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Elephants have earned the reputation of being the smartest kid in class. This intelligence is linked mostly with their ability to never forget (though I’m convinced part of the reason is just because, well, they’re cute…damn cute)!

Salmon, on the other hand, are not quite as cute. However, the memory of salmon is nothing short of remarkable. Salmon are born in fresh water streams, swim to the ocean where they stay for 2-5 years, and then swim back to the exact same stream in which they were born to lay their own eggs.

Is that unbelievable or what? That’s like me trying to get back to the village in Vietnam where I was born, on foot and without a map!

So, yes, salmon are smart little suckers. More importantly, they are tast-teeee! We all know the health benefits of this super-food, but what is most appealing is how quickly and in how many ways it can be prepared – raw, smoked, grilled, baked, broiled, steamed, seared – all with lip smacking results. Admittedly, I’m pretty spoiled living in the Pacific Northwest, being so close to the source. This wild Pacific salmon nearly lept into my arms at the market it was so fresh, so I had no choice but to take it home.

pan-seared-salmon

Pan Seared Wild Salmon with Mustard-Caper Butter and Wilted Spinach
Tweaked from Martha Stewart Living, Dec 2006, serves 2

Watch the oven carefully and set a timer. It may get a little smoky with the high heat, plus you do not want to overcook the salmon. It happens faster than you think. I usually like to take it out a minute before recipes indicate since I like it more rare than not.

Also, after learning this technique from Barefoot Contessa, it’s the only way to pan sear. Finishing off the salmon in the oven makes for a restaurant quality cooked piece of fish. Just remember – do not move the fillets – you will be very tempted, but don’t do it. Leaving them alone allows for the nice crust to form in order for you to flip them over. If you move them – trust me, you’ll have a fishy, sticky, mess on your hands.

Music Pairing: Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, Radiohead, In Rainbows

Ingredients
salmon:

  • 2 center-cut wild salmon fillets (7 to 8 ounces each), skin removed
  • Coarse salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Vegetable oil

spinach:

  • 8 ounces baby or regular spinach
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice

mustard-caper butter:

  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbsp drained capers, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tsp coarsely chopped fresh dill or parsley
  • 1 tsp grainy mustard
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon, plus thin slices for garnish
  • Freshly ground pepper

Method
for salmon:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Rub both sides of salmon fillets with olive oil and season tops very liberally with salt and pepper. Heat a dry oven-proof saute pan over high heat for 2-3 minutes. When the pan is very hot, lower heat to medium and place the salmon fillets seasoning-sides down in the pan and cook without moving them for 2 minutes, until very browned. Turn the fillets and place the pan in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes, until the salmon is cooked rare.

for spinach:

While salmon is in the oven, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add red onions, cook, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes. Raise heat to medium-high. Add half the spinach, and cook, stirring until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add remaining spinach, and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes more. Stir in salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

for mustard-caper butter:
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir to blend. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serving

Place spinach in center of plate and top with salmon fillet. Spread some mustard-caper butter on salmon and garnish with lemon slices. Serve immediately.

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