I am proud to report that I actually made fish…and Frankie liked it! *pause* I made fish, and Frankie liked it…*double pause* is three times excessive? Well, I won’t say it now, no doubt I’ll say it later (mark my words), but there’s a reason I made fish: Frankie has unfortunately been dealing with a nasty case of pancreatitis for the past few months, but we’ve finally turned the corner in the right direction (thank goodness), and, while I won’t toot my own horn too much here, it’s primarily been because of my cooking, per his severe need to change his eating habits. After all, most changes in your diet that stick start at home.
So! With my new mission to get him all healthy and still provide delicious meals at the end of long work days, I turned to a protein I am by no means familiar with, but felt comfortable enough to take some risks with. Fish, but more specifically salmon, which Mama Sully has continually told me was where she started when she learned to cook fish herself. It’s the least fishy tasting fish is the usual Now, this is not my favorite fish, I have to be honest, especially growing up. My mom would make this Salmon Casserole with cheddar cheese, onion, and biscuits baked on top, but when I was a kid, I would HATE those dinners…I’d even try to sneak large chunks of it into my paper towel and secretly throw it away (wasteful and really bad, I know), but as I’ve gotten older, my taste has changed. Funny how that works. And any time my mom makes her Salmon Casserole, I am allllllll over it! It is by far one of those meals that is just uber comforting, warm all the way down from bite to belly. And sure, the biscuit is still my favorite part, BUT I do find that my plate is more fish than biscuit more times out of ten.
Now, there’s a ton of ways that you can cook Salmon, but the way I like to eat my salmon most is where I thought best to start off. Baked Salmon. There are SO many varieties that you can play with when it comes to cooking and dressing salmon, but most common with baked salmon, you’re either going to use a glaze to get this really beautiful caramelization on the filet that just seeps and permeates into the meat of the fish, OR you can crust it, like I did here, which you sear off first before transferring it into the oven to get that nice beautiful crispy crust on the outside, but maintain the moist and flaky inside! Oh, and my piece of advise for this is, if you are crusting one side, I recommend just going ahead and removing the skin from your fish. Two crusted sides could be a little much in my opinion, but if I were to just basic season my fish with salt & pepper, and make a sauce to pour over it, then I would keep the skin and stick to simply pan searing my fish. And while I know I could have used a non-stick pan, I love, LOVE my cast iron skillet and went that route since some pans don’t hold up well in the oven (which is why you should always double check the tag & online information before you buy a pan, but getting a good, heavy skillet is a worthwhile investment too).
With the crust, I did not have a spice grinder to finely grind up the fresh spices, but that’s okay! I had a blender, and that worked JUST as well! And besides, while a fine dusting is the best for even coverage of flavor, it doesn’t always have to be that way, and as you can tell from my photos, my crust was a little on the chunky side, but I truly don’t think it makes a huge difference in the overall product you’re aiming for, so if your crust isn’t entirely perfect, don’t sweat it! A trick I did think to try was adding a little olive oil to make it a little more of a paste than a dry rub, and I think that can help with smoothing out a spice mixture when you’re using a blender.
Then this is where I got a little creative. I felt like the salmon needed a sauce, and I really like to pair tomatoes & capers with my salmon, so I thought I’d make a really lovely aromatic tomato sauce with capers, onions, shallots, and a little orange juice to make up for the lack of orange zest I was unable to impart into my crust (again, I found myself at a grocery store with NO ORANGES! Weirdest thing ever, so I went ahead and also added a little lemon zest to also enhance the citrus flavor). I even got a little extra crafty by slicing zucchini planks and cooking them in the sauce, rather than just heading over to my usual go-to of dicing and simple searing with S&P. It was really tasty, and definitely a trick I plan to use again in the future. Plus, it kept to the one-pan dish goal I was trying to maintain (rice aside because you can serve the fish solo if you really want to, but I love eating rice with fish, so I ended up dirtying two pans by the end of the night).
And then Frankie ate it…AND LIKED IT! Which means, more fish dishes are a go, and boy do I have a few recipes I’ve had my eye on for quite some time! Look out for more fish friendly fares in the coming weeks!
Provençal Salmon from NY Times Cooking
[Note: I did not have fennel seeds, so I substituted with caraway seeds, which still maintained that slight licorice flavor, and because I didn’t have any oranges, I used orange juice in the sauce, and I included some fresh thyme to add an extra note of freshness]
Tomato Sauce with Capers & Orange Juice
- 1 large vine ripe tomato
- 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium shallot
- 1/4 cup white wine (or Vermouth)
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
- 2 tbsp orange juice
- 2 tbsp capers (or more if you really love them like I do, or less if you just like them)
- Zest from 1/2 lemon (about 1-2 teaspoons)
- 2 tbsp butter
- Salt & Pepper, to taste
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Score an “X” on the bottom of the tomato and add it to the pot. Remove when the skin begins to peel back (roughly 30 seconds to 1 minute). Once cool enough to handle, peel the skin off the tomato and discard, then finely chop the tomato and add everything to a bowl.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over low-medium heat (preferably the same skillet you used to cook the fish in). Add garlic & shallots, and cook for about 30 seconds, then add the white wine, broth, capers, and tomato. Bring to a brief boil, then lower heat to simmer the mixture and let it reduce for about 2 minutes. Add in the orange juice & lemon zest, then add in the butter, salt, and pepper (to taste). When finished, serve over top of salmon.
** This sauce is also great for white fish and chicken!