I couldn’t believe it.
Wild. Alaskan. Sockeye. Salmon.
In Vienna, at the Spar.
I hadn’t had salmon since leaving Ashland 2 years ago — northwestern folks are snobby about our salmon — and I decided that even if this far-from-home filet didn’t work out, it was worth 5.99Euro for two filets to give it a shot.
Inspired by what I remember about making easy steamed salmon filets on the grill, this is what I made:
Serves 2; no leftovers
* 2 salmon filets (wild, Alaskan, Sockeye, YEAH!)
* 1 small orange, halved (zest first and set aside zest for pasta sauce)
* soy sauce
* fresh ginger root
* minced garlic
* sea salt
* pinch of brown or raw granulated sugar
* sesame oil
* vodka/orange/chili/cinnamon infusion** (see note below)
* linguine, fettucine, or other flat pasta
* light cream
* white wine
** vodka infusion: I made this out of a mini bottle of Absolute vodka, a cinnamon stick, orange zest, and 3 tiny but potent italian chilis (peperoncinos). I made it about 3 weeks before using it, storing it in the liquor cabinet (i.e. kitchen cabinet with liquor in it). Another Splendid Table recommendation about how to play with flavor parings, make gifts to share, and to stock your pantry with fast and easy ingredients…
Preheat oven to 350-ish farenheit (160-180 celcius)
In a shallow baking dish or other small oven-safe dish, place one rectangle of foil for each filet. Each rectangle should be big enough to make a self-contained packet/tent for the enclosed filet. Put a filet at the center of each rectangle and lift each of the the four sides around it to make a little bowl. Score each filet 2 or 3 times across the top to help it steam.
Dress the salmon: sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over each filet, then drizzle with an whisked blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, grated fresh ginger, minced garlic, and the vodka infusion. I wanted to have enough liquid in the packet to contribute to steaming the fish. It was about 2 tablespoons over each, focusing on covering the top. Sprinkle a pinch of sugar then place a thin slice of orange on top of each filet and seal the foil around each filet tightly. I just heard that if you wrap the pieces super tight, the liquid is prevented from adequately steaming the fish. Wrap loosely and seal tightly!
Put the dish with both packets into the oven and focus attention on pasta! Timing: I cooked the salmon for 15-20 minutes with the packets closed, and then an additional 10-15 minutes with the packets open. Most people like their salmon super juicy and tender, but we like ours pretty done. If you’re a juicy person doing this, I would just check them for done-ness after 15 minutes of steaming and skip the open baking. Another benefit to open baking for at least a little while is a carmelized crust that forms with the sugar and soy sauce! As long as your fish is cooked to the point of safety, you can experiment.
The goal with this pasta was to create something that went with asian-style salmon, but that was still a pasta. I remembered reading something somewhere once (in hindsight it was probably La Cucina Italiana) about a pasta made with an orange cream sauce. Given the orange edge to the salmon dressing, I thought it might work here. Again, experimenting. I’m lucky that DH is picky, but also grateful to be fed at the end of a long day. He is also not a food snob like me, and is willing to accept most things as long as they hit the spot.
In the end, I was going for something light, gently creamy, yet non-competitive/conflicting with what I hoped was going to be a flavorful and fresh salmon treat. Serving over simple steamed rice (jasmine or brown) would have worked, but despite having gone an asian direction with the salmon dressing, I still had visions of creamy fettucine and big rich morsels of salmon dancing in my head. I never said my problems weren’t self-made, lol.
* salt pasta water and set to boil.
* in a wok-ish pan, melt a pat of butter with a bit of sesame oil and let brown. Add in 1/3 cup light cream (to start), and whisk to combine. Add a generous spash of the vodka infusion and whisk again, reducing the heat and adding a bit more of the cream. Now for the remaining orange half: one solid squeeze over the evolving sauce then stir in the orange zest. Keep stirring and bubbling it away until the pasta water is boiling and ready for the pasta. Timing: My pasta was 10-minute pasta, so I reduced the heat on the sauce to a very light simmer at this point, put the pasta in the boiling water, then went back to the oven.
Open foil packets and turn heat up to 400f/200c. NOTE: If you are a juicy salmon person (per above), I would still advocate opening the packets to get a little brownness and crust going before serving. Just turn the heat in the oven off when you think you’re really close to done and monitor as the pasta finishes.
Use the remaining pasta time to taste and stir the sauce now and then, adjust seasonings (I added tarragon, salt, and white pepper), clean up, set the table, light the candles, and update Facebook status. If sauce is thickening too much, add a spash of pasta water and whisk.
Serving: drain pasta and assess the volume of sauce to pasta. If there is an awful lot of sauce and you are going for something light, take some of it out of the pan and set it aside. Then, add the pasta to the sauce in the wok pan on stove; stir to combine and coat the pasta completely. Need more sauce? Add it now. Plate the pasta slightly off-center and place each filet so that it’s half on/half off the pasta, leaning on it in a way so that you can see the grain of the fish and the caramel-y crust but you also don’t lose the top view of the orange slice. Drizzle any remaining dressing from the foil packets back over the fish to shine it up.
Result: Unusual but delicious! We found the pasta sauce to be delicate and complimentary, with a subtle spice from the chilis and fragrance from the cinnamon that went terrifically with the ginger soy flavors in the salmon dressing. The fish was outstanding. We ate every bite and can’t wait to come back to this restaurant, haha.
Other variations: this could be done with a mediterranean flair, using olive oil, rosemary, and lemon on the fish and going for a feta, olive, sundried tomato pasta/couscous. You could also go really roman and do artichoke heart/asparagus risotto with fresh green peas and a simple lemon steamed salmon.
Beverages: crisp white wine and/or sparkling water.