Sunday, June 5, 2011

Wild Salmon with Corn, Peas, Zucchini and Pea Puree, and How I Burned the Kitchen Floor

I burnt my kitchen floor last night.

I'm not sure how it happened exactly. Well, no, I do know how it happened, what I mean to say is I don't know how things progressed in that direction -- how I went from being in complete control of the cooking situation to burning the floor.

I had the whole thing planned out in my head. I was going to recreate the salmon dish I'd had at Akasha Restaurant in Culver City the previous night -- a special for the evening that involved a glorious piece of crispy-skinned copper river salmon strewn over a bed of fresh corn, peas, zucchini, cipollini onions, and pea puree. (I'm assuming the pea puree was Akasha's -- not Ed's.)

Either way, the dish (and pea puree) totally sung to me -- the cornucopia of fresh spring vegetables, the buttery salmon tucked under a salty chip-like skin, the clean flavors unmuddied by oil or overaggressive seasoning.

It was pure cooking at its finest. And I couldn't wait to have it again -- the next night.

It seemed relatively simple to make. I know how to boil and shuck corn. I know how to peel and roast cipollini onions. I know how to turn peas into pea puree (I'm excellent with an immersion blender).

The only question mark was the salmon -- and that essential crispy skin.

I'd recently read in Glamour's "How to do anything better guide" that the key to perfect, crispy salmon is to take some softened butter and rub it on the skin prior to cooking. The salmon should then be placed skin-side up back in the fridge for the butter to harden, before being transferred buttered side up to a sheet pan. According to the guide's consultant for the piece, Claire Robinson, the host of "5 Ingredient Fix" on the Food Network, the sheet should then be placed under the broiler for 8 minutes. "Presto -- foolproof perfect salmon," she writes.

It seemed easy enough, and I was totally with Ms. Robinson up until I reached the broiling stage. I buttered the slick salmon skin like an ear of corn, seasoned it with some salt and pepper, and returned it to the fridge for the "hardening" period. I finished prepping my other ingredients while it chilled and then readied myself for the final stage of the cooking process.

And this is was when things started to go horribly wrong.

My oven isn't the digital kind. It's a gas stove with a gas oven that has a pull-out broiler drawer -- a broiler drawer that I'm terrified to use.

I know it's irrational. I know it's completely crazy and neurotic of me, but I hate everything about that drawer. I shudder at the sound it makes when I turn the broiler on -- like the oven is coming alive and is going to start shooting out sparks like a fire breathing dragon. I can't stand the thought of putting food in that incinerator of a drawer, especially if it means placing said food on the broiler pan that comes with it.

So, I decided to crank up my oven instead. I figured if I roasted the salmon at 450 degrees, I'd still achieve presto, crispy-skin perfection, and I could avoid the horror that is the drawer.

It was a win win.

Or so I thought.

When I pulled the salmon out to check on it five minutes later, the skin was still flaccid and the inch-thick piece of fish was already starting to ooze white -- a clear sign that the salmon was close to being overdone. I yanked my baking sheet free from the hot oven and in a moment of panic, charged up the incinerator with hopes that a few moments in the evil broiler drawer would crisp things up.

Moving quickly, I pulled out the broiler sheet and set it on the floor, and replaced it with the baking sheet that already contained the salmon. I peered in at the blow-torch type flame that was now scorching the surface of the delicate fish.

It didn't look good.

Lest the salmon cook itself into a straw-like state, I removed the baking sheet and set it on a towel on the counter. I then reached for the broiler pan that was sitting in the middle of my kitchen floor to slide it back into place.

And that's when I saw it -- the ugly brown square-shaped mark on the linoleum.

I'd burned the kitchen floor.

I cursed the broiler. Cursed the pock-marked salmon skin. Cursed the pea puree that had turned a muddy green color while I'd been attending to the fish.

I slumped down at my dining room table, glass of Rosé in hand, feeling defeated.

"All that work for nothing," I thought, angrily scooping up my first bite of my not-so-presto-perfect dinner. I readied myself for disappointment, readied myself to throw the entire contents of my plate into the trash. Readied myself to kick the broiler right where it hurts.

Disappointment never came. Even with all the mishaps, my dinner was still good -- really good. Worth burning the kitchen floor good.

But I still won't be using the evil broiler again any time soon.

Wild Salmon with Corn, Zucchini, Peas and Pea Puree
Inspired by dish at Akasha Restaurant
Serves 1

6-ounce fillet of wild salmon, skin on
4-5 cipollini onions, peeled
1 ear of fresh corn
1 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
3/4 cup fresh (or frozen) peas
Handful of torn basil leaves
2 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
2 tablespoons chicken broth
Salt, pepper
Softened butter
Olive oil

For onions and zucchini: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss peeled cipollini onions with a splash of olive oil. Place in an oven-safe baking dish and sprinkle with salt. Roast for approximately 35 minutes, turning every 10 minutes. During the last 10 minutes, add the zucchini to the baking dish. Sprinkle with pepper and then roast with the onions until both are tender.

For corn: Husk corn and cook in 2-3 inches of boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and set aside until cool enough to handle. When cooled, cut the kernels from the ear and set aside.

For peas/pea puree: If using fresh peas, steam them in a vegetable steamer until just barely tender. (Frozen peas can be prepared in a microwave.) Using an immersion blender, combine half the cooked peas with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons chicken broth. Reserve the rest to toss with the other vegetables.

For salmon: Rinse salmon under cool water. Pat dry, then season both sides with salt and pepper. Brush the skin side with softened butter, then return to the fridge for the butter to harden. Once hardened, place salmon skin side up on a baking sheet. Broil for approximately 5-8 minutes depending on thickness of salmon fillet.

For assembly: When you put the salmon under the broiler, combine corn, zucchini, onions and peas in a hot frying pan. Toss together over medium heat until warm. Turn off the heat, toss with the basil leaves and remaining tablespoon of lemon juice. Meanwhile, gently heat pea puree in small saucepan over low heat until just warmed. Spread pea puree over one side of the plate, heap the vegetables on the other side. Top with broiled piece of presto perfect crispy-skinned salmon.


Gastronomer said...

There goes your security deposit ;-)

Glad to hear that dinner was still delicious.

Esi said...

Lol. My broiler caught fire once. It's a scary machine!

Ashley said...

I know what you need.... a TORCH!

LetMeEatCake Eat With Me! said...

i love the broiler! i use it for everything, but sorry it burned your floor :( the salmon sounds yummy though

Diana said...

Cathy - I know. Wah wah. :(

Esi - Oh yes, and I remember what your last oven used to do to your poor cookies!

Ashley - I like the way you think.

Nastassia - It was yummy! But the burn on the floor is one sad sight. Wish I didn't have to be reminded of just how yummy that salmon was every time I walk into my kitchen. Sigh!

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