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Thursday, May 23

Gapers Block

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I was talking with a friend recently and she said to me, with a sigh, "One of these days I'll come across the perfect salmon recipe. One of these days."

Sounded like a challenge even if she didn't mean it as such, so I began thinking about what would make the perfect salmon dish. Salmon is a great meaty but oily fish, which makes it perfect for the grill and for broiling. It can handle the high heat without drying out quickly. Its firm texture makes it one of the easiest fish to flip on the grill. And its hearty flavor makes it the perfect complement to sweet, spicy and smoky flavors.

But I wasn't sure what exactly it would take to make the perfect salmon recipe for her. So I asked. She said, "It has to taste good. It has to be easy. It can't require lots of ingredients and steps. And I want something which gives a crunchy texture to the outside, not quite a crust, but a crunchy glaze but still lets the inside be nice and succulent."

I returned to my drawing board (ha! the Internet) and looked at dozens of salmon recipes. And then it hit me where I least expected it: in my own kitchen. Once again I was flipping through Nobu Now when I came across a recipe for black cod marinated in miso. This struck a memory chord and I turned to the Internet to see why this sounded so familiar. And there it was, an adaptation by ex-GB staffer Paul McCann. I'd read his rendition recently and thought "Hmm. Sounds good. I should give it a try someday."

Both Nobu and Paul used cod, but I had a salmon assignment. I knew I wouldn't get the buttery texture for the interior of the fish that the cod would give. But I thought that if the salmon were cooked to medium rare, over high heat, the sugars in the glaze would carmelize resulting in a bit of a crust but still leave a tender interior.

The recipe also called for sake, which I didn't have, and white miso, and I had red. So I already knew that there was going to be some substitution and I was excited. I invited my friend to dinner and began planning the rest of the meal.

Since I was going to have a semi-Asian theme I knew I had to have side dishes that would go well with the fish and be easy to make while I was grilling the fish. I could have broiled it in the oven, but the nice weather called for a little grilling and I wasn't about to turn it down.

I knew I could set my rice cooker to cook without me. But I also knew I'd want a vegetable and a salad. And I knew I'd have to have flavors that melded, didn't overlap too much, and still provided interest while letting the salmon shine.

Since green beans are in season, and since they cook up wonderfully in a foil pouch on the grill, I knew I could toss some green beans with some flavorings and let that cook along with the salmon. Easy enough. But the salad. My standard, French inspired dijon vinaigrette wasn't going to cut it. And Italian wasn't going to work either. So again I turned to Nobu for inspiration but not a full recipe.

And with that my menu was set. I would begin dinner with a basic salad with a Japanese theme. I would have salmon fillets marinated in red miso, rice wine vinegar and sherry and grilled, hopefully to perfection. Green beans would be cooked in a foil pouch with some fresh ginger, garlic and a little rice wine vinegar. And I'd have some long grain white rice with cilantro, lemon zest and sesame oil.

Japanese Inspired Salad
5 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
2 teaspoons of sake or white wine
1 teaspoon of sesame oil

1 cucumber
2 carrots
1/2 a head of green romaine

Combine all of the liquid ingredients in a bottle and shake vigorously. Rinse the vegetables and shake dry. Slice the cucumber in half and then slice the halves into thin slices. Peel the carrots and then slice them at an angle to create larger slices. Shake as much of the water off the lettuce as possible. Tear it into bite-sized pieces. Toss the vegetables together in a bowl and either dress all at once or let people add the amount of desired dressing to suit them.

Green Beans with Ginger and Garlic
1 pound of green beans
1 clove of minced garlic
2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar (or 2 tablespoons of a white wine vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar)
4-5 slices of fresh ginger root
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the green beans and shake them dry. If they're larger and woodier, break off the tips. For easier eating, break them into pieces that are about 3 inches long.

For grilling: Tear off a piece of foil that is about 14 inches long. Fold it in half, dull side out. Fold the two short ends over several times toward the middle to create a pouch. Place the green beans inside the pouch. Pour in the remaining ingredients and fold the top of the pouch down several times. Place this over indirect heat and let it cook for 10-12 minutes. Open carefully and serve.

