Saturday, 5 January 2019

How do you like to cook salmon ?

                               Here is a morsel saved in time for a photo.  

I am often asked how I like to cook salmon.   Here is my old answer, and then my better answer.

The short answer is that I usually do the simplest thing . Barbeque a section of a fillet , skin side down , with just a bit of steak pepper or lemon pepper sprinkled on top.  Maybe a few splashes of soya sauce.  Check the fish often , and when the flesh is cooked through the thickest part , serve immediately.   Use your spatula to separate the flesh from the skin , especially if the fire has been too hot, and leave the skin behind, stuck to the grill.  You can let the skin get extra crispy on it's own and serve it separately, as a treat for those who like that. 

 Another way I cook salmon , the opposite of crispy,  is with aluminium foil .  Spread out a sheet of foil and always be careful not to puncture it at any time.  Put a big dollop of butter in the middle and place the fillet on top of that , skin side down. Then turn up all the edges to make a shallow tub and add a bath of white wine. Cover over the top with foil and you will poach the fish in white wine.  Putting some lemon slices and dill on top of the fish makes a nice combination .  This method leaves a wider amount of time for serving ,and of coarse it stays moist. 

I'm not much of a cook , so I am extremely appreciative that my better half, Shamra ,can cook very well.  While I am lucky for that, I still get involved with the cooking of salmon , at home and away . 
 In my life , it has been very interesting to notice the change of cooking style from hot and fast , to slow and easy , and now settling gently into a sweet spot .  

 I was very influenced by the fishing folks around me in the late 1970s when I was fishing from Gibsons and the Sunshine Coast to Pender Harbour. Hot and fast , with care to not overcook, was what I learned.  This was re-enforced in the book " Mooching , The Salmon Fisherman's Bible " , by David Nutall , published in 1980 , and revolving around that particular area. Mr. Nutall says he had tried every possible way to cook salmon , and there was one method he loved best . As follows ;

  Put three tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan . Dry the fish with paper towel and then sprinkle  it liberally with pepper on both sides .  Set the stove on 9 out of 10 . Place the fish flesh side down in the oil and put a pot lid over the frying pan .

 Quoting Mr Nutall " The next step is a little hard to comprehend but I just let that fish cook in that very hot oil for about three minutes . You will experience a moment of panic when you see clouds of steam and maybe smoke emerging from under the pot lid and you will think you are ruining your fish, but the trick is to cook it fast over a very hot heat. "   After three minutes , turn the fish skin side down and repeat approximately three minutes , checking the fish with a fork,and when the flesh turns from red to pink , serve it . Nutall sums up, " I have never tasted fish that appealed to me more than doing it this way and I strongly recommend it to you ."   

Then I moved north to Quadra Island and the Campbell River area.  In the 1980s and most of the 90s , I was guiding from an open 17 ft Boston Whaler , which was great for going to shore for beach picnics . Sometimes we had several boats in family or corporate groups, and we cooked up fish fresh caught that morning.  So , I got to see other fellows do the cooking as well. In this situation it was hard to control the heat over the fire , or charcoal, so the temperature must have varied a lot from time to time , but the general technique always worked .  Cook until just done through , and serve immediately.  

 Around this time, I became exposed to how some people in this north end of Georgia Strait cooked salmon at home.  Often it was cooked slow and delicately , softer in texture , and many times surprisingly close to rare in the centre of the thickest part. This is the acquired taste of these fish eaters , I thought to myself , recognizing that this was exactly the result intended. 

This post is inspired by the delicious dinner that Shamra served recently from a chunk of chinook salmon from the bottom of the freezer . It was SO GOOD .  She found the recipe on the website " The best salmon you've ever had is slow-baked in just 22 minutes ".

 I made a fuss about how wonderful it was , so  she showed me the page , and I was delighted to see the comparisons of cooking at a range of temperatures in their test kitchen.  The best temperature was 275 . I love the science meets craft aspect of this . In slow baking  "the fat renders gradually and gives the fish a luscious, silky, melt  in your mouth texture " and no fishy cooking smell..  Some panko crumbs on top with mustard and paprika , and voila . Simple , and easy when you know how.  At least Shamra makes it look easy.