One of the most popular seafood species on the market and one of Wulf’s all-time MVP’s, salmon is beloved for a reason. Its flavor is mild enough to appeal to broad swaths of eaters, but it’s also sturdy and rich and can stand up to almost anything you throw at it, from flavor profiles to preparation methods. Want raw fish, poached fish, seared, grilled, or broiled? Salmon is here for you. Grownups love it. Kids love it.
My kid, especially. I’ve written before about my son, who just turned 11. He's a fish fiend. It’s hard to get him to breathe between bites when we serve fish of any kind - sushi, fried redfish, grilled mackerel, oysters, squid - he’s a connoisseur of all things piscine. So we thought we’d test out salmon’s versatility by preparing it four different ways and getting his thoughts on the many sides of salmon.
RAW: We started with a simple crudo: Thin slices of the fish dressed with a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice, and salt.
Q: It looks gooey and slimy.
Me: Ok, well it’s raw. You like raw fish, remember?
Q: Yeah. [takes a slice] It doesn’t taste like anything except olive oil. Maybe it tastes like smoked salmon.
Me: Yeah, I think that might be the olive oil talking. What do you think?
Q: [lunges for the poached fish next to the crudo]
Takeaways: I was using Nordic Blu salmon, which does have a very mild flavor when raw. But what I like about it is the lovely supple texture - and that the mild flavor allows you to play around with all kinds of flavor profiles.
Tips: It’s easier to slice the fish when it’s partially frozen. You can get thinner, more uniform cuts that way. Slice it, then return to the fridge to stay cold and thaw completely until you’re ready to serve. Also, use your best finishing oil to dress the fish. I think our olive oil was a little too brash for this preparation.
POACHED: While we ate the raw salmon, I brought very salty and lemony water to a simmer and lowered the fish in; an 8-ounce filet cooked for 10-12 minutes. When it was cool enough to handle, Q was ready for it.
Q: It looks like a piece of chicken. [between bites] It’s really good.
Me: Do you like the way it tastes or the texture?
Q: Both. I really like it.
Me: I think it would be good with some grain mustard in a salad. It’s dense but light at the same time, somehow.
Q: I’d like it with ketchup.
Me: [suppressing an eye-roll] Ok, moving on.
Takeaways: Poached salmon has a dense, springy texture that you don’t get with any other cooking method - making it perfect for a salad and really nice at breakfast, if you’re into fish first thing in the morning.
Tips: You want poaching liquid that's well-salted and seasoned; the fish will pick up whatever flavors are in the water. Barely simmering liquid is a must - you want the fish to cook gently, not boil.
BAKED:Another simple preparation a few nights later - salmon with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, baked for 10 minutes in a 400°F oven.
Q: Mmmmmm, salmon. I like this.
Me:Yeah, but don’t you miss the crispy skin?
Q:No, I don’t like crispy skin. This is nice and oily, in a good way.
Me: It is nice and tender, you’re right. But something’s missing.
Q:[mouth full, shrugs]
Takeaways: Baked salmon is as easy as it gets - I sprinkled it with salt and added it to a pan of sweet potatoes I was roasting when the potatoes were halfway done. By the time I was done making a salad, the rest of the meal was ready.
Tips:Use a nonstick pan or silicone liner, or oil the pan well so the skin doesn’t stick to the surface.
SEARED:We saved this for last. I kept this simple too so my guy wouldn’t get distracted by a glaze or a salsa. For the last method, I salted the fish and seared it, skin-on, in a cast-iron skillet for about 10 minutes total.
Q:[peels off skin] I don’t like this.
Me: Hand it over.
Q: [can’t talk, eating]
Me: Seared salmon with crispy skin is my favorite. I like the contrast of the skin and the super-tender meat, you know?
Q: [can’t talk, eating]
Looks like he liked it. :)
Takeaways:I like salmon best this way because of the aforementioned contrast but also because I like to be able to really get at the layer of fat under the skin in a way you can’t with other methods.
Tips:Preheat the skillet well so that searing begins as soon as the fish hits the pan, and be patient: Let the filet cook for a good 6 to 7 minutes before flipping.
To wrap, I feel like there's a salmon prep for everyone! Salmon is flexible, forgiving hard to mess up, and pretty much delicious no matter how you make it.