Salmon and asparagus. A combo for the ages. Put together since time immemorial. Problem? Boring!
How many times do you want to poach, grill, or roast asparagus? I mean, I’m not putting it down, but come on! It just gets old. These were my exact thoughts as I stared down the raw ingredients in my kitchen just a few short weeks ago. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to have good food at my fingertips, but sheesh.
Straining my brain I thought about the foods in front of me. Salmon – fatty, rich. OK, that’s clue number one. What’s a good foil for richness? What’ll cut straight through and keep my palate shiny and clean? Acid! Now I can go the lazy man’s route and just drizzle the whole thing with balsamic vinegar, but I am not a lazy man. Food is my fascination. And balsamic is not really a departure from the same old same old anyway. I’m looking for the other side here.
Then it hits me. Pickles. You can pickle just about anything. Almost any veggie (even some fruit!) is good for a quick pickle – in pickling years, that’s about an hour and a half. And if sharp and clean was what I wanted, wasn’t I lucky to have some fresh ginger and jalapenos in the pantry to boot?
Now you can do a quick pickle in an hour, but like many things, the longer the better. If you can give it 90 minutes, better. If you can do it in the morning and eat them in the evening, better still. Night before? Oh boy. Just don’t leave these things around for a week.
So today we’re going to make crispy skinned salmon with asparagus pickles and baby kale salad with creamy yuzu vinaigrette. And it’s going to be easy.
How to Make Pickled Asparagus
Since the pickling process takes some time, be sure to make all you need in one batch. If you need more brine to submerge all the asparagus, just multiply the recipe.
- Asparagus preferably nice and thin
- 1 jalapeño thinly sliced into rings
- 1 inch piece ginger peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1.5 tsp kosher salt
Bring the vinegar and salt up to a boil. Stir until the salt dissolves.
If you have thin asparagus, just trim off the hard, woody ends and you'll be ready to go. If you have thick ones, you're going to want to cut them in half lengthwise first. You want the brine to be able to penetrate the asparagus, and the thinner the better.
Add the jalapeno, ginger and asparagus to the hot brine. Make sure the asparagus is submerged in the liquid. I've done this in Tupperware, shallow casseroles, etc. Use something that's just wide enough to hold the asparagus so that the liquid can be as deep as possible.
Set that aside for at least an hour. Best to leave for 90 minutes or longer if you can.
Salmon and Pickled Asparagus
On to the salmon. Salmon’s great. it’s the go to fish for anyone nervous about fish. It is pretty darn forgiving. You can’t abuse that relationship but more than a lot of fish, salmon will stand up to a wide range of cooking abilities. It’s fatty and rich to start, meaning you’ll have some wiggle room in cooking it.
Since we mentioned fatty, let’s talk about fat options for cooking the salmon. Coconut oil, olive oil and butter (good combo cuz the butter won’t burn as fast), rendered bacon fat (watch out – not for advanced!), duck fat, tallow, and lard. All tasty, and great for high heat cooking. I keep a selection of all of these at the ready whenever I cook. Animal fats cook hotter without burning, so if you’re looking for crispy skin, duck fat or bacon fat are perfect. They also add some flavor, so that ain’t bad. If you’re not into it, coconut oil works great, too.
Wait! Duck fat, tallow, and lard? Where do I get those? Well, it just so happens that I found a super cool place to buy them called…Fatworks! Purveyors of fine, grass-fed and pasture raised clean and delicious animal fats. Check ’em out!
One of the biggest obstacles I see people run into in the kitchen is seasoning meat and fish. Too little and the finished product can be bland, but how much is too much? Here’s a trick you can try. Bury it. Yes. Bury your salmon in kosher salt. Completely. Wait 20 minutes, take it out and rinse off the salt. Don’t season it again.
While the 20 minutes of salmon seasoning pass, make your dressing and your salad. Now, the French love salads. And they know a few tricks to make sure they turn out right. Trick #1, make your dressing in the bowl first. Coat the bowl with your dressing, add the greens and then toss right before serving. Even coating every time.
I love this baby kale mix I have found recently. I get it at Trader Joe’s and at Sprouts. Heartier than most greens, but still tender and delicious. And one of the best tricks I can offer you for making a creamy dressing? Mayonnaise. That’s right. A little mayo, a tasty vinegar to thin it out and cut it, and you are good to go. I have been loving this yuzu mayonnaise I found in LA at a shop called Wally’s Cheese Box. Yuzu is an amazing citrus, kind of like Meyer lemon, if you’ve ever had them. If you can’t get it, a good mayo, squeeze of lemon (Meyer if you can!), and some white wine or white balsamic vinegar. Adjust it to taste – everyone’s different.
Coat your bowl, add your greens and you are just about ready to cook.
Crispy Salmon with Pickled Asparagus and Baby Greens
Once your salmon is cooked, add some salt and pepper to your salad and toss, plate your salmon, top with the pickled asparagus (don't be afraid to include some jalapeno and ginger) and finish with the salad. Voila!
- Salmon filet
- Kosher salt
- ~1 Tbsp fat of choice (butter, lard, coconut oil, etc.)
Rinse the salt off your salmon and pat it dry.
Heat your chosen fat over a medium high until it smokes just a little bit.
Add the salmon, skin side down. You'll want to do most of the cooking on the skin side if you want a crispy skin. Just as a handy reference, you'll cook your salmon for about 6 minutes per inch for a medium rare salmon. Add about a minute for each doneness step up (7 minutes for medium, etc.)
Turn over the salmon at least once in the cooking process, but I always like to go back to the skin side to make sure it gets nice and crispy.