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.
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
2 lbs salmon filets, skin on or off
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
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.