Tuesday, January 12, 2010
A Classic Case of the Munchies
As I alluded in an earlier blog, I spent the week prior to Christmas working on an exciting photo shoot that I can't wait to share with you all. Although it kept me busy and on my feet--one whole day of shopping, prepping and cooking plus another day of cooking and styling on set--it was also inspiring in countless ways despite all the work involved. The recipes I styled were tailored towards the winter season so it was nice to actually work with the foods and vegetables that are currently in stores and at the market (often times publications shoot stories with a lead time of 2-4 months, so working in relative "real time" is a rarity). One dish I worked on utilized salmon, a protein that I am sad to say I do not cook nearly enough of these days despite how incredibly good it is for you (in addition to being delicious). I've been so focused on vegetables as of late that my once meaty ways have appeared to be a thing of the past. But I do still love my proteins, and it's nice to be reminded once in a while of how good some can actually be for you.
Once I was reminded of how tasty salmon was, the undeniable health facts came flooding to mind: it's packed with omega-3 fatty acids (especially the wild varieties) which are healthy, unsaturated fats that are great for your heart and even better for your skin and hair. The American Heart Association recommends eating these "fatty" fish (and others like mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna) at least twice a week, especially as a replacement for proteins packed with saturated fats. Unfortunately for all of us, the mercury levels found in some fish have deterred people like me, who used to eat fish 1-2 times a week from continuing to do so. I've instead turned to lean cuts of pork (remember when it was "the other white meat"?) and mountains of protein-rich grains like quinoa, but I'd like to once again give fish the old college try. The truth is that fish like salmon are filling and meaty without feeling heavy, and healthy preparations like oven roasting, poaching and steaming are often the way they're most delicious (try steaming that rib-eye and tell me how it tastes).
A healthy and filling portion of salmon generally weighs in at 6 ounces, which initially didn't sound like much to me, but after researching in several supermarkets and cookbooks it became clear that 6 ounces was plenty when served with a side of, well...pretty much anything. In fact, most supermarkets will get you by packaging one piece that's twice as large (and thus twice as expensive), and selling it to you as one portion. I've found that getting your portions cut at your fish counter is usually a better bet than getting the pre-packed pieces in the refrigerator case. Not only can you dictate the portion size, but you can often verify that a piece you see cut from a whole fish has not been previously frozen. Some higher-end markets like Whole Foods even have special deals on "healthy" portions of certain types of fish, which are worth taking advantage of, especially if you're only cooking for one.
Once I had salmon on the brain I knew exactly what to serve with it. I love the classic French pairing of salmon over lentils (talk about a health wallop), and there just happened to be enough French green lentils leftover from my photo shoot to round out the meal. These are small, dark lentils, which I really like because you can cook them fairly quickly (about 30 minutes) without having to let them soak in water overnight like larger lentils or dried beans. While they cooked I melted some butter and olive oil in a non-stick skillet and added the salmon, skin side down. Once it was browned I flipped it over and cooked it on the other side until the fish was medium and still slightly pink in the very center (which is my personal salmon preference). Then I removed it to a plate, lowered the heat and added the tiniest splash of white wine and the juice of 1 lemon. I let the mixture cook down a minute or two, then added one pat of butter, a little parsley and pulled it off the flame. While the salmon rested for a minute I sauteed the cooked lentils in olive oil with green onions, shallot, salt and pepper, then finished with a tiny splash of red wine vinegar. I plated the lentils with the salmon on top and a nice little arugula salad on the side. It was a perfectly filling meal which despite my lemon-butter sauce, I would consider relatively healthy and certainly affordable. I'll bet you could even entertain with this meal and only spend about $15 total for four people. Here's my final recipe.
Lemon-Butter Salmon with Lentils
(4) 6 oz portions of boneless salmon
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup white wine
juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley, divided
1 1/2 cups french green lentils
4 scallions, thinly sliced
2 small shallots, finely chopped
1 Tbsp red wine or sherry vinegar
1. Add lentils to a large pot with 2 tablespoons of salt and cover generously with water. Bring to a boil and cook until done (soft but not mushy--I prefer mine a bit al dente), stirring occasionally. Set aside.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and about 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a large non-stick skillet. Season the salmon with salt and pepper and add to the pan, skin side down (if all four pieces don't fit, do it in batches to avoid crowding the pan). Cook until crispy and flip to cook on the other side to your desired doneness is achieved. Remove salmon to a plate to rest.
3. Reduce the heat to low and add the wine, allowing it a minute or two for the alcohol to cook off. Then add the lemon juice and allow the sauce to thicken and reduce slightly. Finish with the last tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of parsley.
4. Add shallot, green onion and extra virgin olive oil to a non-stick skillet and cook on medium low heat for 30 seconds. Add lentils and toss to combine. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and fresh black pepper as necessary. Remove pan from heat, add vinegar, toss to combine and plate with salmon, drizzling salmon with lemon butter sauce. Enjoy!