Cowgirl Chef: Salmon season is upon us

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Local availability of fresh salmon

The season just opened — and wild salmon is always in limited supply, depending on which rivers are running — so you’ll want to call first to make sure it’s in stock. Check your local grocery store for availability. Here are some that currently have it, or will, in the next few weeks:

Central Market: 4651 West Freeway, Fort Worth, 817-989-4700; and 1425 E. Southlake Blvd., Southlake, 817-310-5600.

Costco: Several Tarrant-area locations.

Whole Foods Market: 801 E. Lamar Blvd., Arlington, 817-461-9362.

Wild salmon and potato croquettes with horseradish creme

Makes about 12 (2-inch) croquettes

1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth

1/2 cup water

3 fat curls of lemon rind, cut with a vegetable peeler

6 peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 bay leaf

12 ounces wild salmon, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 russet potato

1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus more

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup Greek yogurt

3 to 4 teaspoons horseradish, depending on how hot you like it

6 sprigs of fresh chives, finely chopped

1. Put the first six ingredients in a small saucepan over high heat. When it boils, reduce the heat to a simmer and add the salmon. Let the salmon cook for 1 minute, pour into a colander, and let cool.

2. Peel and chop the potato into 2-inch chunks and put in a saucepan with a big pinch of salt. Turn the heat to high, and when it boils, reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for 10 minutes or so, just until you can pierce the potato with a fork — you don’t want these to break down too much. Remove from heat, drain the water and let cool.

3. Put the salmon pieces in a medium bowl and flake them with a fork. Add the potato pieces, and gently mash them with the fork. Mix this with the shallot and egg. Form into 2-inch patties. Place the breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl and gently cover each croquette with breadcrumbs. Put all of the prepared croquettes on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour or so.

Time saver: You may do the first three steps a day in advance.

4. To cook the croquettes, put the olive oil in a large skillet and make sure the pan is evenly coated (I use a paper towel). Turn the heat to medium-high. Add the croquettes and cook for 4 to 5 minutes per side, just until brown and crispy on the outside and warmed through in the middle.

5. While the croquettes are cooking, whisk together yogurt, horseradish and remaining salt.

6. Serve right away with a dollop of horseradish creme on top and chopped chives.

Nutritional analysis per croquette: 102 calories, 3 grams fat, 8 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 34 milligrams cholesterol, 218 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 31 percent of calories from fat.

Wild salmon tacos with chunky guacamole

Makes 2 servings

1 large avocado, chopped

6 cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon lime juice

Small handful cilantro, chopped

Sea salt and cracked pepper, divided

8 ounces wild salmon

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 corn or flour tortillas

1. First, make the chunky guac. Toss avocado, cherry tomatoes, garlic, lime juice, cilantro and a pinch of salt and fresh pepper together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a half-hour.

2. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt and pepper on salmon. Put the olive oil in a skillet and turn the heat to medium-high.

3. When the oil in the skillet is hot, cook the salmon for 5 minutes (you’ll be able to see how fast it is cooking by looking on the side of the fillet). Flip the salmon, and cook for another minute or two.

4. Warm the tortillas by placing them, one by one, over a low flame on both sides. Stack them on a plate. Gently flake the salmon with a fork, and divide it among the four tortillas (or two tortillas, layering an extra one on the bottom, taqueria-style). Spoon the guac on top and serve right away.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 495 calories, 28 grams fat, 37 grams carbohydrates, 29 grams protein, 59 milligrams cholesterol, 185 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber, 48 percent of calories from fat.

Prosciutto-wrapped wild salmon with roasted zucchini quinoa

Makes 2 servings

2 zucchini, chopped into 1/2-inch discs, then quartered

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt and cracked pepper

1 cup quinoa

1 teaspoon butter

2 (4 1/2-ounce) wild salmon fillets

6 to 8 thin slices prosciutto

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the zucchini pieces on a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Add olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and pepper and toss the pieces with your hands. (You may also do this in a bowl, but this way, there’s one less thing to wash!) Slide the cookie sheet into the oven and cook for 20 minutes, turning the pieces over once they are browned on one side, so they cook evenly.

2. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, adding a pinch of sea salt. When it boils, add the quinoa, stir, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes or until you can see the quinoa’s little “tail” — this is the seed’s germ — but be sure and taste it to be sure it’s done. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter. Keep covered to keep this warm.

3. Wrap the prosciutto around the salmon fillets, making sure to finish with the prosciutto ends on top, so they will curl and crisp. Put the wrapped fillets on a small pan and slide into the 450-degree oven for 5 to 6 minutes.

4. While the salmon is cooking, mix the quinoa and zucchini together in a bowl and spoon some of this mixture onto the center of two plates. When the salmon is ready, place it on top of the mixture. Serve right away.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 598 calories, 19 grams fat, 64 grams carbohydrates, 43 grams protein, 81 milligrams cholesterol, 511 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber, 29 percent of calories from fat.

