Apparently salmon is a bit of a lightning rod for a lot of folks. You may have known this, but it’s news to me.
I show each cover to Matt when they’re published, and his reaction to this one was, “Meh. Salmon’s not really my thing.” Well that’s nice to know, considering that I’ve made it more than a few times for him. (Maybe I should start leaving customer comment cards on our dining room table, with a header in bold print that reads “Your opinion matters to us!” But on second thought, maybe I shouldn’t.)
What’s wrong with salmon?, I asked. “Nothing. There’s just lots of other fish I like more.” Huh.
Next thing I know, I’m standing at the fish counter in the store, talking with the seafood dude about which salmon filet looks best and what kind of poundage I need. Suddenly, this otherwise well-adjusted looking woman approaches me and strikes up a very enthusiastic conversation. She’d had a revelation, she said. She had salmon at a restaurant recently, and (gasp!) she liked it! Wow! Isn’t that amazing?!
I immediately started going through my mental Rolodex, trying to decide if I actually know this person. Meanwhile, she starts asking for salmon advice. I steal a pleading glance at Seafood Dude, whose eyebrows are up. His look tells me I’m on my own.
Now, she asks, which variety of salmon did I have at the restaurant? Forget the Rolodex, now I’m looking for security and/or the candid camera. Lady, how am I supposed to know what kind of salmon you ordered?
She continues her monologue, and soon it becomes clear that she thinks there’s a magic species of salmon that’s not dry and fishy-tasting. Ohhhh. She’s not crazy, she’s just been consuming abused salmon. Poor thing!
I tell her that I’m no expert, but those issues are more a factor of freshness and cooking technique than species. All salmon tastes more or less the same, although some are fattier than others, and farmed salmon doesn’t have the high levels of Omega-3′s that the wild stuff has. She got so excited that I thought she was going to hyperventilate. Seafood Dude, who taking his time so as to avoid getting involved, finally handed me my prize. I deftly handed her off by mentioning that he could tell her all she ever wanted to know, and made a bee-line for the dry goods.
The next day, I made Salmon with Sweet Chili Glaze for Leah, who was down for the weekend. Luckily, our neighbors Ryan and Shana were able to join us and brought this amazing salad (which I’m hoping they’ll share the recipe for via a comment – hint, hint).
Over lunch, my neighbor Ryan explained his position on salmon, which was similar to Crazy Grocery Lady’s, but without the hyperventilation. He pointed out that casual mid-level restaurants often mistreat salmon, serving it overcooked and less-than-super-fresh. But when he goes to a higher-end restaurant, he orders something out of this world, not ho-hum salmon. Hmmm. Makes sense. No wonder salmon has a bad rep.
And that brings me to the low-down on this month’s Bon Appetit cover, whose layers of flavors can go toe-to-toe with anything at a nice restaurant (if you cared to waste your order on salmon, that is). And here’s the thing: it was fast, super easy, and tasted great.
This time around, the pea tendrils and sweet chili sauce jumped out as the ingredients of note.
Pea tendrils, according to the recipe, are the young leaves and shoots of the snow pea plant. Translation: good luck finding them at a store. (I used sunflower sprouts.)
Sweet chili sauce, though — now that’s interesting. Folks who don’t recognize the name may know it by sight as the slightly sweet dipping sauce for spring rolls at Thai restaurants. The zing comes from chili paste, and the rest of the flavors are rounded out with garlic, vinegar, and cilantro. By the time you add soy sauce and ginger, per the recipe, you’re balancing tons of different flavors with just three ingredients. Bravo!
Essentially, the preparation goes like this: mix three marinade ingredients, brush the fish with the marinade, and broil it until it’s barely done. While it cooks, quickly stir fry the sugar snap peas, tossing in whatever sprouts you’re using in place of the pea tendrils you couldn’t find. That’s it. Done. Finito.
Considering the time invested in mixing homemade meatballs, braising short-ribs, and rolling grilled slices of eggplant, this was a nice break. But what I really love about this dish is that it packs tons of flavor and still lets you taste the fish.
Ryan is right about not ordering salmon in a restaurant, and now that I have a restaurant-quality recipe, I may just never do it again.