Friday, May 28, 2010

Pan-seared Salmon over Wilted Spinach with Sautéed Mushrooms and Brown Rice, Topped with Fried Onions

I've always liked salmon well enough, but it wasn't until a few short years ago that I truly came to enjoy this very popular and much-hyped fish. And I must admit, some of that very hype is what made me stand up and take notice. Often touted as a "top 10 power food," salmon's rich omega 3 fatty acids and other heart-healthy and immunity-boosting properties are hard to simply ignore. And so I continued ordering it in restaurants and fixing it at best I knew how. It wasn't, however, until I discovered just "how" I liked my salmon prepared that this little culinary love-fest truly got off the ground.

Though I've had salmon poached, stuffed into ravioli, tossed into salads, and shaped into little cakes with a variety of sauces, I've found it to be most delicious when simply seasoned with salt and pepper, and then quickly pan-seared or grilled over a high heat to give it a bit of a crusty coat. Then I like to partner it with something a little more distinct and flavorful...a fresh pineapple-mango salsa; a zesty, fresh corn relish; a rich aioli; a flavorful coulis...or an interesting sauté.

This particular recipe does just that. It combines a simple, but perfectly cooked salmon fillet* with a flavorful, healthy sauté of spinach and mushrooms that is brightened and enhanced with just a touch of fresh lemon juice and white wine. Then you top it all off with a touch of delicate, golden brown onion rings that have been fried to crispy perfection. Yum! It's my take on a dish I recently had dining out with friends. In that particular dish, cooked farro was added to the spinach-mushroom sauté, which I thought gave it a nice added bit of texture and flavor. Not finding the box of farro I thought I had in my pantry, I substituted brown basmati rice (which I think worked just as well as the farro). You can toss in as little or as much of the cooked rice (or farro) as you like. Not only does it give these veggies some added texture, it also makes the completed dish a more substantially rounded meal.

While there are four components to this meal -- the salmon, the sauté, the rice, and the fried onions -- it truly comes together quickly.

I suggest getting your rice (or farro) started first. While that's simmering away, you can get your onions fried up. This step will take mere minutes.

Once your rice is doing its thing and your onions are done, you can get started on your veggie sauté. Again, this step will also go rather quickly so you'll want to have all your ingredients ready at hand to drop into the skillet when it's their time. When your sauté is done, just transfer it to a dish to free up your skillet to sear your fish...less clean up for later!

Like all the steps before, your salmon will cook up in minutes. I like to leave the skin on; it helps hold the fillet together and it gives it added flavor. If you slice just a few scores in the skin it won't tighten up, which might cause your fillet to curl or bend when searing. And the scoring also allows you to better season the skin take advantage of this by sprinkling a bit of salt and pepper down into the cuts.

All in all, this meal can be on the table within 30 to 40 minutes, prep to finish. It's super easy to make...and equally nutritious and delicious.

* I selected a previously frozen, wild Coho salmon that was priced at approximately $9 per pound, over the more expensive, fresh King (Chinook) salmon that was priced at nearly $25 per pound. King (Chinook) salmon ranks at the top of the Pacific salmon varieties for its high fat content and corresponding richness. Though the Coho falls a few short notches below the King in terms of fat content, its flavor is not (in my opinion) sacrificed. And, at nearly a third the price of the King, it is definitely a value. And, yes, it was previously frozen. This doesn't (again, in my opinion), negatively impact its flavor. Though we have Pacific salmon far more readily available fresh in the Pacific Northwest, the fact that previously frozen salmon tastes just great (for most varieties), makes me believe that we need to reconsider this option when weighing taste and sustainability issues.

Pan-seared Salmon over Wilted Spinach with Sautéed Mushrooms and Brown Rice, Topped with Fried Onions
serves 3 (easily doubled)

Cooked brown basmati rice is added to the completed spinach-mushroom sauté, giving it an added boost of flavor and texture.

3 to 4 skin-on, salmon fillets (approx. 4 to 6 ounces each, as preferred), gently scored on skin side
salt and pepper, to generously season fillets
3 tablespoons olive oil (plus additional oil for light brushing of fillets)

fried onions:
1 large yellow onion, cut into thinly sliced rings
1/3 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging raw onion rings (I used a 100% stone-ground, whole-wheat flour)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups vegetable oil, for frying

veggie sauté:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
5 ounce-package fresh spinach leaves
1/4 cup dry white wine (one you'd drink)
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
salt and pepper, to taste
1 to 2 cups cooked brown basmati rice (or farro)

1. Prepare brown rice according to package directions. I have found that my rice always cooks more quickly than the package states, so keep an eye on it, adding extra water if it looks like its getting dry and not yet cooked through.

2. Heat 2 cups vegetable oil in a large, heavy pot over high heat. While oil heats, combine flour, salt, and pepper on a large plate to dredge raw onion slices. Coat rings thoroughly with flour. Using tongs, begin placing flour-coated rings into hot oil to fry, being careful not to overcrowd pot. Fry rings until golden brown, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Remove batches of fried onions to a paper-towel-lined plate to cool and drain. Set fried onion aside when done. To keep onions warm, you can place them in a low-temp oven (just note that they will soften a bit as a result), or serve them at room temp.

3. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons unsalted butter to a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium high heat. Once butter is melted, add diced onion and sauté for approximately 1 minute, until onion is slightly translucent. Add in sliced mushrooms and continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until mushrooms have softened and cooked through. Add fresh spinach leaves to mushroom mixture and continue to cook for another minute or so, tossing leaves to evenly cook. The spinach will wilt rather quickly. Once it begins to do so, add in wine and lemon juice and continue cooking to just warm additions through. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer mixture to an oven-proof bowl and add in cooked rice. Again, you can place this in a low-temp oven to keep warm, or simply cover with aluminum foil.

4. Reheat the same heavy-bottomed skillet you used for your veggie sauté (do not rinse or wipe it clean) over medium high heat. Lightly brush fillets with olive oil and generously season them with salt and pepper. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil to skillet and swirl to coat bottom surface of pan. Place fillets skin-side down into skillet (turn up heat if it doesn't appear to sear well), and leave them to sear for 2 to 5 minutes (depending on thickness) without moving them. As the fillets cook, you'll see a distinct change in color rise up the side of each fillet. As evidence of this moves to between 1/2 and 2/3 the way up the fillets, it's time to flip them. Continuing cooking fillets for another few minutes (anywhere from 2 to 4, depending on the thickness of the fillet). The fillets are done when they no longer appear translucent on the exterior and are firm when gently squeezed, but not hard. The flesh should flake easily with a fork. Note that salmon will continue cooking for a bit once removed from its heat source, so be careful not to overcook.

5. To plate dish, spoon some of the mushroom-spinach-rice mixture onto plate; top with salmon fillet; finish with a sprinkle of fried onions over top.

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