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Salmon

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It sounds a little silly to say that I am passionate about salmon. Nevertheless, I am! I could eat salmon almost every day. Sometimes I actually do eat it every day. I love the bright color and have been known to gather the staff around to admire an especially beautiful filet. I am not sure they share my enthusiasm, and I am positive they don’t think that it looks like jewelry. The most exciting time of year for me is when the Alaskan salmon season officially opens in April. The fish come in smelling faintly of the sea. Their soft flesh ranges in color from an off white for the Ivory Kings to a brick red for the Copper River, Sock-eyes and other varieties. Most of the salmon that we eat comes from Alaska. Among the best are the Chinook or wild kings (my personal favorite), the Copper River, Coho and Sock-eyes. Recently, there has been some controversy over the farmed salmon. I find that the farmed fish do not have the same texture and flavor nuances as the wild fishes. When the wild salmon season is over, I do not even bother with the farmed stuff.

Salmon is such a versatile fish that lends itself to many preparations. My favorite method of cooking salmon is to start with 1 inch or thicker fresh skinned filet. I salt and pepper the non-skin side of the fish . Sometimes, I will ad some finely chopped herbs or dried mushroom “dust” to the non-skin side. . I heat up my pan to a nice medium-high heat. I lightly coat the bottom of the pan and place the non-skin side down in the pan. Now, comes the hard part. You cannot touch the fish until a crispy crust has formed. If you try to move the fish, the fish may stick to the pan and will mar the presentation and crust. The way to tell if it is ready is to “peek” at the edges and to see if they are lightly browned and crispy looking (about 3-4 minutes). You can do all of this without touching the fish. Gently turn the fish over and turn off the heat. The fish will finish cooking all by itself. In another 5 minutes the fish will be perfectly cooked. If you don’t want to eat it immediately, I recommend removing the salmon from the pan and placing it in an oven proof dish. The salmon can held in this manner for several hours until you want to finish cooking it in an 400 degree oven.

Salmon is perfect as an appetizer, a soup, hors d’oeuvres, as a main course and even as a quick bite. To get the true enjoyment of the fish, make friends with a reliable fishmonger. This person will sell you the highest quality fresh salmon on the market. Ask to smell “your” fish. Make sure the salmon has a clean and fresh smell. It should not have a dry appearance and may look slightly moist or oily. To store the salmon at home, handle the fish as little as possible. Wrap it up tightly in plastic wrap or a zip-loc bag. Place the wrapped fish on a bed of ice and place it in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Use the fish within a day or two of purchase.

I look forward to spring for many reasons. The salmon season is for sure one of my favorites.

Wild Alaskan Salmon

I wait every year for the salmon season to open. You need only a quick glance to see how beautiful and different this fish is from its farmed counterpart. It is a deep, rich brick-orange color. The fat is evenly running through the flesh and the smell is like sea air. This is the way salmon is supposed to be.

4 servings

4 6-ounce Wild salmon filets, skin off

1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

  1. Pat dry the salmon filets. Combine the fresh herbs in a bowl. Press the herbs on to the “presentation “side of the salmon (non-skin side). Salt and pepper the fish on both sides.
  2. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Place the salmon filets, presentation side down, in the pan. Here is the hard part-Don’t touch the fish for at least 3-5 minutes until the fish has browned and is not sticking to the pan. If it sticks, it has not browned enough. The browned fish will be crispy and firm and will loosen itself from the pan.
  3. Turn the fish over and turn off the heat. Cover the pan and the fish will continue to cook for 3 more minutes. Your fish will be perfect medium rare. If you want it well done (I don’t recommend it) keep the heat on a bit longer and cook the fish until it is firm when lightly squeezed on the sides of the filet.

English Pea Risotto

This bright green risotto is the perfect compliment to the first of the season salmon. The peas are sweet and delicious.

2 cups shelled English peas or frozen Petit peas

½ cup heavy cream

Olive oil

2 cups vegetable stock or water

1 Shallot, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

1 cup Arborio rice

½ cup white wine

½ cup heavy cream for the risotto

¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1 teaspoon chopped thyme

1 teaspoon chopped mint 

  1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Cook the English peas until they are cooked through (about 8 minutes). Place the cooked peas in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and keep the peas green.
  2. Drain the peas and place in a medium mixing bowl. Puree the peas in a blender of with an immersion blender with the heavy cream Salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Place a medium sauce pan over medium high heat and bring the vegetable stock to a simmer.
  4. Place a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Add the shallot and garlic and sweat for several minutes until they are very soft but not browned. Add the Arborio rice and stir until each grain of rice is coated with the olive oil. Add the white wine.
  5. Increase the heat and allow the wine to simmer for several minutes. Add the hot stock or water into the rice by ladlefuls. Stir with each addition of stock before adding another.  Continue until the liquid is completely added to the rice and the rice is soft and creamy but remains al dente.
  6. Stir in the remaining heavy cream. Remove from the heat and stir in the pea puree. Adjust seasoning and sprinkle with herbs.

Brown Butter

I love serving browned butter with salmon. The sweet, nutty flavor of the butter compliments the fresh salmon perfectly. Simple and amazing

4 ounces unsalted butter

1. Place the butter in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Cook the butter until it has turned a medium golden brown and is very fragrant (about 10 minutes). Drizzle the brown butter over the fish and risotto.

Laura Frankel is an Executive Chef at Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering and author of numerous kosher cookbooks including Jewish Cooking for All Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes. To purchase her books, click here. For more articles by Laura, click here.
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