For stovetop cooking: Place the green beans and remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Add 1 tablespoon of water to the pan and let it cook over medium-low heat for about 10-12 minutes or until the green beans look very green. Remove the heat, and leave covered until ready to serve.

Warm Cilantro Rice with Lemon Zest
1 1/2 cup of long grain white rice
2 1/3 cup of water or chicken broth
1/4 cup of finely minced cilantro
zest removed from 1/4 of a lemon, or about 1 teaspoon (or two tablespoons of lemon juice will work)
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
Soy sauce to taste

Combine all ingredients in a rice cooker turn on and wait 20 minutes until it is finished. Fluff with forks and serve with soy sauce on the side. Or combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cover and let cook for 20 minutes, resisting the urge to stir until the very end.

Miso-Glazed Salmon
1/4 cup of rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup of sherry, sake or white wine
1/4 cup of red miso

Combine the vinegar and alcohol in a bowl and warm in the microwave for about a minute. Add the miso paste to the bowl and stir until it is well-combined. Place 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of salmon fillets in a zip-top bag. Pour the marinade over the fillets, seal, and gently flip the bag till the salmon is coated evenly. Place in the coldest part of your fridge and refrigerate for 8 hours to 3 days. The longer it marinates, the stronger your flavor. Heat your grill until the flame has died but the coals are evenly hot. Place the fish at an angle to the bars and let it sit for 3 minutes. Use a spatula to gently flip the fish over. Let it cook for three more minutes before moving it. Squeeze the sides of the fish. If they have some give but aren't mushy then the fish should be cooked somewhere between medium rare and medium. To check, use a small knife with a thin blade to peek at the center of the fish. If you want the fish more well done, move it to indirect heat and check it every three minutes until the desired doneness has been reached. To make the fish easier to remove from the grill, apply a generous amount of oil to a paper towel and use a pair of tongs to rub the paper towel across the grate. Avoid letting it catch on fire, and you should now have a slightly slippery grill for cooking.

To cook this inside: Preheat your broiler to high. Set your rack in the highest slot, or about 4 inches from the flame, and place your fillets in the center of the rack. Keep an eye on them, but let them cook on the first side for about three minutes. Use a spatula to flip them over and cook for three more minutes. If they're still not as done as you'd like, either lower the broiler flame or move the fish further from the heat. Check them every 2-3 minutes till they are the desired doneness. If you'd like to use the rest of the marinade to brush on the fish, bring it to a boil before serving over the fish.

You should get 4 servings of each dish.

Was this the perfect salmon? I'm not sure. I liked it and she thought it was tasty and would eat it again. She said she's not likely to keep miso paste around but seemed more interested when I told her it was possible to buy it in smaller amounts. The short ingredient list was a positive she said, and the quick cooking time made it a decent option for a weeknight dinner. But she admitted to not remembering to put food on to marinate in the morning.

So I gave her a suggestion that I'll give you, and this is good for most foods that will be frozen first. When you come home from the grocery store, decide how you're going to marinate foods before putting them away. If you get several chicken breasts or salmon fillets, package them in zipper bags in single meal batches. Pour your pre-made or homemade marinade into the bag, seal it closed, and then place it in the freezer. The night before you plan on cooking take it out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator. As the food thaws out it will marinate and be more flavorful and juicy with very little work on your part.

I'll see if it is the perfect salmon after she makes it for her family once or twice. If she can get her toddler to eat it and like it, I'll be very, very happy. And so will she.

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Colin / September 6, 2006 10:51 AM

Cinnamon, if I may make a suggestion on the wine: try mirin, Japanese sweet rice wine. I think that's the secret sweet/carmel source you come across in a lot of Japanese cooking. For me it's better than wine+sugar (though you have to watch the total salt since sometimes it's added). Mirin + tamari + rice wine vinegar and a little heat makes a great dipping sauce. The kikkoman version is tolerable, but Asian groceries will have the good stuff.

Cinnamon / September 6, 2006 2:17 PM

I think mirin would be great for these recipes, Nobu actually suggests it for his cod/miso dish. But since most folks are more likely to have white wine on hand, and since I had none at my house, I substituted what I could find. And it wasn't bad, but I think mirin would be better. Thankfully there is always next time.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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