Thursday Salmon

So, I feel like I’ve hit the reset button here. I created a food blog a few years ago, and then life happened. And then life settled again. And then life started screaming out that it needed a creative outlet, and because my life screams out what it wants like a two-year-old in BOLD CAPS and flails around the room, slinging itself against the walls and generally having a breakdown of epic proportions, here I am again. So, what I want to say about this “new and improved” blog is all on the creatively titled, “Yep, this is me” section of the site. Yeah, see that clickable little link right up above this? Start there, come back here.

Back? Okay. Here’s a little story to explain why this first post is called, “Thursday Salmon.” I grew up making yearly trips to Florida for summer vacation. If that sounds fancy, I’ll burst your bubble, because we would bring supplies from home to clean our designated room in the hotel. Now, that’s not to say it was a dirty establishment. Actually, I don’t know what to say about it. I don’t know how else you could interpret “we had to clean our own room.” But it wasn’t rat-infested, it wasn’t a dump; it’s just the way it was. The hotel owner had a deal with us–cheap rooms, just had to clean them up a little. Besides, it’s not like we were ever in the room for very long. Those trips were packed with swimming and oodles of seafood. If we weren’t on the dock trying to catch fish with my grandfather and his buddies, we were in a seafood restaurant. (And then there was that one experiment gone horribly awry when my mom tried to steam conchs out of their shells. That required a total evacuation from the hotel room for several hours.)

During the holidays, after the craziness of wrapping paper and toys and way too many sausage balls, my grandfather and grandmother would host a fish fry for friends and family. Probably more than Christmas, I looked forward to this tradition. It meant shrimp cocktail, this crazy punch concoction my sister and I were in charge of making and forcing upon anyone who would make eye contact with us, and my grandfather’s fried oysters. Now, to be fair, my grandmother breaded those slimy little suckers, gagging and squinching up her nose the entire time (she’s not a seafood fan). But my grandfather made them special during the frying process. I’ve never had any as good as he could make them, and I wish to god I had bothered to pay attention to how he did it before his passing. What I do have, though, is the memory of the look on his face when he brought a huge tray of just-out-of-the-oil oysters from the garage (where they did all of the frying) to the house and his smile when we’d take one (or in my case, three or four) and do that weird, “Crap this is hot but I really want to eat it now so I’m totally burning the inside of my mouth for this” thing. No matter the pain, they were incredible. No one ever had to tell him that, though–he knew. And he loved it.

So, aside from my ever-lasting affinity for ketchup, seafood has always been one of the food loves of my life. But, there’s kind of no ocean nearby, and I’m not a skilled fisherwoman (but hey, I can hook trees with the best of them). Instead, our town is lucky enough to have two women who making a living off of fishing and bringing their haul to sell out of the back of a truck a few hours each week. Yeah, I know. Sounds totally disgusting and unsanitary. There’s no way I could say, “Hey, let’s go buy some fish out of a truck” without sounding totally skeezy. But it’s not skeezy. Every Thursday I swing by to get half a pound of salmon and whatever else looks good that week (sea bass, flounder, shrimp, mussels, oysters–it’s a great selection). My husband was not a big fan of salmon at the time, and he generally has meetings Thursday evenings. So, it became my designated day for salmon (or, rather, days because half a pound gets me two meals). I did this enough times that instead of calling me “half a pound of salmon,” the fish ladies, as I like to call them because that’s a super creative nickname, learned my actual name. Now I feel like I’m one of the “in” crowd. Before I’m even at the truck, it’s, “What will it be today, Mindy, aside from the salmon?” It’s a good feeling, to support a local business, to be a regular customer, to know I’m getting quality food. It’s one of the small pleasures in life: to get out of the office for a bit, to stand in line with locals who realize as I do that this is quality food and these are hardworking women, and to rekindle those memories of trips to Florida because damned if that fish truck doesn’t smell just like the ocean (although yeah, it would kind of have to, wouldn’t it?).

And that’s it–that’s why there’s Thursday Salmon. Nowadays, my husband will actually eat salmon if he’s around on a Thursday night. And so it was last night. Now to me, salmon is one of the easiest meals in the world to make (assuming you like seafood). I can bake it with just salt and pepper and be good to go. And, to be honest, that’s the way I make it most weeks for several reasons: 1) My husband is not a big fan of when I grill fish on the stove–as much as I can ignore the smell, he can’t. 2) There are some days when my training workouts are extensive, so I don’t have much time or patience when I get home to make an elaborate meal. At that point, I just need something I can toss in the oven while I stretch and decompress from the day.

