When I was a kid (second half of ‘40s – early ‘60s) growing up in the LM (Lower Midwest, northern Arkansas to be specific), “salmon” connoted canned fish of a decidedly-pink flesh with a few small, round, crunchy backbones sometimes mixed in, and the usual mode of prep by my mother was to make salmon patties grilled on the stove top. No such thing, as far as I knew, as fresh salmon. So much for living where I did, when I did, as a kid. “Seafood” was primarily catfish, bass, or shrimp, although one could occasionally acquire a whitefish, such as cod, at the meat market.
As a young adult in the ‘80s, I rarely encountered fresh salmon prepared as a main course. More often, I’d come across smoked salmon – as with bagels, cream cheese and lox. Since then, I’ve learned to love smoked salmon, whether with breakfast, as a snack, or as trail food on backpacking ventures. Great stuff, high protein, high energy, and easy to pack in a foil pouch for lightweight, fast travel on foot or bicycle.
But when I moved to the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the 21st century, I encountered a regional, culturally-common culinary fare – wonderful, fresh salmon of several varieties including Chinook (aka “King”), Coho (aka “Silver”), Chum (aka “Dogs”), Pink (aka “Humpies” and the variety most used for canning), Sockeye (aka “Red”) and Steelhead. Chefs and mothers prepare it in many ways.
Last Monday night, inspired by a late-Spring snowfall and unusually cold weather that got me out for a soul-cleansing trek to flush out the cabin fever of winter, I bought a pound of fresh Coho salmon fillet (with skin on) and a bottle of nice sauvignon blanc (dry) white wine, then headed home to prepare dinner for my Lovely and self. I had only a vague, general intent to prepare a savory dinner – no recipe in mind. But as I stirred in the fridge looking for inspirational taste kick, I came up with what I presume is an original, not having seen it in a cookbook. Here’s the recipe, which I’ll artfully dub “Cranberry-Mango Coho.” For the whole dinner, I got lots of “mmmms” and kudos from my Lovely (she prepared the delectable salad of fresh Spring greens, radishes, fennel and grape tomatoes).
Time to prep. – 15 minutes
Total cooking time – 15 minutes
1 lb. fresh salmon filet (any variety works), preferably with skin on to preserve the tasty fat just underneath.
1 package fresh, whole cranberries
½ cup sugar (I used xylitol, a natural, low-glycemic sugar substitute that substitutes 1:1)
1 whole, fresh mango (I used a champagne mango, but any will work as well), chopped to small pieces (dime-sized).
¼ cup finely chopped yellow onion
2 large cloves of fresh minced garlic
¼ cup dry white wine (I used sauvignon blanc, but other dry whites will work)
¼ cup of fresh chopped cilantro
1 tbsp of honey
Bring 1 cup water and ½ cup of sugar (or xylitol) to boil in small sauce pan. Pour in 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries and bring back to a boil, then reduce heat to a low boil and let it cook for 10 minutes. When finished, pour entire contents into a bowl and let it cool at room temperature.
Next, rinse the fish filet and dab dry with paper towel, then let it stand on a plate ready to cook.
Mango onion glaze:
To a hot frypan add 2 tbsp. of high-heat cooking oil (I prefer grape-seed oil or safflower), sauté the chopped onion, quickly reducing the heat to obtain a golden brown, then toss in the chopped mango and minced garlic, continuing to sauté for another minute or so. You may want to add a small splash of the wine near the end, along with the honey and freshly-chopped cilantro, allowing it to simmer for 30 seconds or so to release the flavor. Then spoon that glaze or sauce into a small ramekin or bowl and set aside.
Return the same frying pan to a moderately high heat, add a little more oil, and then sear the salmon filet (generously salted on each side to seal in the moisture), on each side, reducing the heat to moderate to avoid scorching. [Here’s the rule of thumb for cooking seafood I learned from some popular local chefs: “We don’t so much cook it as threaten it with heat.” Allow 10 minutes of cooking for each 1” of thickness.] My filet was 1” thick, so I allowed 10 minutes – about 6 minutes on the first side, then turning to the opposite side for an additional 3½ – 4 minutes. In the last minute of cooking, add the remaining measure of white wine to simmer the fish. Then turn off the heat. At this point, I smeared a pat of fresh cream butter over the beautifully-seared fish just to add some flavor, then promptly served as described below.
Cut the salmon into portions, add to the dinner plates and top generously with a warm mixture of the mango glaze and fresh-cooked cranberries. [Note: the cranberry sauce is slightly tart because I halved the amount of sugar customarily used]. Add the salad (and steamed rice or potato if desired) to the plate and serve. Glasses of the sauvignon blanc may be imbibed with the meal as desired. You’re on your own.
Carpe diem. Vita brevis!
© March 4, 2012, Michael Stubblefield. You may share the recipe with chosen and trustworthy friends and family.