While little more than a good sprinkle of salt and pepper is required to season up a fillet of fish, regardless of what fair-finned friend you happen to be working with, there’s something magical about the little sweet tamari-sesame ginger glaze on this salmon and its pairing with a fresh, crunchy, colorful slaw evoking similar elements of Asian flavor that makes you want to reach beyond a simple sprinkle for a bit more of an adventurous plating.
Together with a great chop of purple and green cabbage dotted with diced jalapeño, cilantro, supremed bits of fresh grapefruit, shredded carrot, baby bok choy and slices of avocado, this plating delivers such a pleasing umami flavor that it belies just how easy and quick it is to pull together. The finesse, like most any method in cooking fish, comes in getting the degree of “doneness” right... keeping attuned to what your gilled fellow is telling you so as not to go overboard.
And, of course, like most anything consumed... the fresher the better. Living in the Pacific Northwest pretty much guarantees us the availability of beautiful fresh fish, especially salmon. This particular fillet is but one portion of a spectacular salmon that we caught off the coast of Astoria, Oregon... our first fishing expedition on the bounding main. With no real idea of what to expect... and no real attention paid to preparing for the excursion... we came dressed for fair weather, assuming we’d find a tranquil spot on the river and hunker down in the mid-day sun, enjoying nibbles and a refreshing beverage while awaiting a good bite or two. Instead we borrowed layers of clothing and set off bundled against the fog and cold of an early morning hour, motoring well past the Columbia Bar into the Pacific Ocean. After having to release a good bit of catches and cutting our day a bit shorter than expected due to a few ashen faces and stomachs that churned with the roll of the sea, we came away with a single prized catch and an enhanced appreciation for the rigors of ocean fishing and just how lucky we were that only our sea legs were tested. After setting on dry land we learned just how dangerous crossing the Columbia Bar can be. Later reading that this channel is often referred to worldwide as “The Graveyard of the Pacific” pretty much assured us that this would be a one and done experience. Let’s just say we’ll be sticking to serene rivers and bucolic fly-fishing venues for our next adventures.
We did, however, manage to land one amazing salmon... and, in hindsight, appreciate it all the more.
The tamari-sesame ginger glaze comes together quickly, sweetened with a just a bit of brown sugar and simply rubbed onto the non-skin side of the fillet. Then, beginning skin-side down, pan sauté the fillet (though you can easily cook it up on the grill) just until it shows a nice doneness about midway through. Then flip it, pull the skin off with tongs, season with a touch of salt and pepper and flip it back over after about a minute or so to just slightly sear off this newly skinned side. (While some may prefer starting skin-side up, I like the greater latitude you get starting skin-side down... believing you can better control the rate at which the fish cooks... the skin kind of serving as a little buffer against cooking up too quickly.) A fork to test the doneness works wonders. I like to see just a slight flakiness in the texture of the fillet, pulling it off the heat when it’s just slightly under done as it will continue cooking a bit.
The colorful slaw is a perfect partner, providing a lovely, fresh crunch that is equally flavorful with the addition of a citrus vinaigrette infused with the rich umami qualities of red miso and tamari sweetened with honey and freshly squeezed orange, lime and grapefruit juices. It takes the whole protein-salad combo pairing up one notch on the flavor adventure scale… with the added benefits of keeping you on dry land and testing nothing more than your ability to chop and use tongs.
Sweet Tamari-Sesame Ginger Glazed Wild Salmon & Asian Citrus Slaw
The recipe will make enough slaw for four generous platings. Since I was making this for two, I simply sautéed one fillet (just over one pound in size) and refrigerated the leftover slaw... perfect for tacos or to serve alone on day two.
1 one-pound salmon fillet (brought to room temperature about 10 to 15 minutes before cooking)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon tamari (approximate), divided
¼ teaspoon toasted sesame-ginger oil (or toasted sesame oil, if preferred)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cups sliced purple cabbage
2 cups sliced green cabbage
1 cup sliced baby bok choy (about 1 small head)
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 large jalapeño, trimmed, center rib and seeds removed, finely diced
½ cup shredded carrot (about 1 large carrot, peeled, ends trimmed)
½ cup sliced green onion (about 2 to 3 large green onions)
1 large grapefruit, supremed and cut into bite-size pieces, juice reserved
1 large avocado
2 tablespoons reserved grapefruit juice (with additional reserve saved to dress avocado)
½ teaspoon red miso paste
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (a fruity variety is recommended)
kosher salt and ground black pepper
In a small bowl, whisk brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon tamari and sesame-ginger oil until just combined to make a loose paste. Rub paste on skinless side of fillet. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine purple and green cabbage, bok choy, cilantro, jalapeño, carrot, green onion, and grapefruit. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of reserved grapefruit juice, miso, honey, ½ teaspoon tamari, orange juice, and lime juice, until fully combined and honey is dissolved. Whisk in olive oil and season with a pinch of kosher salt, to taste. Dress slaw with vinaigrette and toss well. Set aside (or refrigerate until ready to cook salmon).
To cook salmon, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Lay prepped salmon, skin-side down into pan (you should hear a slight sizzle, if too much of a sizzle turn heat down slightly). Let salmon cook a 3 to 5 minutes (depending on thickness), just until you see it cooked about midway through. Flip fillet over and sauté paste-rubbed side of fillet for a few minutes (depending on thickness). Remove skin from fillet and season with a pinch of salt and pepper; then flip fillet back over to just lightly sear this newly skinned side. Look for signs of fillet just beginning to separate/flake. Remove from heat when just slightly less than done as it will continue to cook, and transfer to plate to rest a few minutes.
Meanwhile, halve and pit avocado. Using a paring knife, carefully slice avocado flesh while still in skins, then scoop slices out gently with a spoon, discard skins. (Drizzle avocado slices with remaining grapefruit juice to keep them from browning.)
Plate slaw and top with salmon and slices of fresh avocado. Serve immediately.