Boy, did we have a weekend! This past weekend was full of highs and lows. We kicked it off by meeting up with the family of blogger/Instagram friends who were in Old Town, which was a whole lot of fun and just reinforces why blogging and interacting with total strangers can be such a great thing. Then, just a little while later, we had a clumsy cat accident.
Yes, poor guy was so stressed there was drool hanging out of his mouth.
Our little old man, Mel, decided to jump onto the arm of our family room chair. Somehow, the spry little fellow lost his grip and ended up falling backwards onto the hardwood floor. I heard the thud and then the little guy started hissing at anything and everything around him. To make a long story short, after vet visits and analysis our Scottish Fold has what appears to be a strained Achilles or partial tear of the feline equivalent of an ACL...on both knees.
The good news is that he's gained one pound since earlier this year, so our efforts to fatten the skinny old man up have been working out. After some pain meds he's doing much better now, but we need to keep him from jumping and climbing stairs for a few weeks...yes...a cat...that we need to keep from jumping...good luck, eh!
By the end of the weekend we were beginning to return to normal (though a week of vet visits undoubtedly lies ahead), working on some house projects and preparing meals for the week and for dinner.
Though I'm admittedly not the superior cook in our family, I pride myself on my ability to truly hold my own when it comes to food prep. Sure, Wendy has me beat hands down with her delicious, wonderfully executed, and creative meals she always prepares, there's no debating that, but I don't want to give the impression that I'm some do-nothing lazy slouch of a spouse who doesn't know his way around the kitchen, always relying on the talents of my wife, lest I'd starve to death.
I have a handful of dishes I'm rather good at (like homemade gnocchi, chicken marsala, and creative pizzas), and also possess an adequate ability to follow complex recipes. Hey, I've even been known to whip up multiple batches of chocolate chip cookies from memory. I'm obsessed with the dough.
As much as I feel comfortable in the kitchen, I'm always looking for tips, tricks, and healthy choices that I can use to further round out my cooking prowess. Now that I'm a pescatarian and my staple of chicken marsala does me little good anymore, I figured it's high time to add a fish dish replacement to my repertoire.
Last year Wendy and I attended a "cooking class" at Chef Cornell Coulon's catering company. I used quotation marks to describe the class, because it was more of Chef Coulon cooking for us while we learned what he was doing, rather than really cooking for ourselves. Trust me, I think we definitely were the winners of this class configuration.
Throughout the evening Chef Coulon made a salmon with veggies dish in a mushroom buerre blanc sauce.
The main course was followed by a pear tarte tatin prepared to perfection.
The whole event was delicious and enlightening. It showed us just how easy it is to make some absolutely delicious food without a ton of ingredients or time. But it also confirmed just how rich and heavy restaurant food prep is (butter, oil, and heavy cream in volumes that could make Paula Deen and Ina Garten blush).
My takeaway from the event, beyond the lasting memory of a delicious meal, was the newfound knowledge of how to properly prepare salmon. This alone was easily worth the cost of the class.
I've previously been rather intimidated by cooking fish on my own, always ending up with a meal that's over cooked, under flavored, and filed in the "yeah, we should probably not make this again," recipe memory banks. As it turns out, I was doing essentially everything wrong, ranging from the purchase of the salmon itself to the way I was cooking it, and apparently everything in between.
So today I'd like to share with you a little something about how to prepare the perfect pan seared salmon, and hopefully this lesson will convert you as it converted me.
The first step is actually one of the absolute most important steps that will determine the outcome of your dish well before you even set foot in your kitchen, and it's actually fairly simple.
BUY FRESH SALMON!
I'm not trying to sound like pretentious Ina Garten saying to use "really good butter" or "really good mayonnaise." I'm just saying that where and when you buy your fish matters as much as how you prepare it.
In our area we're quite lucky to have several locations where we can purchase high quality and very fresh seafood. One option that many people have access to is Whole Foods. Whole Foods stocks high quality fresh fish in a variety of types, but the prices can be, well, a little Whole Food$yish.
