Wednesday, April 30, 2014

3 Salmon for Jake

Salmon is a wonderful fish, beyond words an amazing wild food resource. Especially when you get the best freshest quality. But that isn't easy, even for me living in salmon world. As soon as salmon begin to enter the rivers and lakes to spawn they begin to die. They stop eating and start converting all their body reserves towards reproduction. The females form eggs and the energy to build redds to deposit their eggs. The males of course develop their contribution and expend tremendous amounts of energy in competition, to make sure THEY are the ones passing along the genes.

The best quality salmon are caught in the ocean or just prior their journey up river to spawn. At this point their stored fat reserves are going towards egg or sperm development. 
 I highly recommend avoiding “fresh” fish if you live anywhere beyond a few miles from the boat catching the fish and don't know or you aren't the fisherman. Fish deteriorates so rapidly that finding high quality fresh fish is very difficult (I think). Go for products that are "individually quick frozen" (or blast frozen; usually at 40 to 60 below zero F) soon after being caught. That fish you see thawed and raw in the store is always a crap-shoot in quality. Most of the time, it is a previously frozen product, and you have no idea how long it has been thawed. Farm raised fish though has the advantage of being anywhere in the world within 24 hours of being bonked on the head and bled. If farmed is all you can get, it's worth a try especially if you know it to be reputable (or certified sustainable). Most Alaskans will bonk me on the head for saying that though. When you buy frozen fish, you CAN cook it frozen without much trouble. First run it under water to thorughly rinse off the ice glaze, this stuff sometimes had sodium phosphate or other preservatives in it, and its the least sterile anyways. Cook normally, just add a few minutes. 

If you prefer to thaw it, always thaw in fridge and eat as soon as thaw, usually takes about 24 hours.  Each species of salmon and even each species among regions have a spectrum of eating qualities. Some of these qualities dictate how they are best cooked. For baking, because that's what this is about, I would go for sockeye first then, coho, and Atlantic salmon or Pacific steelhead. Chum salmon can be awesome but are highly variable in location and timing of catch and honestly I don't eat chum that much because they are not often available for whatever reason. Pink salmon are low in fat and oil and have a more trout-like flesh. Generally they do not retain quality frozen and are best eaten fresh or canned. I don't dis the pink, I think it has its place in life, but I don't fill the freezer with them either. I think kings  or Chinook salmon (and Copper River sockeye) are best for the grill, or smoked. They tend to be a relatively oily and muscular fish. They can be a bit big for fillet in which case they are better steaked. f you do happen upon some king, I would shoot straight for recipe 3 and maybe even raise the temperature a bit. 
So here's the Big 3. I want to say the top 3 but I don't have that much confidence. In my household, these are the 3 most BAKED styles of salmon though. I also love grilled, and poached and will throw some of my faves of those up too. Someday.  
Whenever I BAKE salmon, I fillet the skin off. Its not necessary, but I think it reduces fishyness, and makes it easier to deal with on the plate. I like crispy grilled skin, but not baked skin.  A I'm sure there's a Youtube video that shows this fairly easy process, like filleting but your basically getting the knife between flesh and skin (flesh up, skin against the board) and filleting off the flesh.
I also pluck the pin bones out. Its time consuming but so worth it. I use fingers, pliers or now I have these tweezers  Again, Youtube.
My Asian-Style Salmon
I don't have these quantities quite worked out so had to poach a similiar recipe from the web. You may have to adjust the amounts for amount of fish, but this should be about enough for two 6-8 oz
·        3-4 tbsp tamari (I now prefer, but not bc its gluten free; or low-sodium soy sauce, or reg soy diluted with water)
·        1-2 tbsp mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine, optional, you can put sugar or honey too or in lieu)
·        Dash or two of rice vinegar.
·        Or sub the above for your favorite teriyaki sauce, like Soy Vay or Yoshidas.
·        1 tsp of toasted sesame oil
·        Some chopped cilantro
sometimes I'll add a bit of oyster sauce (very salty) or a touch of hoisan sauce, or sambal paste just to add some flavor complexity.
Mix together and put in zip lock or glass baking dish about the size of salmon pieces, and soak for a few hours or for the day. Flip the pieces over at mid point if they aren't  totally immersed. Or if you just don’t have time, just cook the fish in this mixture (in which case you just want a shallow layer of marinade, not totally covering the fish).
 Cook covered 350F for about 15-20 depends on thickness or how much you want done. Susie likes hers done and I like mine a litte rare in the middle. I cover it because it will wickedly burn to the baking dish if not, but the appearance isn’t nicely caramelize. You could just throw the broiler on for a few minutes or take a cooking torch (really) to it if you want it prettier, but before you do baste it with some of the juices.
Salmon Supreme – a rich dilly cream sauce
(especially good for not the highest quality fish)
Mix together:
·        1/3 cup plain non-fat or greek yogurt and/or  sour cream, or mixture of both
·        2 tbsp mayonnaise (yeah, don’t freak, this combo works)
·        Lots of finely chopped fresh dill. Or dried dill.
·        1 tsp or so Lemon zest
·        1 tsp or so Lemon pepper.
·        1 med clove of pressed garlic (optional)
·        Lightly oil bottom of baking dish, lay in salmon fillets, top salmon mixture and bake uncovered at 350 F.
This also helps keep salmon moist. Of course all that fat from mayo and milk products helps..
YOUR Favorite Spices Salmon
Salmon is so good just as is, especially the really high quality rich stuff, like King, or Copper River Red or anything that is well taken care of and hasn’t been in the freezer for very long. Some of the best salmon I have had is just salt and pepper, or a just a couple like sprinkles of a savory spice, like lemon pepper, dried dill, paprika, I have even used middle eastern stuff Zaatar and Sumac. I really like Sumac on fish. Chef Paul Prudhomne makes a good spice blend called Fish Magic.
Put a little oil on the bottom of the baking dish and sprinkle skinned and pin-boned fish fish pieces with some oil (or clarified butter) and then sprinkle with spice and bake UNCOVERED at 400F. This will help caramelize the top as does a little bit of sugar mixed in with your spices. There’s always the broiler or torch trick too if you want some brownedness.