Gochujang salmon and roasted broccoli

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There is no heartburn like the heartburn encountered after a 3am “cookies and tang” break while bending over to shovel fish guts at a salmon factory in Bristol Bay, Alaska. I learned this, and so much more while slitting, gutting, cleaning, grading, and pinboning salmon from 10pm – 2pm, 7 days a week, 16 hours a day, for about 6 weeks one summer. I ate salmon, the one ingredient that was plentiful, at least once a day in our mess hall. All the other rations slowly disappeared: vegetables, chocolate chips in the cookies – even the coffee was closer to brown water by the end of the season, but the fish was always fresh and delicious. The guy who served dinner during my shift was named Jim – he said his last job was performing in a traveling circus, and he greeted everyone with a meth-infused “heeeeeeey, howya doin, whaddya eatin, where ya been, who’ve ya seen?” which annoyed the crap out of all of us because the only thing we’d been doing was processing fish. You could usually choose between a couple different main dishes, at least at the beginning of the season, but I always got salmon and jasmine rice. The smell of the jasmine rice walking into the mess hall was fragrant and welcoming, after the putrid hours cleaning fish in the dunk tank, or worse, in my bunk where bits of salmon fermented on my waders and fleece jacket as they dried over a heater between shifts. Working in a salmon factory was a one-time adventure, but I developed a serious appreciation for wild salmon and buy it whenever I see a good deal. When I see whole, frozen fillets of salmon on sale, I buy a bunch and keep them in the freezer. Oftentimes, the “fresh” salmon you see for sale has been defrosted after it’s been flash frozen for shipping purposes.  Frozen whole sides of salmon defrost quickly in the fridge or on the counter top, and make a quick and easy dinner.

Here’s a salmon and veggies meal that cooks quickly, and uses one main sauce for each component.  I bought a tub of gochujang without any real idea what to use it for, and find it works nicely here to bring a little zip to the broccoli.

I usually start with a frozen half fillet of salmon, and stick it in the fridge the night before I cook it.  If you need to defrost your salmon quickly, use this trick from Kenji Lopez: easy sheet pan defrost  How cool is that??   Once your salmon is defrosted, pull out the pinbones with a pair of tweezers.  Even though I spent entire 16 hour shifts doing this, I still usually manage to miss a few.  Run your fingers over the row of pinbones to make sure you got everything.

Assemble your sauce ingredients, and combine.  You’ll use half for the broccoli, and half for the salmon.  I only used gochujang in the broccoli to moderate the spice, but if you like it really hot, feel free to double the gochujang and add it to the entire portion of the sauce.

Chop florets big enough so they maintain a little crunch in the oven – around 2.5″ across, and 2″ – 3″ tall.  Massage the oil into the florets, and then roast on your sheet pan.  When your veggies are done, you’ll add the gochujang to half your sauce, and toss with cooked broccoli.

While the broccoli is roasting, sauce your salmon!  As soon as the broccoli is out of the oven, turn on the broiler, and cook salmon – the salmon will be done in minutes.

Serve as is, or with a side of jasmine rice.

Recipe:

Sauce

¼ cup miso
2 tablespoons mirin
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
2 cloves pressed garlic
1 inch knob minced ginger

Salmon

2 lbs salmon filets, skin on or off
Broccoli

1 bunch of broccoli, about 1.5 lbs
1tablespoon peanut oil (can sub olive oil)
Leftover sauce from salmon
1 teaspoon gochuchang (optional, more or less to taste)
¼ cup chopped peanuts
1 teaspoon lime juice
Cilantro
scallions

Mix all sauce ingredients and set half the sauce aside.

Heat oven to 500 degrees. Toss broccoli with peanut or olive oil, and roast on a sheet pan until browned, turning florets halfway through – about 15 minutes total.

Meanwhile, pull pinbones out of salmon, and cut your filet into 4 portions if it’s not already cut.  Place salmon skin side down on aluminum foil.  If you think you’ll eat the skin, oil the foil before you do this, but I usually just discard the skin when the fish is done because it winds up mushy.  Spoon half the sauce on the salmon, coating all surfaces except for the bottom.

When broccoli is done, turn oven to broil.  Take out broccoli, add gochuchang to the remaining sauce, and toss with broccoli.  Set aside.