Though Whole Foods is adequate for us, we have another option that is often of much better quality and is a fraction of the price. In talking about local Korean grocery store chain, H Mart.
H Mart has a few local locations and gets their fish shipments on Tuesday, so it's best to go either Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday. And if you've ever been searching for some of the more random types of seafood, there's a good chance H Mart has what you're looking for.
When we get salmon we also ask the guys behind the fish counter to remove the skin for us. We prefer cooking with the skin off, but removing it yourself without an extremely sharp knife can be a pain that ends up in a mess and with a lot of lost salmon.
Once you have your fish in hand the rest of the process is surprisingly straight forward and comes together quickly.
First you need to cut your salmon into pieces that maintain roughly the same thickness throughout. Salmon cooks uniformly, so thin areas will over cook before the thicker areas are ready to go.
With the salmon filets in ready cut pieces it's time to pre-season them. To do this simply mix up three parts salt to one part black pepper in a small container. I like to use fresh crushed sea salt and fresh black pepper, but just about anything will do.
Using your fingers pinch and sprinkle the salt/pepper mixture over both sides of each piece of the salmon. Don't be shy here, this is the only seasoning we're doing, and it helps to give your salmon that good salty sear.
Your salmon is pretty much ready to go, so it's time to grab your pan. You can use pretty much any pan, but a pan without any sort of Teflon coating (like an all clad pan) actually works best. We only have a non-stick pan, so that's what we use, but I'm pretty sure we're going to be looking at something new soon (so if you have any recommendations we'd love to hear them).
Drizzle a tablespoon or two of olive oil just to coat the bottom of your pan and turn the stove up to medium-high heat. Olive oil doesn't have a particularly high smoke point, so be sure not to overheat the oil, but at the same time, the oil needs to be quite hot to give you that golden sear.
Now here is the very important part in this whole process. Pick up your salmon and place it directly down in the oil within your pan. That's it, don't touch it, don't move it, don't taunt it, just leave it once you place it. As soon as you place the fish it begins cooking and sticks itself to the pan. If you try to move the fish before it's cooked it will tear the bottom right off, leaving it in the pan, and ruining your salmon.
So leave your salmon in place and cooking for about 5 or so minutes. Salmon has a built in thermometer that lets you see how it's been cooking. Just look at the side of the salmon and you'll see the side in contact with the pan turning white, and the red in the middle slowly turning pink.
After about 5 minutes of cooking begin to nudge the side of the salmon with a pair of tongs to see if it will move in the pan. Don't push too hard, but push to see of it's freed from the pan yet. The salmon will release itself from the pan once it's fully cooked. This little tip was a mind blowing experience for me.
For the next step you have two options. If you're like us and want that good golden sear on both sides and your salmon is thick enough (about 1" minimum), just flip the salmon in the pan and repeat the steps on the other side.
But if your salmon is thinner, extremely thick, or you just want one side crispy, flip the salmon and place it on an aluminum foil lined cookie sheet, seared side up, and put it in the oven at 350 degrees.
In the oven the remainder of the uncooked salmon will be baked to perfection in about 5-10 minutes. Use that built in thermometer I mentioned earlier to see when it's ready to come our of the oven.
When it comes to serving the salmon we like to serve it over rice, couscous, pasta, or even sautéed greens (collards or bok choy work really well) type of bed. Whether we're using couscous, noodles, quinoa, or rice, a simple sauce (white wine or spicy tai chili perhaps) goes a long way to bring out the flavors of the fish's crispy and salty exterior and flaky juicy interior.
For us this has become one of those staple meals we've been preparing this summer. It's fast, easy, delicious, and quite healthy. Best of all, I don't end up feeling like a loser husband that wouldn't be able to feed myself if my wife wasn't around, and it's fancy enough to double as a showstopper when entertaining.
Do you have any staple recipes in your repertoire that you like to turn to for a healthy, delicious, and quick homemade meal? And do you have any local stores where you can buy good quality fresh fish? I know it can be hit or miss depending on where you live.