Seafood and citrus, a match for the centuries. What is it about the combination that makes us automatically reach for a wedge of fresh lemon when we are served a beautifully cooked piece of fish? It is probably partly custom, some habit, and a touch of science all rolled into one reaction. In the days before refrigeration, the acid in lemon juice helped preserve fish, extending the time it could be eaten safely. Today that same technique is still used to “cook” fish for ceviche.
In the Middle Ages it was believed that if a person accidentally swallowed a fish bone, the lemon juice would dissolve it. In San Francisco you are always served a hunk of sourdough bread with seafood meals which helps gently push any swallowed bones down so they would be safely digested. It really doesn’t matter to me because I love the flavor of lemon on seafood and would use it even if it wasn’t “healthy.”
There are those who argue against the use of lemon, and in some cases I agree with them. When you are eating a very mild fish like sole or halibut, the lemon can overwhelm and mask the flavor entirely. But when you are enjoying more assertive seafood such as salmon, shrimp, or tuna, the lemon helps cut the fattiness and balances the flavors. If you want a little lemon flavor without squeezing it on yourself at the table, you can use a little in a quick marinade. The fish will absorb some of the flavor but still maintain its unique taste. Don’t let the fish sit too long in the marinade or it will wind up cooked before it ever hits the heat of the grill or stove.
Salmon is one of the healthiest things we can eat. Whenever you have the choice, always buy wild salmon. It is ecologically smart, helps support the fishing industry, and ensures that natural salmon habitats will be protected for future generations. When big business sees something is popular and thus money generating, it tends to support the continuation of that “cash cow.” In addition to that farmed salmon bred in captivity can contain chemical food additives due to what they are fed.
Today’s salmon is served with a slightly spicy, extremely flavorful orange relish. Orange is much milder than lemon and when combined with the onion, peppers ginger, and honey it becomes almost chutney-like. I love this relish so much that I use it with a lot of different proteins, most commonly chicken and pork. I think you will find it extremely complimentary and a nice change of pace from tartar sauce.
I am also including a wonderful recipe for a rice side dish that goes great with the salmon. Chock full of fresh herbs, it bursts with bright flavor that more than holds its own next to the fish and orange relish. It is made with the beautifully aromatic jasmine rice, but you could substitute your favorite rice, brown rice, bulgar, farro, quinoa, etc. If you do substitute another grain, make sure you adjust the cooking time accordingly.
So, when you make this for your next gathering or weeknight dinner, you may want to forgo passing lemon wedges with it. This is one fish dinner that doesn’t need it!
Kitchen Skill: How to Remove Pin Bones from Fish
Pin bones are the small bones that connect to the spine of fish. They are sometimes left in filets, even though we are told that filets have been boned. Whenever you buy fish, run your fingers over the surface, feeling for any protuberance. If it is a bone, you will probably find a line of them. Use a set of fish pliers or your fingernails to pull them out. They can be firmly attached, so wiggle them until they release. I always warn my guests to beware of bones just in case!
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1-1/2 tsp thyme leaves, divided
- 4 salmon fillets (about 1 lb)
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp grated orange peel
- 2 oranges, peeled, sectioned and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 tbsp chopped red bell pepper
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp chopped red onion
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Make Marinade: Mix orange juice, oil and 1 tsp of the thyme in small bowl. Place salmon in large resealable plastic bag or glass dish. Add marinade; turn to coat well. Refrigerate 30 minutes or longer.
- Make Orange Relish: Mix all relish ingredients in medium bowl. Cover. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Prepare Salmon: Mix brown sugar, paprika, remaining 1/2 tsp thyme and salt in small bowl. Remove salmon from marinade (discard any remaining marinade). Rub salmon evenly with paprika mixture. Place salmon on foil-lined baking pan.
- Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Or grill salmon over medium-high heat 6 to 8 minutes per side or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
- Serve salmon with orange relish.
- Scant 2 cups basmati rice, soaked in salted water for 2 hours
- 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives
- 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
- 3 to 4 scallions, finely chopped
- 4 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 to 3 saffron strands, soaked in 1 tbsp boiling water
- Drain rice and boil in salted water for 5 minutes; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Stir in the herbs and scallions. Mix well with a fork. Simmer for a few minutes more; transfer to a wire strainer and drain but do not rinse. Wash and dry the pan.
- Heat 2 tbsp butter in the pan. Add 1 tbsp water; stir in rice. Cook over very low heat for 10 minutes, and then test to see if it is half cooked.
- Add the remaining 2 tbsp butter, the cinnamon and saffron in water and cover the pan with a clean dish towel. Cover with a tightly fitting lid and steam over a very low heat for 30 to 40 minutes or until perfectly cooked.
- Move the pan off the heat, remove the lid and towel and toss the rice with two forks, helping to separate the individual grains of rice.
- If you want a faster version of this, you can use pre-cooked frozen rice (available at Whole Foods and Trader Joes). While it is warming in the microwave, lightly saute the onions in a little butter for about 2 minutes. Toss in the fresh herbs and stir to combine. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon and 1/2 tsp turmeric. Add in the cooked rice and toss until well combined and the seasoning is evenly distributed. Serve hot. You can have this on the table in about 15 minutes!