As promised in today’s Dinner in Minutes, here are nifty things to do with, and know about, salmon of the filleted persuasion — including something we took to calling omega-3 bacon by the time we’d crunched the last salty bit of it. (Making you wait till the end for that one.)
The download is courtesy of Harald Osa, who’s something of a celebrity/ambassador chef for his native Norway. He heads the Norwegian Food Culture Foundation, based in Oslo, which means he spends a considerable amount of time schlepping foam coolers of ocean-farmed Nordic salmon around so he can dazzle schoolchildren and food journalists at home and abroad.
When Osa, 54, came to The Post last week, he brought along American nutritionist Kate Geagan, who provided Nordic factoids as the chef sliced and escalloped. Such as:
* Norwegian ocean-farmed salmon is richer in omega-3s than wild (corrected) salmon (although there is a growing body of evidence pointing to the negatives of the fish).
* Norway pioneered salmon farming in the 1970s.
* Norwegians eat an average 51 pounds of seafood (corrected) per year, compared with Americans’ 15.8 pounds.
The chef chimed in, while his hands kept moving:
* People all over the world tend to overcook fish — and salmon in particular. (I’m thinking that most home cooks don’t whip out their digital, instant-read thermometers for fish the same way they do for steaks, pork roasts and poultry, but they should. For the record, Osa recommends an internal temperature of 130 degrees to 150 degrees, and prefers the low end.)
* When we’re shopping for salmon, he says, we shouldn’t automatically reach for the deepest red-orange colored flesh; it doesn’t translate into better flavor.
* Ask to smell the fish before you buy it; you’re looking for a clean-ish, briny smell, not a fishy one. If they won’t let you smell it, don’t buy it.
* The (fat) lines within the salmon fillet should be white, not yellow. The latter is a sign that the fish is not as fresh. The beige-brown parts of the fillet are just fatty (and not so bad for you; see the photo below).
* When you handle a so-called side of salmon — especially one that has been skinned — hold it skinned side UP, not down. This will prevent surface breaks in the fish.
The chef also prefers simple preparations and a short ingredient list for salmon dishes, such as a combination of soy sauce, ginger and lemon as a flavoring sauce. Another simple preparation is his take on packet cooking in which he bakes salmon with slim wedges of lettuce and thinly sliced vegetables, dressed only with a bit of creme fraiche or sour cream once opened. Another winner I’ll have to try soon: cubes of fresh salmon arranged in a serving bowl with thin strips of aromatic vegetables beneath them. Heat fish stock that’s flavored with the soy-ginger-lemon combo, then pour it over the fish and vegetables in the bowl. Let it sit till the fish is as “cooked” as you’d like, then eat.
“Simple” still involves knife work, and a well-sharpened blade at that. To mix things up, Osa recommends riffing on dishes based on the various methods of carvery you can apply to a nice piece of skinned salmon fillet. Invert a skinned side and cut it in half, lengthwise along the middle seam; this can help create small, deck-of-card-size pieces that are just right for packet cooking. Work with the more squared-off of the two salmon halves and you can cut thick rectangles that can be cut horizontally again and again to create a folded, butterflied effect. (The chef likes to place blanched spinach or
slather dressings in between the layers, for a cool effect.) Cut long, squared ribbons and thread them onto skewers, or cut them into cubes. Cut the side into thick, crosswise pieces; when you cut each of those in half, refrain from cutting all the way through, and you’ll be able to open the almost-halves into a salmon “steak,” of sorts. Cut shallow and long on the diagonal, and you’ll create an escalloped effect that can be sauteed in a minute or two — or cut crosswise into thin, loxlike strips that cook even faster. Cut a longish piece into three strips of equal thickness (again, without cutting all the way through on one end) and you can then braid the strips challah-style. Or don’t bother to braid; just arrange the connected strips
into a gently layered curve. None of those cuts will necessarily make the salmon taste any different, but they do accommodate different cooking methods and inspire culinary creativity.
Still with me? It’s fried salmon skin time.
As nutritionist Geagan was trying to figure out ways to promote its healthful aspects, chef Osa made a someone-else-please-clean-it-up-size mess, scraping the skin free of scales. He made sure to do so while the skin was still on the fillet. Nobody wants to eat fish scales, we agreed.
Then he swiftly detached skin from flesh — actually leaving a bit of flesh on the skin in parts, the way the bar snack of loaded potato skins used to still have a layer of potato flesh on
them. He salted the flesh side with a heavy hand, and let the skin sit while a neutral oil heated on the stove. He cut the skin crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips, frying them a few at a time, for mere seconds.
Admittedly, he let the oil get a bit too hot. (We distracted him.) Ideally, the nutrient-rich, crisped skins you see below shouldn’t be quite so browned. But, man, they tasted good: as a garnish, as hors d’oeuvres. If you’d rather not fry, Osa said you could lay the strips flat on one baking sheet, skin sides up, sandwich a second baking sheet directly on top of them and bake them in a 350-degree oven for about half an hour. They turn out just as crisp, and not curled.
Think salmon and say it with me: omega-3 bacon.