side of the salmon. Let it sit at room temperature for about ten minutes. Meanwhile, combine the remainder of the spice rub with the sour cream and lemon juice. Taste the crema and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Heat a large, heavy, oven-safe skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbsp. olive oil. Slice the salmon into four even portions. When the oil is shimmering, place each of the salmon fillets in the skillet, spice-rubbed side down, being gentle with the delicate fish. It should sizzle as it hits the skillet. Do not move the fish once it is in. After about twenty seconds, reduce the heat to medium.

Continue cooking on the stovetop for about four minutes, until about ¼” of the salmon has gone opaque, looking at a fillet from the side. Place the skillet in the oven, and cook for about four more minutes. Remove from the oven and check for doneness. If you are not used to cooking fish, use a thermometer: it is recommended that fish be cook to 145 F. We like our fish a little less done than that, and probably go a few degrees lower, but do so at your own risk, and only with fish you know is fresh. Once you are more accustomed to cooking fish, you won’t need the thermometer and will be able to check for doneness by sight and feel.

Serve the salmon topped with a couple tablespoons of the crema, and some of the onions or shallots.

1 comment:

  1. Jessica has made this dish for me at least a couple of times and it is one of my favorite salmon recipes too. It is soooo good!