Last night, because I had an off day from training and my husband was stuck in traffic in North Carolina, I had some extra time. Baking salmon was the easier, less messy way to go, but I wanted to dress it up with a glaze. Lately I’ve leaned towards Asian-inspired foods and tastes (well, probably what Americans think of as Asian cuisine to be more accurate), so I grabbed some balsamic vinegar, honey, hot sauce, and dried ginger (after which I kicked myself because I had just bought fresh ginger yesterday–sometimes my brain can’t catch up with my hunger).  I’m a big fan of sauteed greens, so I grabbed some kale and cabbage as a side. See, simple enough so far, right?

And this, you’ll learn, is my process. I pull inspiration from cookbooks, recipes floating around on Pinterest or the Twitterverse, food blogs, etc. There are times when I follow a cookbook precisely, but lately, I rely more on what I’m craving/taste than instructions.  That’s the thing about whole foods–you really can’t go wrong. Even in its totally natural state, it’s still amazing. So, to me, cooking is just a way to enhance what’s already there. It’s like the opposite of boob jobs.  Maybe. I don’t know. I shouldn’t do analogies.

Anyway: the meal (and don’t worry–I provide amounts and instructions below). I whisked together the balsamic vinegar, honey, hot sauce, and some salt/pepper over low heat to reduce and thicken up (the combo of honey/vinegar will produce a glaze that you can make as thick or as thin as you like; mine ended up on the thinner side because, um, I wasn’t paying attention; see, already making mistakes). I sprinkled the salmon with salt, pepper, and ginger; poured over the glaze when it was ready (or, in this case, probably not quite ready); scattered in some scallions I needed to use up before they wilted in the fridge; and popped it all in the oven. And the great thing about baking salmon on a lower heat? You can just let it go, and rarely will it dry out.

On to the greens. First, I sautéed garlic in a little olive oil (and hoo boy, how I could go on and on about fresh garlic, but I’ll refrain this one time….but it’s SO good, you guys). While sautéing the garlic on low (and really, keep an eye on it, because speaking from experience, even slightly browned garlic is disgusting and can ruin what was intended to be a great meal), I removed the ribs from the leafy kale (see image below; you can leave the ribs intact and chop the kale whole, but trust me, it’s better you don’t as that rib is really tough). Alternately, you can use spinach, chard, mustard greens–whatever you like. I just happened to have kale in the fridge, so I went with that.

Tough rib removed on left. Basically just cut out a V from the bottom.

We’re big fans of cabbage in our house, and I’ve found it goes naturally when sautéed with greens. Again, I had some that needed to be used up, so in went the cabbage. I like red pepper flakes in my greens–some do, some don’t. Omit to your liking.

Now, here’s where I show my Donna Reed side (yeah, I’m in my 30s and watched Donna Reed–I’m just all sorts of crazy like that with my Nick at Nite all up in here). When I make homemade chicken stock (“Good evening honey, would you like a cocktail to go with the roast I made while you were at work and I was here popping out babies and eating a box of Bugles?”; that was my Donna Reed impression via “Mad Men,” apparently), I like to fill up an ice cube tray with leftover stock. Then I have little, individual cubes I can toss into dishes like the greens.

If you have the canned stuff, go for it (maybe 2-3 Tbsp.). Hell, toss in water if you want. You just need some sort of liquid in the greens so they can essentially steam and not dry out when cooking. Depending on whether your stock is salted or not, season the greens and cabbage with salt and pepper to taste, stir occasionally for about 10 minutes over medium heat until the kale starts to wilt, then knock the heat back to low and let sauté for 30 to 40 minutes (again, stirring occasionally and keeping an eye on whether the greens are sticking; if they do, just add some more liquid). This is another great dish that can sit for a while without drying out (as long as you pay attention to the liquid levels).

In about 40 minutes, you have a healthy, low-fuss meal.

Um, not the best image quality.

