seared salmon with herbed roast potatoes

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A few months ago, I promised a recipe for my husband Aaron‘s favourite dinner: crispy-skinned salmon with roast potatoes and asparagus. It never happened; mostly as whenever I cooked it, the lighting in our kitchen was bad or it was just too late in the evening for photography (ah, food blogger problems).

However, seeing as we’ve had beautifully light, hot summer days over the past few weeks, you’re finally getting the promised salmon recipe. I hope that it’s worth the wait.

salmonfillet

Seared Salmon

Now, to start I should probably clarify that this is more of a ‘method’ than a recipe. Cooking fish is rather intuitive, so the object of this post is to help you gain familiarity with the process of cooking a perfectly pink, crisp-skinned piece of salmon. It’s definitely not as hard as one might think.

Start by choosing one piece of fish per person. I always choose a 150-175g (5-6 oz) skin-on salmon fillet (cut from the sides of the fish; often boneless) per person; look for fish that is bright, firm and ‘fresh-smelling’ (there should be no overly strong ‘fishy’ odour). Salmon steaks (cross-sections of the fish which always have a central piece of backbone) are also delicious, however you’ll have a harder time achieving a good piece of crispy skin.

Place your salmon skin-side up onto a clean chopping board. Take a good look at it in the light; if you can see any glistening scales, remove them by running your knife at a 90 degree angle against the skin. When the scales have detached, brush them off with a piece of kitchen paper. Run your finger against the grain of the fish to check for ‘pin bones‘, the small floating bones that occasionally remain embedded in the soft flesh after the fish is filleted. If you can feel the tips of any bones, remove them with a pair of tweezers and discard them.

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Season the skin well with sea salt flakes, then leave the fillets for a few minutes or until moisture pools on the skin (the salt helps to pull the moisture out of the skin). Blot the skin with paper towels until it’s as dry as possible, then add a little more sea salt. You’re now ready to cook.

Heat some good quality oil (with a high smoke point; I usually use Brookfarm cold-pressed macadamia oil however the more neutral grapeseed oil will perform equally well) in a heavy-based frying pan over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes or until hot (but not smoking).

Gently place the salmon fillets into the pan, skin-side down, leaving a 2cm gap between fillets (if you have more fish than this allows, you will need to cook your fillets in batches). Cook, skin-side down, for 4-5 minutes depending upon the thickness of your fish. You should see the colour rising on the side of the fillet; when it reaches about half of the way up, season the skinless side of the fillet with salt and pepper, then flip it over.

skinCook for another 3-4 minutes or until the fish easily flakes with a fork (if you’re testing the sides of the fillet with your fingers, it should still have a slight ‘spring’ to it… salmon is best served when it’s still slightly soft and pink in the centre).

Serve immediately, while the skin is still crispy*, with roasted potatoes and grilled asparagus or salad.

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* Note to food bloggers: do not leave the crispy-skinned salmon on a plate in a humid kitchen for ten minutes (whilst arranging, primping and photographing it) before serving it to your husband (sorry Aaron)

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Herbed Roasted Potatoes

  • 2 medium red or purple potatoes (200-250g) per person
  • olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, lightly bashed with the back of a knife
  • small bunch of rosemary, thyme and sage
  • smoked sea salt (I use Gewürzhaus Salish Alder smoked sea salt)
  • cracked black pepper

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Wash your potatoes and roughly dice them into 3 cm chunks, then place them into a pot of lightly salted water. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat.

rawtaties

Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until just cooked (should be just tender when pierced with a fork). Drain well and leave for a few minutes until any remaining water evaporates. Shake your strainer to slightly roughen the surface of your potatoes, then sprinkle them with smoked sea salt and black pepper.

Pour about 2 tbsp oil into a large roasting pan with the garlic cloves and herbs . If you have a gas hob, place the pan over the heat until the herbs start to crackle; alternately, place the roasting pan into the oven for 5 minutes or until hot. Carefully tip the potatoes into the hot oil, toss and return the pan to the hot oven.

tatiesdoneRoast the potatoes for 30 minutes; turn and roast for another 30 minutes or until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels and add a little more salt if necessary. Serve with sour cream or aioli alongside the seared salmon with a green salad or some grilled asparagus.

