Salmon Doesn’t Have To Be Boring

I have ranted in the past about my feelings for salmon. Oh, when I pull a 15-pounder out of the Pacific off of Mendocino, drive home, have it filleted by a fishmonger friend, and then grill it for dinner? It’s great. But it gets boring after a while. So I decided to cast caution to the wind, work without a net, go out on a limb and, mostly, wing it. I skinned a salmon fillet and sprinkled some of my justifiably famous barbecue dry-rub on it. Not as much as on pork ribs, but enough to coat the fish. After a few hours in the refrigerator the salmon had absorbed the rub and looked pretty good for a chunk of raw fish covered in red powder. One of the difficulties with cooking with sugar based spicing is the tendency of sugar to burn. So I had to be gentle with the heat, but still get some caramelization. I decided to sauté the salmon for a few minutes on each side, and then finish it in a warm oven. This is becoming my favorite technique, because it is just too difficult to figure out how long to cook the fish in the pan. The oven heat is much more even and doesn’t dry the surface as much. I also chose to use a dry pan which, in retrospect, was not a good plan. Not catastrophically stupid, but not perfect. The fish stuck just a bit on the first side; I didn’t use oil because I was worried that I wouldn’t get any browning over medium heat, rather than my default blazing hot pan.What? That doesn’t make much sense? You are correct. This was not the first time that I didn’t think through my cooking plans, and it certainly won’t be the last.

In spite of my stupidity the salmon turned out really well. Not overcooked at all, and the rub added some complexity to the flavor of a fish that usually seems a bit monotonal. The slight browning that it got in the warm pan brought out the flavors of the spice rub without being overwhelming. I was happy that I didn’t overdo the rub — just a dusting of the surface was all it needed.

I am going to explore the idea of heating spices like this. I have seen lots of recipes that call for sautéing the spices to bring out their flavors, but it was driven home by this dish. I’m not sure why it seemed different than barbecuing a spice-coated piece of pork, but that’s part of the fun of cooking; finding new flavors created by technique rather than ingredient.

5 Replies to “Salmon Doesn’t Have To Be Boring”

  1. I had some leftover pork rib dry rub…didn’t know what to do with it so I coated some salmon steaks and grilled them…it didn’t work because there was far too much cayenne and chili powder in the rub..but the brown sugar made a nice glaze…..I may try this again with a re-jiggered formula.

  2. I’ve seen your dry rub recipe elsewhere…way too much cumin for my taste. Since it is almost November, I urge you to start a “stuffing” thread so that I may gloat about my perfect creation.

    On a very slightly related note (yams), I ate at a bona-fide “soul food” joint in Alexandria Louisiana yesterday. It was in a defunct gas station. Only the locals know that it even exists (but I was with a born and raised Alexandrian). No tables or chairs, take-out only. On the menu: smoked neck bones, red beans and rice w/s sausage, or smothered pork chops. Sides included yams, okra, corn, etc. The neck bones looked interesting but I went with the red beans and cornbread. A huge guy with an eyepatch took my $4.50. Sat on a tailgate in the parking lot and ate my lunch with a plastic fork. It may have been the “camping” effect, wherein everything eaten outdoors tastes better than it really is, but the bean/rice/sausage dish might be the best food I’ve ever had in Louisiana (and I’ve eaten at Emerils!).

  3. How did you resist the smothered pork chop?

    I think that places like this are good at least in part because of our carefully managed expectations, but it still tastes pretty damned good.

  4. I had visions of trying to saw through the chops with my plastic fork and watching (and feeling) the plastic plate collapse in my lap. Plus, it was only 11:30 a.m. and the idea of eating two pounds of pork and gravy was a bit much. Next time.

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