Now, my final plates make me look like I eat like a bird, but I don’t. I have a healthy appetite, but I’m also training for a marathon, and I’ve perfected a nutrition guideline for myself for each day. What you don’t see is the huge bowl of oatmeal, the 3-4 fruits, lunch, veggies, peanut butter, and bagel I eat each day before dinner. I’m constantly eating, but by all means, add more to your plate. In fact, I added corn on the cob and leftover potatoes to my husband’s plate last night. These recipes are intended to be starting points and inspiration–go where you like with them.

Now, below are the recipes and a few suggestions for substitutions. Where feasible, I’ll also include a note about how to use leftovers. Enjoy!

Balsamic Glaze

Note: This was for one pound of salmon. If you want more, or less, just divide or multiply as needed.

2-3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 tsp. honey

3-4 dashes hot sauce (I use a habenero sauce because I’m a fan of heat, but that’s all totally subjective–it’s your call, or you could even omit)

Salt and pepper

Whisk all ingredients together in a small saucepan over medium heat until the point of boiling. As soon as bubbles start to form, immediately set the heat to low and stir occasionally. If you want a thinner glaze, this will take no time at all. If you want it a little thicker, let sit on low for 7-8 minutes or until the glaze coats the back of a spoon without sliding right back off into the pan. Remove from heat and pour over the salmon (below).

Ginger Salmon

Note: A grating or two of fresh ginger could be used in the balsamic glaze instead of the dry ginger used here. Or you could omit the ginger entirely–again, different strokes for different folks.

1 lb. salmon

1/4 tsp. dried ginger

Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a glass baking dish with aluminum foil and coat with a little bit of olive oil. Place the salmon in the dish; season liberally with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the ginger. Once the balsamic glaze is ready, pour over the salmon. At this point, you could scatter in any veggies you want (I used whole scallions, trimmed of any wilted stems, but you could use regular onions, carrots, jalapenos, etc.). Bake for about 40 minutes or until the salmon flakes easily with a fork. Serve with sautéed greens (below).

Sautéed Kale with Cabbage

Note: Again, I used kale here, but you could easily sub in spinach, chard, mustard greens, etc., or a combination. Conversely, you could omit the cabbage entirely.

2 cloves of garlic, minced

Olive oil

4 c. chopped kale (ribs removed; this may look like a lot, but like all greens, it will wilt during the sauté process, so better to start with too much)

1-2 c. chopped cabbage (conversely, you could add more cabbage than kale; just depends on which ratio you like best, but remember: cabbage does not wilt down, so what you see is pretty much what you get in the final product)

Red pepper flakes (optional)

1/4 c. stock (chicken, vegetable, beef–whatever you have) or water

Malt vinegar

Place a large sauté pan over medium heat; drizzle in about 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Once the oil has heated, add the minced garlic and stir for about a minute, making sure the garlic does not brown (if it does, seriously just start this step over; there’s no way to salvage burned garlic). Add the kale and cabbage and sprinkle in the red pepper flakes (if desired and depending on your preferred heat level). Stir, then add about 2-3 Tbsp. of your liquid (stock or water). Sauté over medium heat for about 10 minutes (or until the kale starts to wilt), then reduce heat to low. Cover and let steam for 30-40 minutes, making sure you uncover and stir occasionally to check the liquid level. If the greens/cabbage are starting to brown or become crispy, add in more liquid, 2-3 Tbsp. at a time. Once the greens are done, plate up and serve with malt vinegar.

LEFTOVERS

I’ve seen one of my grandmothers eat tablespoons of plain sour cream just to finish it off and not risk someone throwing away the last bites, so you could say I was raised to get the most mileage out of leftovers. Because there’s usually salmon leftover from this meal, and because I’m always iffy to reheat fish, I normally flake off the leftovers into a cold salad for lunch the next day and top with carrots, squash, grated raw beets, tomatoes–whatever veggies are in the crisper.  Today’s lunch was no different.

Here’s a breakdown of what went into the salad:

Salad mix

Leftover salmon (3-4 oz.)

2 carrots, chopped

Diced roasted red peppers (about 2 Tbsp.)

Squash (a slice or two, julienned)

Corn (cut from last night’s cob I made specifically for today’s lunch)

Grated raw beet (pretty much the only way I can consume beets)

Homemade vinaigrette (for quick salad lunches, I just drizzle on a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but any homemade dressing does just as well here)

Salt and pepper to taste

And voila–you have a fancy, healthy salad. Add a slice of whole wheat bread if you want, and you’re good to go.