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potato and aubergine moussaka

eggplantsoakedAs a child of six years and little courage, I had limited tolerance for bitter, sour or slimy vegetables. Most vegetables, in fact, other than super sweet baby carrots, green peas and cheesy mashed potatoes. In particular, I held animosity towards aubergines, the large purple eggs known sensibly as ‘eggplant’ in American English. My childish eyes viewed them as the blight of the vegetable world, with their thick, bitter skins, sponge-like interiors and lines of acerbic crunchy seeds.

Unfortunately for me, my mother held an entirely different view on this member of the nightshade family. She loved them, both for culinary and nutritional reasons, and cooked them regularly in our family dinner rotation. Her default dish was ratatouille made with fragrant basil, olive oil, crushed garlic and Italian tomatoes, simmered for an hour in a cast iron pan. Sometimes I’d excitedly mistake the bubbling mixture for my favourite dish, Bolognese. I was sorely disappointed when chunks of aubergine appeared, traumatically infiltrating my spaghetti or steamed rice.

eggplant herbs

During each aubergine dinner, I’d approach the table with pleading eyes, tired words and a bubbling stomach. My mother would smile patiently across the table, watching my gaze flicker between the fresh pasta, rich sauce and steaming chunks of aubergine mush. “Just two bites”, she would say, gradually demolishing her own plate of ratatouille. I would grimace silently in protest, aggressively poking my aubergine with a fork until it disintegrated.

After what seemed like hours, my juvenile deprecation waned. I would relent, scooping two bites into my mouth before joyously leaving the dinner table to play. But with time, those two bites became an entire meal, then ‘seconds’, then ‘…just a bit more’. My mother’s assiduous determination transformed my hatred of aubergines into an unyielding love that endures in my own family kitchen. For this reason amongst others, I will forever be in her debt.

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onions

Over the past two years, I’ve become particularly fond of Middle Eastern ways to eat aubergines, such as smooth, smoky baba ghanouj, spicy mutabbal and grilled stuffed eggplants with lamb, yoghurt and fragrant za’atar. However, within this post you will find my first ever ‘favourite’ aubergine dish, Greek moussaka or layered aubergine bake. With layers of soft potatoes, seasoned mince, crumbed aubergine and creamy béchamel, this dish is rich, warm and filling, perfect for cold nights and ravenous appetites.

I’d suggest eating this dish in small, thick wedges with a pile of fresh greens, lemony grilled artichokes and some hot, buttered Greek bread (such as the delicious hard-crusted psomi). It’s a fine use of aubergines that’s sure to win over the harshest of critics.

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Potato and Aubergine Moussaka

Serves 8-10

Allow 2 hours preparation + 45-60 minutes cooking

  • 4 large aubergines (eggplant), approx 1.2kg
  • 500g waxy/low starch potatoes (eg. Nadine, Bintje, Nicola or Kipfler)
  • 1 kg ground lamb mince
  • 2 large onions, finely diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced finely
  • 1/2 cup good quality red wine
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp thyme, leaves picked
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 400g can crushed Roma tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1-2 tsp brown sugar, to taste
  • 1/4 cup sea salt flakes, for salting the eggplant (+ extra, to taste)
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 8 egg whites, lightly beaten (reserve yolks for béchamel, below)
  • 1 1/2 cups finely grated kefalograviera cheese (substitute Parmesan or Romano)
  • béchamel sauce, recipe to follow

With a small paring knife, remove 1-inch-wide strips of aubergine peel from the green stem to the tail end. Slice the aubergines into 1cm thick rounds. Place your prepared slices into a colander or bowl, then salt them liberally. Cover them with an inverted plate to weigh down the slices, then set aside for 1 hour (this process, known as ‘degorging’, draws the excess moisture and bitterness out of the aubergines).

