Wednesday, August 17, 2011
I'm a liar. My pants are on fire. I promised to share recipes from my cookbooks, but frankly, I haven't toyed with new ideas just yet. Instead, I'm going to share some fish with you.
One of the most popular ways to cook fish in Chinese cuisine is to steam the whole thing, and pour in a sauce, or rather, a mix of heated ingredients consisting of sesame oil, soy sauce, fresh ginger and whispers of green onions. That's all. A recipe isn't even needed, my parents can cook fish this way blindfolded if they wanted to, it's intuitive, unpretentious and easy.
As my fellow Asian friends can attest, the most prized part of the fish are the cheeks. These are meatiest portions and if someone at the dinner table were to pick this for you and leave it in your rice bowl, you were obliged to say “thank you”, lest a slap on the wrist for seeming disrespectful. My parents used to save this cheeky part for me all the time, perhaps I have the answer to my undeniably round cheeks, as my friends always lovingly tease me about.
To the contrary, my favorite part of the fish is the belly. When steamed, the heat vapors seem to transform this ordinary part into meat so silky, its slippery in your mouth, as though the fish has sprung to life. Dabbed in just a touch of soy sauce, the fish tastes even sweeter and nothing completes the meal better than a bowl of long-grain rice. My parents have never been fond of the fish belly, whereas I dig in headfirst (or rather, belly-first) once the fish is set on the table. They do however, remind me that my grandpa used to love the fish belly too, which I makes me glow inside because I miss him.
This recipe is about salmon however, and though there isn't the bright kick of green onions, it's pretty darn good too. My mom has been begging me to find new ways to bake salmon, since it's something we eat once a week, and to be honest, salmon dressed with a few squirts of lemon juice can get old pretty quickly.
I tried this a few times already and knew I'd be arrested if I didn't tell you about it. It's simple and you ought to make it dinner tonight. The fish we buy is salmon steak, a beautiful slab of pearly orange meat, practically glowing in the afternoon light. It's seasoned with a dash of wine, salt and pepper, then smothered with mustard, covered with foil and baked. Meanwhile, you can prepare the rest of your meal, be it rice, pasta or salad, anything will do. In the last few minutes before the fish is done, take it out from the oven, carefully unwrap the foil, brush with honey, cover it up again and allow it to bake a few more moments.
I'll admit, I prefer how the salmon looks when it's still raw, but when it's cooked, oh my is it sensational. The mustard I used is spiked with chives and fennel, a souvenir I bought for myself in Paris (le sigh), and it's wonderful on the fish, adding a creamy flair, kind of like how pinning a flower to your hair, or topping your outfit with a fedora makes you stand out in the crowd. The brush of honey embellishes the fish with a coat of sweetness, heightening the softness of the flesh. And don't forget to wrap the salmon with foil to trap in all the moisture as it bakes, lending the fish a velvety texture throughout.
My favorite part of the dish is picking at the tail ends of the steak, you know, those unattractive narrowed ends of the salmon, lying there innocently. It's the most tender bit of the fish and I love lapping it up with the extra marinade left in a pool on the plate.
We ate the fish with some vegetables and rice, then promptly left the empty dishes behind, so we wouldn't miss this breathtaking view.
Mustard Glazed Salmon
I used the only mustard I had on hand, but any mustard will do (think: grainy, old style, Dijon), though stay away from honey mustard as it may make the fish too sweet.
1 salmon steak, 1 inch thick (about 1 to 2 lbs)
freshly ground black pepper
dry white wine
1 tablespoon of mustard (dijon, old style), more if desired
1 tablespoon of mild honey
In a dish, marinate salmon with a pinch of sea salt, a few grinds of black pepper and a dash of white wine. Spread both sides of the fish with mustard. Cover with plastic wrap and leave it in the fridge for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Wrap salmon in foil, ensuring no open ends. Bake in oven for 10-12 minutes, remove from oven, unwrap foil, and brush all surfaces with honey. Continue baking until cooked through and fish flakes easily with fork, about 2-4 minutes more.