Broil salmon until it reaches 125°, about 12 minutes in my oven, but cooking times will vary.  If sauce starts to burn before the fish reaches temperature, turn off the broiler and heat in oven at 400° – this should only take a few minutes tops, salmon goes quick.

Meanwhile, add chopped peanuts, lime juice, cilantro, and scallions to broccoli.

Not second date material pork chops with heavy cream, horseradish, and dill

A long time ago, I worked at a book store that was upstairs from a used record store.  There was a red haired guy that worked downstairs, and one night he asked me out. For our date, we went to a Thai food restaurant that had mediocre food, but a pretty delicious Thai iced tea as I remember it.  For our second date, he came over to the apartment I was living in, and I made pork chops.  I was interested in cooking, but had a minuscule food budget, and little opportunity to cook anything fancy for myself.  I decided on a Cook’s Illustrated recipe for pork chops with apples, sage and cream.  The pork chops came out well, but when the food was done and we sat down, I realized that I had gone overboard.  Suddenly, everything screamed “I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU, PERSON I HARDLY KNOW!!”

He uncomfortably said something like “wow, this is really fancy,” and I wanted to say “BUT!  I just like to cook!  And you’re a good excuse!  You’re nice and everything, but I really just wanted to cook pork chops and didn’t know how awkward this would be!!”  That was the last time we ever went out, and he went back to the girlfriend he’d broken up with a couple weeks earlier.  I felt humiliated at the time, but I’ve been making variations on those pork chops ever since.  Tonight, I made them for my family.  When I set them down before my two boys, they yelled “DISGUSTING!  THESE ARE DISGUSTING!  IS THIS MEAT?  IS THIS CHICKEN MEAT????  GROSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!”  They immediately proceeded to finish the pork, and then asked for seconds.  I’m not sure I like the reception any more, but I’m pretty sure the recipe has improved immensely.

Recipe: Pork chops with herbs, horseradish and cream

*If you don’t have white wine, substitute half the amount for Calvados, any other kind of apple brandy, or Armagnac.  No apple juice?  Apple cider would be good here too.

4 bone in pork chops
1 tbls salt + a pinch of salt
pepper
1 tbls chopped thyme
1 tbls ghee or high heat cooking oil
1 onion sliced thin into half moons
½ cup white wine or dry sherry
½ cup apple juice or apple cider
1tbls horseradish
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tbls chopped dill

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Rub pork chops with 1 tbls salt, cracked pepper, and thyme.  Set a wire rack inside a sheet pan and refrigerate for as much time as you have – at least 30 minutes is good, but a day is better.  You can do up to 2 days ahead – it makes a significant difference in how well the chops are seasoned.

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Pat pork chops dry and heat a pan over high heat – I like cast iron because the heat remains fairly high when you add in the chops.  Add ghee or oil, and wait till it smokes.  Add pork chops to the pan and sear until golden brown, flipping until each side is deeply browned.  Cover the pan and cook on low heat until pork chops register 145 degrees – this only took 5 minutes for me, but it will depend on how thick your chops are.  Remove finished pork chops to a plate and cover with foil.

 

Pour out all but 1 tbls fat from the pan – you’ll have browned crusty bits leftover with – you’ll deglaze the pan with onions to lift up all this magnificent flavor.  Add onions to the pan and sauté over medium heat with a pinch of salt.  When onions are translucent and browned from the pan drippings, add wine and apple juice.  Boil the liquids down until they’re reduced by 2/3 of the way, and then add heavy cream and horseradish.  Boil that down until reduced by almost half, add any juice from the pork that’s been sitting and turn off the heat.  Return chops to the pan and cover with the sauce.  Serve with a hefty pile of dill on top.

 

Vegetable junk mail

Summer and early fall means an abundance of zucchini and yellow summer squash. An ABUNDANCE. It’s watery, bland, and grows like a weed. I used to think of it as the junk mail in our CSA share – a necessary evil that’s delivered alongside tomatoes, cukes, peppers, and lettuce. I’ve always dreaded dealing with summer squash, but this summer, I discovered two pretty fabulous ways to prepare it: Julia Child’s  Zucchini Tian from Food 52’s Genius Recipes cookbook, and Nom Nom Paleo’s chilled asian zoodle salad with ginger sesame dressing from Nom Nom Paleo’s Ready or Not book that came out last month.

