The Perfect Salmon

When I tell you I know good salmon, I truly know good salmon. My childhood was full of memories of spending time on the Swinomish tribal lands in Western Washington, hanging out on one small private beach to be exact. Tucked away in a small bay, an inlet from the Puget Sound, I spent my days at my grandparents house running amuck on the rocky beaches of drift wood and gray sand. I remember my grandpa buying salmon directly from the Swinomish people there on the beach. It was almost like a drug deal, pop the trunk to reveal a trunk full of fresh salmon that they had just netted in the waters not 100 feet away. These were beauties that I took for granted. My grandpa would smoke the majority of it in his hot smoker that looked like an outhouse (he also had a metal one on the deck…but I like to remember the outhouse better) in his backyard up the road. I’ve never known a tastier treasure.

The 4th of July for me is also a salmon holiday. Gathering at the beach, my grandpa would be in charge of and survey the cooking of giant filets that lined metal grates in a fire pit that was perhaps 3 feet wide and 20 feet long. Perhaps longer. We would fill our plates with the beautiful fish and feast by the sea and salt air. I miss those days.

I was truly spoiled, and have never had salmon as good since. Except perhaps when my mom cooks it, or I cook it. I even went to a 5 Start restaurant once. You know, the kind where you wear a formal dress, are seated next to a grand piano, and have floor to ceiling windows that look out to the mountains and a blazing red and pink sunset? Yeah. That was fun. But 16 year old me was mightily disappointed in the salmon. But then again, this was Phoenix Arizona…definitely known for their salmon…(not).

Anyway, you want me to tell you how I cook my salmon. It’s different, but its how I have started doing it and its amazing.

You want the following:

1 fresh or thawed salmon filet
Lots of butter (like two tablespoons to start)
Sea salt
Crushed garlic (like maybe 1 or 2 cloves per filet) (or more)
Cayenne powder (for fun)
A cast iron skillet in which to perform magic

You want to heat up the butter in the pan on medium high, hot enough to really sear the meat on contact. Crush the garlic on top of the filet, skin side down, and add salt (and cayenne too, just a sprinkle. Or as much as your heart desires). Use your fingers to rub it onto the entire top of the filet. Its ok to be liberal with this! Rock salt is better too.

Take the filet, and place it top DOWN into the hot skillet, so that the first part to make contact is the top where you rubbed the garlic and spices. It should sizzle real good. Let it sit a couple minutes. Like maybe 3ish? I don’t know. I never keep track. But you need to watch it, and what you are looking for is the side of the filet; as it cooks, you see the color change from the translucent pink to the lighter pink and white. You want to wait until it gets almost halfway through the thickest part.

Now, you may get your spatula under it before flipping it, to loosen it from the pan, and lift it slightly to allow the excess butter in the pan to get under it. You don’t want it to dry out. Keeping the salmon from drying out is the KEY in all of this, hence so much butter.

Now when its about halfway through, flip it onto the skin. The top layer should be clearly seared, the edges darkened, with the garlic crisped and even burnt. This is ideal! You may even add more garlic to the pan just to cook with the salmon, you’ll scoop this off and put it on top when you plate it.

Now you give it another minute or so, watching carefully. The edges will have become all cooked, but if you take a fork and peer into the middle, you want it to still be a bit RAW. Not fully raw, but perhaps about 1/3? You really need to judge it for yourself for your own preference, but this is when I pull it. Whenever you pull it, you DO NOT wait until it is fully cooked. Salmon will continue to cook once its removed from its heat source, and if it is already fully done then it will be dry once you plate it and sit down to eat. People are afraid of raw meat, but really you shouldn’t be. Care about quality, and cleanliness, and having good stomach acid yourself, and there is no need to fear whatsoever. Besides, who likes dry salmon? This isn’t cafeteria food! This is 5 Star quality in your face salmon that will knock the socks off of anyone in their right minds. You WANT the middle to still be raw, barely undercooked once its removed, with the top crispy- and don’t forget to spoon the remaining browned butter and crispy garlic and salt in the pain into the top of the salmon. It should be both flakey and moist. And heavenly. Boom.

Pair with just about anything delicious. Fried eggplant rings, broccoli and sweet potatoes, good company. All of the above.

I promise you, if you did it right, its the best salmon you’ve ever had. And if you didn’t do it right, then just come over sometime and I’ll make it for you.

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