Theron Hopkins Local Columnist
Both Tricia and Beth selected “salmon” as their fish of choice, and they both bought their salmon at the nearest Costco—Tricia in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Beth in El Centro, California. I have visited a Costco, as well as a Sam’s Club, on more than one occasion, and in more than one place, where reasonably priced “wild” salmon was available, but the usual option is “farm-raised” if price is any kind of consideration. Plenty of people have plenty of things to say about the virtues of open-ocean—or even river-caught—salmon, as opposed to the farmed “Atlantic” variety that has become ubiquitous in supermarkets and on restaurant menus, and those people are right on in that, quality-wise, there is no comparison. No argument here. Given a choice, there is no choice: “wild” wins the day, every day. But then, someone has to cook it, and here is where “cooked right farmed fish” can maybe make a person take a vacation from asking just where exactly this fish came from. My sisters’ access to wild salmon is limited, so what they do is buy the farmed and prepare it as good as they can so that people are saying, “Wow, that was a treat,” rather than, “The farmed stuff just doesn’t measure up.” So, here is a treat—a few of them, actually, as we also see what they create with the “Must-Go”—of fish and rice, this week from Tricia, and next week from Beth.
“Seared Salmon with Saffron Rice and Green Beans”—The first thing Tricia does when she gets home from the big store with her flat of salmon is take out her sharpest kitchen knife and start breaking down the fish into 6-ounce (approximately) filets. She wants her fish to “look good”, so, as she works to create wallet-sized and shaped pieces, she fills a quart bag with “trimmings” that she also has big plans for on another day. She seasons the filets with salt and pepper and then sets them in a hot, non-stick frying pan that has been generously coated with olive oil. About 2½ minutes per side is plenty, as her goal is a hard sear that flakes down to a rare center. Is this “proper technique”? She doesn’t know, but she does know that this is how she and her husband like to eat salmon.
The “saffron rice” starts with 2 cups of boiling water. Remove this from the heat and add a “healthy pinch” of saffron threads. Allow this to “steep” for ten minutes before straining the threads and reserving the saffron water. In a sauce pan, add 1 cup of basmati rice, 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil and a ½ cup of finely diced brown onion. Cook over medium heat until the rice is toasted and the onions are translucent. Add the 2 cups of saffron-infused water with a big pinch of salt and bring this to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork when done. The rice has an exotic yellow color and a subtle nutty flavor. You can add peas or basil or almonds, if you like.
The “green beans with goat cheese” are a “must” when Tricia cooks salmon. Blanch 2 pounds of trimmed green beans (1 minute in boiling water, and then “shock” them in an ice bath to keep them green). Then the fun begins. Drop the beans in a large frying pan with—whatever sounds best to you—olive oil or butter or bacon fat. Add the other half of the diced brown onion left over from the rice, and cook this down for not long—until the beans are tender but still have some “snap”. Crumble goat cheese right over the top before serving with the salmon and rice.
And what about the freezer bag full of salmon “trimmings”? You can’t call this “Must-Go”, as it is the dirty little secret of why Tricia makes the journey to the fish aisle at Costco to begin with. If you see her there, peering down into the cold case, you can rest assured that it is not salmon filets she is dreaming of. Rather, it is the “fish cakes” that she will be preparing on “Night Two”. The leftover salmon gets ground up in the food processor (with a supplement of Tilapia filets to get the mixture up to around 2 pounds), and then combined in a mixing bowl with: bell peppers, a couple of eggs, chopped dill, chopped basil, green onions, zested lemon, chili flakes, and a cup of stale bread cubes soaked in cream. She forms the results into burger-sized patties that she dredges in panko bread crumbs and fries on medium-high heat in an inch of olive oil for about 4 minutes a side, until they are “GBD” (Golden-Brown and Delicious). How about a simple sauce to serve with these disks of delectableness? Sure. Why not? A little lemon juice mixed with mayonnaise, chopped dill pickle, and capers ought to suffice nicely. And, how could the “Big Spinach Salad” not be the perfect sidekick, to allow a person to say, “Fork me over another one of them fish cakes, if you will.” ■