The folks at America’s Test Kitchen are having a blog challenge this summer. For each segment they provide a topic and then let the bloggers run with it. The current topic is salmon. I had a salmon recipe I wanted to share with you, and when I saw this challenge, I thought it was a perfect fit. I am a huge fan of America’s Test Kitchen. I have many of their books, and I frequently consult them for tips, techniques and best practices. If you are not familiar with them, I highly suggest you head over to their website (content is subscription based), buy a copy of one of their books, pick up a copy of Cooks Illustrated or Cooks Country, or turn on your PBS station and watch an episode of one of their great shows.
Even though I moved around a bit in my life, I always lived near the ocean. From Baltimore to the Gulf Coast to New England, great seafood has always been readily available. My parents joke that my first solid food was Baltimore Steamed Crab, and I have traveled halfway across this wide country to get my hands on a mile-high pile of fresh steamed Gulf shrimp. Okay, it wasn’t the purpose of my cross-country trip but it was one of the highlights! Now I live in New England where I’m surrounded by some of the freshest, tastiest seafood in the world.
Strangely, until I was an adult I only ate shellfish. Oh the regret I feel over all that other fantastic fish that drifted under my nose and on to someone else’s plate. Then I moved to the Boston area as an adult, where I was confronted with a tough problem. Fresh out of college and dirt-poor, I couldn’t afford the local shellfish. I was forced to teach myself to like finned fish. I started with the easy things. Cod covered in butter soaked cracker-crumbs and fried haddock were my gateway fish. Soon I could eat pretty much any white fish, but I was not having any luck with salmon. My attempts all failed because I didn’t know good salmon from bad and didn’t know how to cook it properly. I now realized that I was cooking and eating farm raised salmon, and probably not terribly fresh salmon either.
Then one summer, I was introduced to wild Alaskan salmon by a friend from the west coast. She spoke about salmon with cool sounding words like chinook, sockeye and coho. And, she explained, there was a definite season for it. This was the proverbial epiphany. Salmon had seasons, and not all salmon was created equal. Now I’m a believer. I drink the salmon Kool-aid, and preach the salmon gospel. Buy fresh Alaskan salmon while in season, and enjoy it while it lasts. It’s seasonal, it’s sustainable (yes, really, see Sustaining Alaska’s Fisheries to get the full story) and it’s pretty friggin’ spectacular. When its gone, you can still eat farm raised in the same way that you can eat tomatoes and strawberries in January. They’re available, you can buy them, but it’s just not the same.
Right now we’re smack-dab in the middle of salmon season, so if you’ve never had the pleasure of good wild salmon then there’s no time like the present. My spice crusted salmon recipe is a really good place to start. The spice rub I use for my salmon is very me. The mixture of brown mustard seeds, coriander, black pepper, cayenne and a hint of brown sugar all play to the flavor of the salmon. I like to start with whole seeds for the rub and grind them down to a coarse rub which adds crunch and overall texture to the fish. A heavy crust of the spice mix is the secret to the success of the dish. Don’t be bashful with the rub: get the salmon to hold as much of it as will stick.
The grilling is simple. Place the flesh side down on a blazing hot grill to sear it which turns the spice rub into a delicious crust. Finishing with the salmon skin to the grill completes the cooking and makes removing the skin in one piece a flash. Then all that’s left is to top the salmon with a mouthwatering watermelon salsa. The salsa not only compliments the spicy flavors of the spice crust and the sweetness of the salmon, but it also makes a real color statement. Enjoy!
Spice Crusted Salmon with Watermelon Salsa
1 tablespoon whole brown mustard seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound fresh wild Alaskan salmon (Coho, Sockeye or Chinook – also called King)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup sweet onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
1 small yellow pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
1/2 jalapeno, seeds removed and finely diced (optional)
2 cups watermelon, chopped medium
1/2 lime, juiced
1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat your grill on high (for a gas grill) or prepare your charcoal. You need a very hot grill to achieve the nicest crust on the fish.
While the grill heats prepare the rub, fish, and salsa. In a spice grinder or mortar combine all ingredients for the rub: mustard seeds, sugar, coriander, black pepper, salt, and cayenne.
Grind to a medium-fine consistency leaving some partially ground pieces of mustard seed.
Clean the salmon to remove any remaining scales or pin bones. Cut the fish into four equal-sized pieces and coat with the spice rub, patting it into the fish on all sides except the skin side. Drizzle the top of the fish with the olive oil and set aside.
In a separate bowl combine the onion, cilantro, yellow pepper, watermelon, jalapeno (if using), lime juice and salt. Toss to mix and set aside. When the grill is very hot (500 degrees) clean and oil the grates and place the fish cut-side down on the grill. Cook for three minutes. Using a metal spatula turn the fish skin-side down to the grill. Cook for one minute and turn the grill off. Depending on the thickness of your fish leave the fish on the grill until it is almost done. You can take Sockeye off the grill at this point, while Coho and Chinook will take another three to four minutes. When removing the fish, slide the spatula between the skin and the bottom of the fish. The fish will slide easily away from the skin leaving the skin on the grill.
Let the salmon set for another few minutes to rest, then serve with the salsa mounded on top of the fish.