A salmon notebook: Tricks and tips for fresh or frozen salmon

Posted: Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Ben Bohen is a local chef and food writer. His column appears every Wednesday.

With a lucrative coho run concluded, many people now are lucky enough to have freezers full of silver salmon. Others, who might not have gone out, will probably be receiving a share of the bounty from their fishing friends.

So it seemed appropriate to me to share a couple of my favorite salmon tricks this week. One is based on a method of preparation traditionally used by Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. The other is a recipe of my own invention - a result of one of those happy accidents.

During my first month in Juneau, I was asked to prepare a buffet dinner. The guest of honor loved salmon and presented me with a whole 7-pound king fillet.

Intimidated by the prospect of serving this fish to a group of salmon experts, I decided that a simple approach would be best, and settled on a recipe for cedar-planked salmon.

Traditionally cooked over an open fire, planked salmon also turns out perfectly in the broiler. The finished fish can be served hot or at room temperature. Either way, serving it right off the plank makes for a dramatic presentation, especially with larger fillets. The smoky, piney flavors of this dish make it well-suited to rich and creamy condiments and sides such as herbed aioli, sour cream sauces and potato salads.

Planked salmon

Time: 25 minutes

Salmon fillet(s), skin on

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil

Dijon mustard

Cedar shingle or shim - untreated and cut to fit your fish and your broiler

1. Preheat the broiler to its highest temperature. Soak the shingle in cold water for 10 minutes. Rub the skinless side of the fillet(s) with salt, pepper, a dab of mustard and a bit of oil.

2. Put the soaked shingle under the hot broiler, 4-5 inches below the heating element. Broil until the wood is beginning to brown - approximately 2-3 minutes.

3. Quickly remove the shingle from the broiler and place the salmon on it, skin side down. Broil the salmon on the shingle until just before it is cooked through at the thickest section - it will continue to cook in its own heat when it comes out of the oven, and its thinner sections will be more well done. Let stand for 2 minutes (or let it cool to room temperature if you are not serving it hot) and serve.

Note: for a flavor boost, you can rub the fish with any chopped fresh herbs that go well with salmon such as dill, thyme, oregano, tarragon and parsley along with the mustard, salt and pepper.

Driving through California one summer, my friends and I stopped at a roadside fish stand and bought some salmon fillets that had been caught the day before. As we prepared to grill the salmon, we rummaged through the small satchel of dried herbs and spices that we had packed.

We decided to rub some cumin on the salmon. Knowing how well coriander complements the flavor of cumin - we rubbed this spice on the fish as well.

Not knowing what would come out of this combination of cold water fish and tropical seasonings, we waited expectantly as the salmon slowly cooked on the grill. When it was just cooked through, we pulled the fish off the fire, and tasted. It was a delicious combination. The earthiness of the cumin is an excellent complement to the rich salmon oils, while the hints of licorice in the coriander highlight the slightly sweet flavor of the fish.

This recipe also is nice with a dash of cayenne pepper added to the spice rub. Nutty grains and legumes such as lentils, wild rice and couscous work well as side dishes here, along with sautéed or steamed greens such as spinach, kale or chard.

Cumin-rubbed salmon

Serves 4

Time: 15 minutes

Four 6 oz salmon fillets, skin off

112 teaspoons ground cumin

112 teaspoons ground cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil for sautéing

1. Mix the cumin, coriander, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Rub this mixture all over both sides of each fillet.

2. In a heavy skillet (not non-stick) that is large enough to hold all four pieces of salmon, heat just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan over medium high heat.

3. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle when you add a piece of fish, add all four fillets and cook for two to four minutes per side, depending on how thick the fish is, and how rare you like it. Remove the fish from the pan and serve immediately.

Ben Bohen is a local chef and food writer.

Comments for him may be sent care of reporter Julia O'Malley at jomalley@juneauempire.com.

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