And as great as those recipes are – today?  I ain’t got time for that. I’ve got work, kids, a truly filthy bathroom, and YES, SUMMER SQUASH, I HEAR YOU, YES, I WILL COOK YOU BEFORE YOU TURN LIMP AND SAD IN MY FRIDGE! So I cooked it simply in a rip-roaring hot pan with ghee.  A few minutes of sautéing until carmelized prevents it from getting soggy, and I swear the outside tastes a little like french toast, ESPECIALLY if you haven’t had french toast in a while. The key is that you can’t over crowd the pan, and you really have to wait for the squash to brown before you pull it off the heat.

I started with a teaspoon of my favorite ghee ever, and threw in the zucchini.    See how those edges start to brown?

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A little bit browner now

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And at last!  Pull them off the heat when they’re nicely browned on all sides.

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Sautéed summer squash isn’t fancy or revolutionary, but it’s a nice way to prepare a tasty side dish in 5 minutes.  I added this to some salad greens, chicken, feta, and red peppers for a quick lunch.

Recipe (not that you really need one):

1tsp ghee or butter
1.5 cups zucchini or yellow summer squash sliced into half moons
a pinch of salt
black pepper
a tablespoon of chopped oregano, parsley, or chives if you’ve got it
drizzle of olive oil
lemon

Heat a 10″ cast iron or non-stick pan, add ghee, and wait until it’s almost smoking.  I like the non-stick pan because it’s lighter and easier to flip, but either is fine.  Add squash and sprinkle with salt – make sure you have plenty of room so your pan isn’t crowded, otherwise you’ll wind up with soggy vegetables. It smells like french toast, right? Keep flipping or stirring the squash being careful not to ruin the crust until all sides are deep brown. Pull off heat, plate, and add black pepper, herbs, a squeeze of lemon, and a drizzle of olive oil. It’s not mind blowing, but it’s tasty!

Just blanch it

I’ve never been much of a blancher. Boil a big pot of salty water, throw the veggies in, and THEN shock them in a pot of ice water? And THEN season, saute, dress them after that?? I’m tired just thinking about it. And while all of extra dish washing was a turn off, it’s really the waste of ice that crippled me. I am an ice hoarder. In my opinion, an entire ice cube tray of ice would be better suited for a week’s worth of cold drinks, not frivolously dumped in a bowl of water. Also, I hate making ice. Why am I the ONLY one who EVER MAKES THE ICE???? But, blanching green beans in salted water makes them perfectly seasoned, crisp tender, and tasty not only in the recipe you make immediately, but for days to come. For this “last of the summer” green beans recipe, I added cherry tomatoes, feta, lots of mint, and a lemon vinaigrette – a respectable way to end the life of 16 home made, slow frozen (our freezer’s busted), hand cracked pieces of ice from my freezer. I highly recommend over-blanching the quantity of beans you’ll need for this recipe as the leftover string beans make a great lunch box companion and general snacking material.

string beans feta mint
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Recipe:
1 lb green beans
1/4 cup salt
10 cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup feta
2 tbls chopped mint
zest of one lemon
black pepper

Vinaigrette:
2 tbls lemon juice
1 tbls mustard
1 shallot, sliced
pinch salt
1/4 cup olive oil

Blanch green beans: fill a big pot with water, add salt, bring to a rolling boil, and add green beans. Prepare a bowl of cold water with an ice cube tray of ice. After two minutes of cooking, quickly remove green beans to ice water and submerge until beans are at least lukewarm, about 4 minutes. Remove green beans to a tray with a dishtowel on top to dry out.

Make vinaigrette: add all dressing ingredients to a lidded jar and shake

Add green beans to a large serving dish with cherry tomatoes, feta, chopped mint, lemon juice, and drizzle with dressing. Crack lots of black pepper on top and serve. This keeps well in the fridge for a day or two, so make extra!

Why not?

green tunnel I I I was convinced that the last thing the internet needed was another blog from me, but a while back, when I asked a co-worker why anyone would do such a thing in a time of peak saturation, he said “why not?”  So, I figured I’d give it a shot, and it only took me six months to come up with this first post.  I’m not sure where this is headed, but I’m happy to have you along.