I rather enjoy shaking things up myself – it gives me the opportunity to flex my culinary muscles, cooking entire meals and preparing things that I normally wouldn’t, with plenty of time to experiment and really do things right. I also get to enjoy the satisfaction of serving a hot, homemade meal to someone I love every day, which makes it a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned. Of course, it also makes things more challenging, because no mater what I plan to make, I succeed or fail all on my own. And when it comes to cooking fish, I just don’t have enough experience yet to be confident of success when I’m the one responsible for it.
That’s why I was so proud of this salmon dish – I made it all on my own, and it came out just about perfect.
This meal combined two of my favorite things ever in the world of food – salmon and noodles – with something that is one of my least favorites, prepared in a new way – cucumbers – to create a surprising and satisfyingly successful dinner on a chilly post-holiday weeknight.
Early in the day I peeled a whole cucumber in stripes, then cut it into a pile of thin slices with my brand new mandoline (a Christmas gift from J – he certainly knows the way to my heart!) and tossed the slices in a marinade of soy, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and rice wine vinegar. The soon-to-be pickles went into the fridge for the rest of the day while I took care of some things on my to-do list.
Late in the afternoon, it was time to start dinner. The salmon came as a steak with the spine and pinbones still in-tact, which meant I had to figure out how to remove the bones and create two thin portions – not something I’ve ever done before. But with a little searching online and a lot of intuition, I was able to separate the flesh from the spine with a long thin paring knife, the closest thing we have to a proper boning knife, and then remove the remaining pinbones with a pair of tweezers. I used a paper towel to pat away excess moisture and create a slightly tacky surface, then pressed the top of each fish portion into a mix of ground wasabi-soy almonds and panko. Finished with a gentle brushing of olive oil over the top, they were ready for the broiler.
I knew that the fish would cook quickly, however, so I let it sit and come up to room temperature while I started work on some noodles. I sliced an entire green bell pepper into thin ribbons with my mandoline along with most of a package of white button mushrooms. These went into a hot skillet with some warmed safflower oil and a bit of minced garlic and were sauteed until softened and browned in places. I made a simple sauce from some soy, sesame oil, jarred minced ginger (don’t really like buying that sort of thing, but we never use fresh ginger before it goes bad) black pepper and sugar, and tossed the veggies and sauce with some flat lo mein noodles that I’d boiled to al dente in salted water. When the fish went under the broiler, I tipped the whole mess back into the skillet and stir fried it until the sauce was absorbed and the noodles took on bit of crispness around the edges.
The fish was golden brown and crisp on top and just cooked through in the middle within 5 or 6 minutes, at which point I removed it from the oven and took my pickled cucumber salad out of the fridge. Onto each plate when a heap of the stir-fried noodles, then a portion of salmon, and finally a tumble of the thin cukes on the side. At this point I was pretty pleased, as everything LOOKED more-or-less how I’d hoped.
But as usual, the proof was in the taste, and I think I won this battle. The fish was just right, flaky and tender with a lovely crunch from the nut and panko crust. The noodles were slightly sweet and savory, with soft sweet peppers and tender earthy mushrooms in every bite. But the cucumber salad was the real revelation for me – normally I pretty strongly dislike cucumbers in their natural form, and I was suspicious of any pickling recipe that required less than a couple of weeks in boiling-water-processed jars to transform their flavor. But this method made a shocking transformation in very little time, yielding still-crisp cucumber slices with a salty, tangy flavor that was damn-near addictive. I honestly think I could eat cucumbers every day if they were prepared like this.
Aside from being a tasty meal, this dinner proved to me that if I trust my intuition and remember everything I’ve learned by watching J in the kitchen, I can probably manage just about any meat or fish preparation. I just have to put my mind to it and stay confident in my skills.
Maybe one day I’ll even have the guts to tackle that roast beef that J’s already mastered. But then again, sometimes its not worth messing with perfection. 😉