Leftover wild salmon salad with lime zest vinaigrette

Makes 2 dinner-size salads

1 tablespoon coconut oil

10 Brussels sprouts, chopped into eighths

Sea salt and pepper

4 ounces baby spinach, mixed greens, or a combination of the two

Small handful cilantro, leaves removed

8 ounces leftover cooked salmon, flaked into bite-size pieces

1 avocado, chopped

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Lime zest vinaigrette, recipe follows

1. Put the coconut oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and when hot, add the Brussels sprouts and a pinch of sea salt and pepper. Cook, tossing until all sides are browned. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

2. While the Brussels sprouts are cooking, put everything else in a large salad bowl — the mixed greens, cilantro, leftover salmon, avocado and cherry tomatoes. Add the hot Brussels sprouts, toss with some of the lime zest vinaigrette and serve right away.

Nutritional analysis per serving, using 3 tablespoons vinaigrette: 682 calories, 57 grams fat, 20 grams carbohydrates, 30 grams protein, 59 milligrams cholesterol, 168 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber, 71 percent of calories from fat.

Lime zest vinaigrette

Makes about 3/4 cup

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon finely chopped shallot

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Zest of 1 lime

Sea salt and pepper

9 tablespoons olive oil

1. Put sherry vinegar, shallot, Dijon mustard and lime zest into an old jam jar with a pinch of sea salt and pepper and give it a good shake. Let rest for 10 minutes; then add the olive oil and shake again. Taste for seasonings.

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

Finally, we can start grilling, pan-searing, steaming and poaching wild salmon again. After its annual winter hiatus, wild salmon are running, and the freshly caught fish are already showing up in area stores. Lucky us.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, then you already know that nutrient-dense wild salmon is considered one of the most healthful foods around — it’s loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, lots of the B vitamins and vitamin D. Right now, and until the season ends in November, wild salmon is abundant and available.

But what are the differences among the three main species of wild salmon we eat — Chinook, sockeye and Copper River? That question alone is why most of us are confused about wild salmon.

Chinook is another name for king salmon. A sockeye is also known as a red, and Copper River? Well, that’s not a type of salmon; rather, it’s where a salmon — be it king, sockeye or coho — was swimming upstream when it was caught.

If salmon is not clearly identified, it’s best to ask about its origins. Because there’s not a uniform labeling system for salmon in the U.S. — where it is sometimes identified by the river of origin rather than the species — knowing exactly what you’re buying can be tricky.

To clear things up, here’s a little wild salmon 101 from Jon Alexis, owner of TJ’s Seafood Market in Dallas:

“Everyone knows the story — when it’s time to spawn, wild salmon return to their birth river, go against the current, then lay their eggs at the mouth of the river. When that river’s water temperature is ideal for spawning [it differs based on latitude, snow melt, etc., which is why they don’t all run at the same time], the salmon gather at the mouth of the river to spawn.

“Each river is different. Take the two most famous salmon rivers. The Copper [in Alaska] is 300 miles long, full of white water rapids and a mile climb in elevation. The Columbia [in the Pacific Northwest] is 1,200 miles long and flat the whole way. These are two totally different physical challenges, so comparing their salmon is a little like comparing an NFL linebacker to an Olympic marathon runner. Both are in peak shape but built for different feats. Salmon are perfectly engineered for their rivers. The tougher the river, the better the salmon.”

The differences among king, sockeye, and coho?

King salmon is considered the best and most desirable. It’s the fattiest, richest and tastiest of the bunch, and the first wild salmon of the season. The white stripes you see in this salmon are the layers of fat — and this is a good thing — and it’s how the wild salmon stays so moist and tender when it’s cooked. King is available right now.

Summertime means sockeye, a bright red salmon that is much smaller and thinner than king salmon and has less fat and creaminess. Its flesh is more delicate than the king’s, but it is packed with flavor.

Coho has the least-strong flavor of the three. Even those who say they aren’t fans of salmon may like it because of its super-mild flavor. It is available in the fall.

King from Alaska’s Copper River will be available usually middle of May to mid-June, and sockeye will continue through the summer. Kings and sockeyes from other Alaskan rivers and from the Columbia River start to appear in the summer. Kings end late summer/early fall, and sockeyes continue to run after the kings stop.

Now a few tips on cooking wild salmon. First, because it can be so rich, you’ll want to cut back on portion size, which also helps with the food budget. I usually serve a 4- to 4 1/2-ounce portion.

Second, fish is meant to be cooked medium. (“Picture a steak. Now picture what a medium steak looks like. It’s not well-done and it’s not bloody raw,” says Alexis.) Still unsure about when it’s done? Shoot for an internal temperature of 140 to 145 degrees.

Third, salmon doesn’t need much help. A little salt and pepper and onto the grill is the way to go. Be sure to leave the skin on, let it crisp and serve the salmon skin-side up.

Hungry yet?

Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press, $25). www.cowgirlchef.com; @cowgirlchef

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