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Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and boil them whole in a pot of salted water. Cook until just tender (a knife should slide through with only slight resistance). Drain, cool, then slice each potato into 0.5cm thick slices. Set aside.

potatoes

potatosoak

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Line two baking trays with aluminium foil, then grease them with a light spray of olive oil. Place the egg whites and a splash of ice water in a small bowl. Beat lightly with a fork, then set aside for coating your aubergine slices.

eggwash

Rinse your pressed slices of aubergine to remove some of the salt, then pat them dry with a clean paper towel. Tip the panko breadcrumbs onto a flat plate, then place them alongside your pile of aubergine slices and the beaten egg whites.

Working quickly, dip each slice of aubergine into the egg wash, then the panko breadcrumbs. Press down to coat each side adequately. Place the slice of crumbed eggplant onto a prepared tray, then repeat the process with the rest of the aubergine, egg wash and breadcrumbs.

crumbing2 crumbing

Bake the aubergine slices at 200 degrees C (390 degrees f) for 30-40 minutes, turning them once during cooking. When the aubergine is firm but tender and the breadcrumbs are golden, remove the trays from the oven and allow them to cool slightly.

cooking

Whilst your aubergine is roasting, prepare your seasoned mince. Place a large, heavy-based pan over medium heat. Brown the lamb mince in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, then add in the onion, garlic and spices. Cook for about 1 minute, or the onion is translucent and the mixture is fragrant.

Add in the wine, tomato paste, parsley, thyme, crushed tomatoes and a sprinkle of sugar. Season to taste.

cookingmince

Allow the mixture to simmer, uncovered, for approximately 20 minutes. When reduced sufficiently (the mixture needs to be reasonably thick and dry so that the finished moussaka won’t be waterlogged), stir through the lemon zest, then set aside to cool slightly before assembling the layers.

It should look like this:

mincecooked

To assemble: lightly grease a large, 6-8 cup capacity lasagne pan or baking dish (mine appears smaller as I made two separate trays of moussaka).

construction

Leaving a 1cm space around the edges of the pan, place a single, flat layer of potatoes on the base. Top with a layer of aubergine slices, then 1/2 the seasoned mince. Sprinkle with one third of the cheese. Add another layer of aubergine slices, then top with half of the béchamel sauce (see recipe to follow; ensure that the béchamel fills the sides and corners of the pan). Repeat the above layers (potato, aubergine, mince, cheese, aubergine), then top with a final layer of béchamel and grated cheese.

Bake in a 180 degrees C (350 degrees f) oven for 45-60 minutes or until the béchamel is golden and the cheese is bubbling. Allow to cool for 15 – 20 minutes before slicing to serve.

bechamelfin

Béchamel Sauce

  • 225g salted butter
  • 1 cup (150g) flour
  • 4 cups milk, warmed
  • 8 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg

In a small pan, melt the butter over low heat. Gradually add the flour to the melted butter, whisking continuously to make a smooth paste. Allow the flour to cook for a minute (do not allow it to brown). It should look like this:

bechamelroux

Add the warmed milk in a steady stream. Whisk continuously to combine, then simmer the mixture, stirring consistently, until it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat, then add in the egg yolks and nutmeg. Return over low heat, whisking continuously until the mixture thickens.

Use as specified above to assemble the moussaka.

*This dish was eaten very late in the evening with a throw-together salad and a glass of Stella Bella’s Suckfizzle 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Hungry stomachs led to fleeting photographs taken with poor overhead lighting. As there were negligible leftovers (and the dish took three+ hours to make) I’ll leave the proper photoshoot to your imagination. Until next time.

finbaked aarons plate

Notes:

  • Kefalograviera is a hard, salty Greek cheese made from sheep or goats milk. It is available from some supermarkets and specialty delicatessens, however Parmesan and Romano are fine substitutes.
  • This dish can be assembled, covered and refrigerated for 1-2 days before cooking. Return to room temperature prior to baking (alternately, cover with foil for 30 minutes if baking directly from the refrigerator. Add an extra 15 minutes onto the cooking time).
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