July 10, 2014

Never stop learning: Adventures in cooking fish

Never. Ever. Stop. Learning.

Hubby was experimenting with his new camera accessory, a flash. :)

What is life but a stagnant pool if you cannot gain more information and explore new things? I much prefer a river that is full of sudden bends and rapids, mystery and adventure. I have never been one shy to ask "why" or "how." Ever. In fact--I chuckle as I recall this little encounter--when I was a retail clerk at Michael's Arts & Crafts the summer after my freshman year of college, a co-worker commented on this exact point of my temperament: "You will go so far in life as long as you keep asking all those questions of yours!" It had never occurred to me to approach life in any other way. If I had a question, ask! Looking back I can certainly see the benefits of this desire to gain clarification, knowledge, insight.  

In the past month or two, I decided to finally learn how to cook fish. I had purchased some wild Alaskan cod back in March (it was flash-frozen, don't worry!) that I had yet to touch, nervous about wasting money if I cooked the fish poorly. Plus, I had only just started eating seafood in the past three years so I was a bit squeamish at the idea of cooking it myself. Perhaps the only reason I started enjoying seafood was because other people cooked it well? Nevertheless, I mustered up the confidence to give it a go. After due diligence in research of course. Blog after blog, and tip after tip. Reading how to ensure the best end product. All very necessary. And all very worth it. The cod was a great success! I marinated (lime juice, oil, seasonings) then grilled it. Oh. Yum! My dearest David is such a trooper when I experiment in the kitchen, and fortunately he enjoyed this experiment very much. So much so that I'll be cooking it up for the in-laws when they come to visit in a few weeks. Yes. Hint, hint in-laws.

This week...oh, this week. I am still salivating in delight over here just thinking about my new found love. Copper river salmon. 

Photo by Ken Lambert / Seattle Times

If you've never had copper river salmon (I had not), let me give you a teensy bit of background. Copper river sockeye salmon is harvested but once a year. These fish migrate from the head of the 300 mile-long Copper River in Alaska down to the Pacific Ocean where they are caught and sent to market immediately (fresh or flash-frozen). Because of their long journey, they grow bigger and stronger than any other salmon, developing this deep, rich flavor (super-packed with omega-3s!) unlike any other salmon variety. The fish are only available for 6-8 weeks every year, and will cost you a pretty penny. At the beginning of the season Costco was selling them for $18.99/lb. Oy vey. I could not justify spending that kind of money on one package of protein. However, for whatever reason just this last weekend Costco had reduced the price of Copper River Salmon to, get this: $9.99/lb!! 

Still, I have never, ever, EVER spent that much on protein for my family. Ever. We buy our meat live from local farmers my extended family knows. We butcher it ourselves (or, in the case of a beef, we have it butchered). And ultimately store it in the chest freezer. Our beef cuts--including prime rib, tenderloin (you know, filet mignon) and rib eye steaks, etc.--cost about $6/lb. after it's all said and done. Pork is about $1.25/lb (or less). Lamb is just around $2.00/lb. This animal protein is consistently cheaper than purchasing the equivalent at the store--especially if I were hoping to get similar quality!--and definitely cheaper than purchasing fish. 

But sometimes, it's just time to expand one's horizons. David loves, loves, loves, loves, LOVES salmon. I should clarify: he loves wild Alaskan salmon. None of this farmed Atlantic stuff. Sorry East coast. We used to enjoy the plentiful local restaurants serving PNW cuisine, which of course features Alaskan salmon. But since we've purchased our home, our financial priorities have changed. We don't eat out like we used to. And we certainly don't seek out the high-end local restaurants as regularly (i.e. bi-monthly) like we used to. So David has been missing salmon just a wee bit. When I saw this price for copper river at Costco...oh man. We could have 8 servings for just $25!! That was less than one person's meal at a top-rated restaurant! Ok then. Apparently I needed to learn how to cook salmon. And I was going to take a huge risk by purchasing one of the most expensive salmons out there as my first ever salmon dish. 

A few days before purchasing I researched various methods and recipes. I had never been fond of fish grilled on tin foil and I hadn't found much delight in oven-baked fish either. So I could smoke the thing (would need to acquire a smoker...not really worth it), pan-fry it (too hot these days, and greasy), or grill it on a cedar plank. I had never grilled anything on a cedar plank. This would also be new territory for me. So of course I proceeded to research this method. 

Yes, that is a broken cutting board on which our hot-off-the-grill plank sits.
It's called resourcefulness.

Grilling on cedar plank:
I learned I needed to soak the untreated plank (which you can buy at your local Home Depot, or at any home goods store in the grilling section) in water for 30 minutes up to 24 hours prior to cooking. I also learned that I needed to remove the plank and food from the direct heat in the event the plank catches fire. Catching the plank on fire would be something to avoid, yes. Definitely don't do that. To avoid catching the plank on fire a good soak is necessary (ok, note to self: soak for 24 hours) and a medium/medium low indirect temp on a clean grill is key. Okay, clean the grill thoroughly, soak the plank thoroughly, cook on medium/medium low over indirect heat. Got it. 

Cooking the salmon: 
I now needed a recipe. Lemon always seemed like a good flavor for fish, or a sweet Asian marinade. Searching...searching...(oh Pinterest, how I love thee)...finally. Came across a recipe with two complementary sauces that intrigued my palate's imagination: Cedar-Planked Salmon with Mustard-Dill Sauce. The first sauce is basted onto the fish as it cooks. The second is served with the fish as an accompaniment. David isn't a huge fan of mustard, though, and this had a hint of Dijon mustard. Hmmm. Question posed: David answered. Let's try it. Oh, I how love our adventures!

Look at that beautiful result! And the taste? Is copper river salmon actually better than your year-round wild Alaskan salmon? I'm not sure my limited experience makes me worthy of making this comparison, but I can say that this was the most decadent salmon I have ever tasted. Rich, melt-in-your mouth decadence. I think the cooking method and recipe only enhanced this beautiful fish, even though my plank did happen to catch fire for a brief moment. Oops! Just adding a bit of rustic, home-made flare, right? Not only was this meal "restaurant" worthy, but David and I didn't pay restaurant prices. And...I learned something new! Grilling Salmon 101: I give myself an A. More importantly, I no longer fear cooking fish. 

Oh! And that salad under the salmon a few pictures up, you ask? A Lemon-Cucumber Couscous salad, adapted from Budget Bytes. A favorite easy side dish at our house. Notes: I omitted the feta since I am not eating soft cheeses until Chickadee hatches, and David doesn't particularly care for feta. I also used regular couscous rather than Israeli because it's what I had in my pantry. Finally, I am a fresh-lemon snob (ask my mother), so please please please...just use fresh, not bottled, when you need juice. Thanks! 

No comments:

Post a Comment