Monday, September 1, 2008
One of my favorite ways to cook salmon is to saute it in olive oil with salt and pepper. It's one of those challenging techniques that doesn't involve lots of time or ingredients. Here are the steps:
-Make sure salmon is nice and dry. Sprinkle on both sides with salt and fresh ground pepper (only one side if thin, such as tail piece).
-Heat skillet over medium flame. The best kind of skillets are either cast iron or low-carbon steel. Not only do they function properly, they feel good to use.
-Add oil to skillet. It should become hot very quickly. You know it's hot when it ripples in the pan. If pan is too hot oil will smoke. If it smokes, it's too hot. Let it cool off the flame or dump it out and start over.
-Lay fish into oil. It should not stick. Test it by sliding the pan to see if the fish is loose.
-The best part: let the fish sizzle in the pan and see how long you can go on one side. Check the underside to make sure it's not burning. One of the most beautiful things is a piece of salmon that is becoming golden brown on its underside as the salmon cooks its way up the fillet. Cook it to your doneness. If you want both sides seared, flip it over and let the top side cook briefly, what Thomas Keller calls "kissing". Voila.
p.s. The ultimate tool for cooking fish is what professionals call a fish spatula, shown by yours truly in the picture. I have seen these marketed as "batter stirrers" and other such nonsense. Who needs a batter stirrer? Anyway, if you like to cook fish, buy one. They are anywhere from $8 to $20. Although I as a rule hate overpriced items, I do love that I have a wood-handled fish spatula that cost, if I remember correctly, around $17 at a restaurant supply shop in New Orleans. It has held up well, and every time I pick it up I am transported back to the thousands of other pieces of fish I have cooked with it.