Saturday, May 5, 2012

Quill #123 - Salmon, Ella

Some friends of ours recently invited us over for dinner. They served each of us a perfectly seasoned and cooked piece of salmon as the entree, a feat that, even then, I knew was pretty spectacular. As each morsel crossed my palate, I promised myself to try this at home, not because I thought I could do better, but because salmon is healthy and good and deserves a greater role in my kitchen.

I have caught, gutted, and cooked many fish in my day. At one point, our family survived mostly on fresh-caught trout because we had a pair of fishing licenses, poles, and not much else. I knew that cooking the salmon well would be the main difficulty, as I hadn't previously prepared salmon, but planned on careful attention to detail.  Armed with the knowledge that farm-raised was preferable to wild-caught these days, a recipe from Pinterest, and a burning desire to treat my family, I sallied forth to the local Hy-Vee.

(borrowed from google images)
Hy-Vee was the ideal store to purchase fresh fish.  I knew this because of the fine array of salmon they had behind their glass counter. This establishment had three versions of wild-caught, four versions of farm-raised, some that were long sides from the original fish, and some pre-portioned sections for those lazy shoppers who couldn't be bothered to use a knife. Their prices ranged from $9.99 a pound to $15.99, depending on which salmon you selected.  I chose a mid-range Scottish fish for $12.99 a pound and pointed it out to the butcher, asking for two to three pounds, as I was uncertain how much I needed by weight. It is not possible to smell through the glass case which means you really need to trust your source.  I have, heretofore, maintained a good relationship with Hy-Vee and doubted them not.

(borrowed from Google images)

The ancient mariner wearing a smudged white apron smiled and introduced himself, asking me to repeat my instructions, which I did. After a few shouted exchanges, he kindly decided not to kill my family, no matter how he felt about me. I say this because, after choosing my fish, I noticed that the gentleman removed the top filet from the pile to pick out a longer section underneath. He even gave me a second chance to redeem myself by pointing out a batch of less expensive, American salmon, and I turned it down, only to notice, once he was wrapping my Scottish brand, that the portion he had removed was turning green and irridescent.  I don't think salmon is supposed to be that color.

A day later, when I unwrapped the thing at home, I counted myself lucky again. The odor was strong, but not spoiled, and the pink flesh had a mostly healthy appearance. I then attempted to cut our fish into six reasonably equal portions. Perhaps I had a blunt knife; perhaps the fish had an exceptionally tough skin. Whatever the case, I managed to get four mangled sections from our two and a half pounds of fish. That effort would have to do because, by that time, I was truly sick from the smell, touch, and slime of fish.

Our marinade might have worked if I'd been able to get the portions I wanted. Instead, after washing the fish very well, we put the pieces into a bowl of mostly water, let it soak for two hours, and pulled it out of the fridge for cooking. My husband, bless him, took over the job at that point. I was ill from the reek throughout the entire house. He managed a miracle and cooked the half pound salmon steaks to perfect doneness, crediting his careful watching of popular chef competitions on TV for success in the matter. The finished product, in spite of the issues I had with it, did not stink after cooking. Its taste was mild and pleasant, even retaining some flavor from the diluted marinade, and we enjoyed every bite.

However, if there ever is a next time for salmon and me, I will choose the pre-portioned sizes, perhaps even pre-cooked.  I do not remember having this much trouble with fresh trout.