When you’ve got a sin to confess, it’s generally better to just come right out with it, so here goes: I am lazy with my salmon. I do a little salt and pepper and lemon, or maybe some sort of soy sauce thing, and yes let me just say it now, I’ve been known to slather a bunch of Trader Joe’s gyoza dipping sauce on it and pop it under the boiler.
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These preparations are born out of habit. We eat salmon at least once a week in my house, because everyone likes it, it cooks in a jiffy and it is healthy stuff. I believe I start off in a good place by purchasing my fish only from the Drydock Fish Company, which has a booth at the Beverly Hills farmer’s market on Sundays. (The only downside to this is that everyone loves this purveyor, so things tend to get a little rowdy around the salmon cooler and the fish monger starts yelling at everyone and I have to throw an occasional elbow toward a cougar who is getting pushy with her canvas shopping bag. But otherwise this is the best fish in Los Angeles. Should you be visiting.)
But while my kids have become accustomed to salmon with soy sauce, the adults have gotten a little bored with it. So I asked my husband to look over the salmon recipes on food52, and come up with one to test for this blog, (or, as he prefers to call it, “That vehicle you have for promulgating the myth that you clean up after yourself in the kitchen.”)
He chose Seared Salmon with Cinnamon and Chili Powder, and I could not have been happier, because it required me to do little more than reach into the kitchen cupboard and start cooking. I’m going to warn you right now, SippitySup is a bossy fellow. He calls you out for your desire to prematurely flip your fish; he won’t stand for it. He proclaims the wine you will be drinking (pinot noir), and will brook no free will on this either.
But as is the case with many bossy people, you best listen, because he does lay out of a very good roadmap for getting this fish right the first time.
What you’re working with is a basic spice rub, with an emphasis on the heat of chili with the fragrant nuttiness of cinnamon. I have an inherent aversion to canola oil, so I used peanut oil (discovered a few blogs back with tofu and now my new favorite pan lubricant) but that is the only variation I made to the recipe. I did however double it because I had two large slabs of salmon; I suggest you do the same as SippitySup wants you to rub both sides of the fish and you don’t want to come up short.
Do as he says and cook it the exact amount of time that he calls for. Use the cast iron pan, please.
Cook up some nice rice and maybe a green something or other to go with, and in half an hour you are going to find yourself awash in that feeling that, really, no one needs to eat in a restaurant. Just get someone else to clean the pan.
1 salmon fillet with skin attached, sized to suit your appetite
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
enough canola oil to barely slick the skillet
1 dash sesame oil
Wash and completely dry the salmon fillet.
In a small bowl mix chili powder, cinnamon, and the salt and pepper. Sprinkle this mixture on both sides of the salmon fillet. Heat canola oil and sesame oil in a non-stick or well-seasoned cast iron skillet. Choose a skillet that is plenty big enough to avoid steaming the fish for the crispest possible skin.
When the skillet is very hot, but not yet smoking; add the salmon, skin side down. Cook it until the skin is very crisp, dark brown and releases easily from the skillet This should take 3 to 4 minutes. Do not be tempted to check or move the fish around in the skillet during this time. You will only succeed in making it stick to the skillet or worse ruin your beautifully crisp skin.
You will notice that the fish gets lighter colored and more opaque. Do not let it cook more than about 1/4 of the way through at this point. You might be worried that the rest of the fish seems quite raw, but honestly this is a good thing. Once the skin has crisped flip the fish, and cook it an additional 2 (maybe 3) minutes more. Do not let it cook all the way through. The fish will continue to cook after it leaves the pan. Your goal is a succulent flesh graduating from a rare center outwards to a crispy crackly skin.
Serve the fish warm or at room temperature with a slightly chilled Pinot Noir (yes, Pinot Noir... trust me). Dining alone is no excuse for a poor wine pairing.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).