It might be summer, but you don't feel like you're on vacation. You take road trips on the weekends, but during the week, you're constantly in a rush. Tonight, it's time to slow down. The one good part about the season's balmy weather is that it makes it easy to pretend you're in Southeast Asia. And your tastebuds can help take you there -- no plane flight necessary.
This salmon dish shows off typical Thai flavors -- lemongrass, coconut, ginger, and lime -- while the noodle salad provides texture: crunchy cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, and peanuts. If you close your eyes and take a bite, you might even think you're lying in the sands of Maya Bay with a cold Singha in hand.
2 tablespoons lemongrass (or lemon or lime peel)
1 bunch green onions
1/2 cucumber, seeded
3 or 4 napa cabbage leaves
2 Thai chiles, divided
1 medium carrot
1/2 cup salted peanuts
1 handful chopped fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, and mint
2/3 cups fruity white wine
8 ounces thin rice noodles
1 pound salmon fillet
4 tablespoons fish sauce, divided
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
2 tablespoons coconut or peanut oil
3 teaspoons Madras curry powder
One 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 1/2 cups peas
We're assuming you have salt, garlic, and brown sugar. If not, be sure to add those to your list, too.
1. Prepare your mise en place: Slice off half an inch of ginger, and then grate an additional tablespoon. Next, chop the lemongrass into chunks and thinly slice the green onions until you have 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons. Thinly slice the cucumber and the napa cabbage, then mince 1 chile and 4 cloves of garlic. Shred the carrot and, finally, chop the peanuts and the herbs. Set all of this aside.
2. Start the water: In a deep stovetop pan that will snugly fit the salmon (you may want to cut the fillet into two pieces), combine the wine with 1 cup of water, the 1/2-inch slice of ginger, the lemongrass, and 2 tablespoons of green onion, along with a good pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil. At the same time, bring another large pot of water to a boil for the noodles.
3. Cook the noodles: Add the rice noodles to the large pot, and cook them for 4 to 5 minutes.
4. Poach the salmon: While the noodles cook, turn down the smaller pan with the ginger, lemongrass, and onions to a bare simmer. Remove the skin from the salmon, slip it into the pan, and simmer until the fish is just barely cooked and still rare in the center. Remove the salmon from the poaching liquid and cut it into approximately 1-inch chunks. Set aside.
5. Drain the noodles: When the noodles are tender, immediately drain them into a colander, and rinse them well with cold water. Shake the colander to drain away excess water, and then spread the cooked noodles on a clean kitchen towel on the counter to drain further.
6. Prepare the salad dressing: While the noodles and salmon rest, combine 3 tablespoons of fish sauce, 3 tablespoons of lime juice, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 6 tablespoons of water, 1/4 of the minced garlic, and the 1 minced chile. Whisk well and taste: If it's too pungent, add more water; if you'd like more sweetness, add more brown sugar. Pour the dressing into a serving bowl. (Any extra will keep up to a week in the refrigerator.)
7. Make the sauce for the fish: In a large skillet, heat the coconut or peanut oil over medium-high heat. Add the remaining cup of green onions and stir in the curry powder. Cook, stirring, until the curry powder smells toasted, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium, then stir in the rest of the garlic, the minced ginger, and 2 more tablespoons of brown sugar. Cook until the garlic is softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Now stir in the coconut milk, the remaining 1 tablespoon of lime juice, and remaining 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. Spear the second chile in several places, and add that, too. Bring it all to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer the liquid for about 3 minutes.
8. Finish the salmon: Stir the salmon chunks into the sauce, gently breaking a couple of them into smaller flakes. Cover the pan and cook, still over low heat, for 4 minutes. Uncover, and stir in the peas. Continue to simmer until the peas are just cooked through (3 to 4 minutes for frozen, about 4 to 5 minutes for fresh). Taste and add more fish sauce or salt.
9. Serve: Plate the salmon with the sauce. Toss the cucumber, napa cabbage, carrot, herbs, and noodles in the bowl with the dressing and toss well. Top with peanuts and serve alongside the fish curry.
Photos by James Ransom