Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Salmon with Cremini Mushroom Sauce and Sautéed Spinach

So, I've got a brand new love, and it's a brand new knife. Calphalon knives are seriously not expensive at all (I got this three-piece set including this chef's knife and a decent paring knife for $50). I don't really need an expensive knife-set right now--I'm not formally trained, so I'd probably fuck them up (I'm still trying to teach myself how to sharpen my knives, using old paring and chef knives that my parents don't use). That said, I still love these knives. I've never had such sharp, efficient, lovely knives to handle while in the kitchen. It's awesome. As my best friend Anne might say, you could gut some shit with this stuff.

Recently, I've also had another new love. Growing up with Sri Lankan food (i.e. Indian, for this purpose) thyme was never an ingredient in any of my parents' cooking. Ever. I had never used it it until one day I stopped being vegan (cheese pizza), and then decided I would make Thanksgiving dinner for my family. Thyme has become, in the past year and a half or so, a staple of my winter/holiday cooking. It's delicious with mushrooms and spinach--both of which I adore. Hence the following recipe, which I've made in a variety of ways, so feel free to experiment/omit/add to any of the ingredients depending on your likes and dislikes (I often forget/don't use the bacon, depending on my guests or just forgetting it). This is a dish with basic flavors to be used at your own discretion. (For example, I used an extremely similar recipe with boneless pork chops.)

So I decided to use thinly sliced baby portabellas for the sauce and an entire bunch of spinach to accompany the fish. The sauce is a thin sauce, with, if you slice the mushrooms thin enough (thanks mandoline), really tender, non-rubbery mushrooms, flavored with thyme, lemon, garlic, salt and pepper. I use the spinach as a sort of "bed" for the salmon to rest on, so that the mushroom sauce seeps down through the salmon and spinach.

I also add thyme and garlic powder to the spinach while sautéing it, because it ties it nicely with the sauce, and adds a little flavor to the spinach.

The mushroom sauce is thinned out with white wine (think deglazing the pan after cooking the bacon and the salmon in it) and gets salty and fatty when you add the bacon. It's good, even if I forget the bacon (which I do almost always).

I didn't purchase the salmon, and I think it was previously frozen, or near-frozen, then thawed and sold as "fresh." That would explain the degradation of the texture of the pieces--as fresh, never frozen fillets don't generally flake away before they've even been cooked, but hold firm. Also, I was cooking at night, therefore using artificial light: so don't mind the creepish glowing-salmon.

Wild Salmon with Cremini Mushroom Sauce and Sautéed Spinach
(serves 4, takes about 1hr 30min, including marinade, prep and cook time)

4 4-oz to 6-oz fillets of salmon, at least 1" thick (no less than 1/2" at the thinnest part)
1 lemon
About 20 individual thyme sprigs, leaves finely chopped
8-oz cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 slices of bacon (optional)
1/2 c dry white wine
2 tbsp unsalted butter (you may substitute olive oil)
1 tbsp olive oil to sauté spinach
1/3 c olive oil (enough to coat salmon fillets) to marinate
1 bunch of spinach, washed and stems removed
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp garlic powder
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. Marinate the salmon with the juice of ½ a lemon, ¼ c of olive oil, coarse salt, and freshly ground pepper on both sides. Leave covered in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. While the fish marinates, cook the bacon in a large enough pan to also accommodate the salmon filets. Don’t burn the bacon, but cook until just crisp. Drain on paper towels. Use a paper towel and skim off most of the extra oil. (Don’t pour it off, because you want the bacon bits to stay adhered to the pan).*
  3. In a separate pan, heat a tbsp of olive oil, then add spinach in batches, add the dried thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper, until all the spinach wilted. Remove from heat.
  4. In the pan with the residual bacon grease, add 1 tbsp butter (or olive oil if you prefer). Add the fish, flesh side down (skin side up), and sear (pan-fry) the fillets for 4 minutes. Gently flip over, and cook for another 4 minutes.
  5. Remove the fish from the pan (let rest skin side up and keep warm), add the white wine and let evaporate a bit. Then add the remaining butter, garlic and mushrooms. After a minute, add thyme and bacon and stir to coat everything. Add salt and pepper to taste, cook no more than 5 minutes. You will know when the mushrooms are done when they turn a golden, limp and release their juices.

* skip this step if you’re not using bacon, duh.

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