Monday, June 28, 2010


Salmon is a fish that, when I lived on the East Coast, I thought was good and solid, but not spectacular. I didn't quite get why so many cooks thought is was one of the best saltwater fish to cook and eat. Then I moved to the Pacific Northwest and discovered why.

Most salmon eaten on the East Coast is from the Atlantic is farmed salmon. Farming helps keep the salmon population up but keeps the salmon in proscribed areas. This leads to less foraging for food by the fish, which leads to lower muscle tone, increased fat, and less flavor. Atlantic salmon's flesh is lighter pink than Pacific salmon, in large part because the salmon is fed a farm-feed. Some areas add beta carotene to help increase the pinkness of the flesh, but that doesn't improve flavor.

Pacific salmon, on the other hand, is largely (but not exclusively) wild-caught. There are Pacific salmon farms, but, most restaurants and groceries carry several varieties of wild-caught fish. Admittedly, the stocks of fish in the Pacific have been very stressed in the last few years, so wild-caught is both becoming more scarce and more expensive.

One really interesting facet of Pacific salmon is the variety of flavors you can find. All salmon is labeled by subspecies, such as king, sockeye, and chinook, and some are also labeled by river, such as Copper River. So, at my local grocery store, I can have my choice of Copper River sockeye salmon, Copper River king salmon, chinook and others. Copper River salmon of any type is seen as superior to others, with good reason. While many people claim that king salmon is the best, most flavorful, I actually prefer sockeye. King salmon has firmer flesh and make larger fillets or steaks, but I find the flavor of the sockeye to be far superior.

Regardless of where the fish is from, if you don't pick a fresh fillet, you won't have good fish. The fish should be firm, relatively odorless, and reasonably moist. If the fillets have gaps between muscle tissues, are dry, or have a strong scent, then pass it up.

I've grilled salmon, poached it in wine, roasted it, pan-fried it, and baked it. I tend to prefer grilled or roasted salmon, but I'll eat it nearly any way I can get it. Several restaurants along the Pacific coast batter dip it and deep-fry it -- oh that's heavenly!

Roasted Salmon
1 large salmon fillet (I prefer fillets to steaks in large part because there are fewer bones)
1 orange
1/4 cup of soy sauce
1 cup of white wine
2 tablespoons of canola oil

Preheat oven to 425°F (230°C).

Clean the salmon; you will likely have to descale it. Coat pan with canola oil and place salmon on the pan skin down. Place in hot oven. Roast until salmon is done -- between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on how done you want it. The salmon will be light pink. If you want a brown crust, lightly oil the top.

Grate the zest from the orange. Squeeze the orange for its juice.

Put soy sauce, juice, wine, and zest into a sauce pan. Reduce by half or so. Drizzle over salmon.

As my house guest a few weeks ago said, "Pacific salmon is much more delicate than Atlantic." The fat isn't cloying as it can be in Atlantic salmon, the flavor is much less fishy, and the texture is quite a bit finer. Add an acidic sauce to brighten the flavors and you will have an amazingly succulent fish.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Modem fail

Sorry about this guys. We just got the modem fixed (actually replaced) today, so I should have a post up soon.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Big fail -- modem issues and rough weekend

Sorry I've missed this week. I went for a quick weekend trip last weekend and came back barely able to move. While I love doing this blog, I've needed to reserve all the energy I've had for my real job.

In addition, I need to get a new modem. I'm getting very sporadic connection with the one we have. I suspect getting its antenna chewed on by a kitten that thinks it's a puppy -- at least he chews like one. You should see what he does to card board and paper towels. If I thought it was at all nutritious, I'd save a fortune on cat food.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Creamy Mushroom Chicken

I love making a dish that is so good you don't mind having it for several meals in a row (i.e. dinners in a row). It's even better if the dish is relatively quick and easy to make. This is one of those dishes.

And *gasp* it doesn't even have garlic!

Creamy Mushroom Chicken
2 - 3 pounds of chicken cut into large cubes
1 pound crimini mushrooms sliced
2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 cup white wine (preferably sparkling or champagne)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups water

Chop dried porcinis into very small pieces so they need less time to soak and don't have to be chopped while wet. Soak porcini mushrooms in two cups of boiling water for 10-20 minutes (about as long as it takes you to cut up the chicken and mushrooms and brown them).

Sprinkle salt over chicken chunks and let sit for five minutes.

Heat olive oil in large skillet or everyday pan until olive oil is hot and leggy. Brown chicken and remove from pan. Brown mushrooms and remove from pan.

Deglaze pan with wine. Add mushroom soup one can at a time and whisk thoroughly to combine before adding the next can. Rinse cans out with 4-5 ounces of water. Add porcini fluid and porcinis. Add chicken and mushrooms. Cook until chicken is done.

Serve over rice or noodles.

I used cream of mushroom soup as the base because I didn't want to spend huge amounts of time cooking a sauce down. Between the mushrooms in the soup, the mushrooms I added, and the porcinis, the sauce turned out amazingly rich and full of mushroom-y goodness.

I will confess I used a sparkling white wine because I had some left from dinner the night before. It was nicely crisp and dry without being sour and supported the mushroom flavor wonderfully. I think it also helped the sauce be a bit lighter, though I suspect that was mostly in my mind.

Peas work really nicely as a vegetable to serve with the sauce -- I thawed the peas and mixed them into the sauce on my plate. They gave wonderful little bursts of fresh sweetness in the sauce.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chicken in Milk and Honey

After the weekend I had, I needed to take yesterday really easy. So this is a recipe I developed years ago.

Chicken in Milk and Honey
1 lb chicken cut into serving sizes
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon honey (clover works well)
1 pinch mace
dash of salt

Dissolve honey in milk in a crock pot on medium. Add chicken and spices and simmer in crock pot for several hours. Serve over baked potatoes or noodles.

This is a really easy recipe to prep. The chicken and sauce are mildly sweet, but not overly so. Last time I made it, I served it to 150 people and had absolutely no leftovers. People wandered into the kitchen looking for more!

This recipe works better with lighter honeys. Buckwheat will be far too strong and will overwhelm the chicken. I initially used clover because it's readily available and not overly strong.

It's been a while since I've made this recipe; I think I'll remedy that this week.
When I do, I want to make some tweaks, like browning the chicken before putting in the crock pot and deglazing the pan. I also think it would be lovely with an orange blossom honey.