Dalai Mama Dishes

by Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

Dalai Mama Dishes

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

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Roasted Salmon with Ginger-Cilantro Vinaigrette

Posted April 27, 2009
Find more about dinner , dressing , fish , dalai mama , salmon
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We took out a second mortgage and all we got was this lousy piece of fish! Just kidding. Sort of. But isn't it lovely?

"Roasted" sounds better to me than "broiled" which makes me feel like I'm out to dinner with my grandma. Not in a good way. See how burnt the foil is, but not the fish?

Wash the whole bunch of cilantro in a sinkful of cold water, spin it dry, then wrap whatever you're not using in paper towels and store it in the fridge in a plastic bag.

Fermented black beans. See what I'm saying?

Mandatory green sauce. Leftovers are great on rice or as a dressing for pasta salad.

This is my ideal meal.

I stopped counting, but I think this was Ben's millionth helping of salmon. You could see his brain expanding right before your very eyes!

His sister, meanwhile, started out game enough. "Salmon! I can't remember if I like this."

But things quickly degenerated. "It has a smell," she said, not happily.

"You used to love salmon!" we said. But she's more of a chicken-of-the-*land* kind of girl, it turns out.

I got confused about fish and mostly stopped cooking it. That's what happened. I wasn't sure about the safety guidelines, for one thing: all those cut-and-save lists from magazines and organizations, and red means eat it and you'll keel over and die and yellow means eat it and your brain will liquefy and then you'll keel over and die, and a sad-fish icon means "over-fished" and a sad-baby icon means "more mercury than the band Queen." But also, the source of the advice was sometimes unclear (funded by Tuna R Us?), and the recommendations seemed to shift often and quickly enough that one always suspected another shoe was going to drop. Canned tuna, for instance. First it was okay to eat it a hundred times a day, then three times a week, then only whenever all the laundry in your house was sorted, washed, folded, and put away, i.e. never. (Note: these are not official recommendations.) The daily shoveling of cans and cans of it into my ravenous craw when I was pregnant with Ben became a fact I tried not to think too much about. And when my father grilled a beautiful piece of swordfish for us last summer, I acted like he'd replaced the children's toothpaste with Drain-O. "Dad! Swordfish is on the list!" My poor dad.

Also, fish is expensive. And over the years, the children have liked it sometimes and  disliked it others, and so it became simply easier to cook it rarely or not at all because nothing is more annoying than the moaning and gagging over a splurgey dinner. But then recently I was reading an article about how people are ironically compromising their health with their various worries--about pesticides or e. coli or mercury. Folks just aren't eating as much produce and seafood as they should be. And it got me to thinking how I deprive my kids of their rightful omegas because of something like paranoia. And also, despite the creepy introduction here (sorry), I actually love fish.

So: Salmon. Pacific wild-caught. On sale at Whole Foods. And, most importantly: on the Environmental Defense Fund's handy chart, this fish gets a GREEN DOT! I know, right? That means "high in omegas, low in contaminants." Yay! (Not a scary RED DOT, like swordfish, Dad.)

So, now we have the safe and wholesome fish, there's the whole cooking it issue. I tend to soak any fish in soy sauce and then run it under the broiler with a pat of butter: the fish ends up burnished to a beautiful mahogany color, and I feel like I can pull it out when it's done just the way I like it (which is very slightly rare on the thickest end--I serve my family from the skinnier, more cooked end). Plus, I cover a pan with foil so clean-up is easy. And look, your kids may love it or they may not. Call it "mermaid food" if you have to, or let them dump ketchup on it and then simply praise them for trying.

But the accompanying vinaigrette? I have to tell you that its nickname around here is "mandatory green sauce" because we once had friends over and when Michael asked politely if they would like to try the green sauce, I said, "Oh, you'll try it. The green sauce is mandatory." I know "addictive" is overused as a food word, but really--this sauce is so zippy and sultry that never has anybody not asked for the recipe (did you not not follow that chain of negatives?). It is so fantastically good, that the first time I made it, a roomful of people stopped speaking and their eyes rolled deliriously up into their heads. It's like that. The kids may not like it, which is fine--they'll likely be too busy complaining about the fish to notice. And of course you can't help the cilantro-haters--those poor deluded brothers (cough *Rob* cough) and fathers-in-law (cough *Larry* cough) who think it tastes like soap. Whatever.

A note about ingredients: "Seasoned Rice Vinegar" is rice vinegar to which sugar and salt have been added, as for sushi. It's worth buying because all on its own it makes the world's best dresing for sliced cukes. But if you are using unseasoned rice vinegar, then add a teaspoon of salt and an extra two teaspoons of sugar to the recipe, and taste the finished dressing to make sure it's balanced. Also, you will see "Fermented Black Beans" on the ingredients list, and you should feel fully free to pretend you didn't: they look like turds and they smell funny, and the sauce is actually fresher-tasting without them. But they're like the anchovies of the legume world, and they do add a bit of that funky je ne sais quoi. Ours are "Yang Jiang (brand) Preserved Beans with Ginger." They come in a plastic bag inside a round yellow box in Asian Markets and even in the Chinese section of some large grocery stores. They're inexpensive and, like other fermented foods, they're already bad, so they keep forever.

Roasted Salmon with Ginger-Cilantro Vinaigrette
Serves 4
Active time: 20 minutes; total time: 30 minutes

The vinaigrette is based (somewhat loosely) on the excellent recipe for "Cold Poached Salmon Tiles with Ginger-Black Bean Vinaigrette" in the late, great Barbara Tropp's fabulous China Moon Cookbook. The salmon would be very good grilled, but I have become convinced that my bosom gets in the way of grilling and am forced to leave it to Michael (Hel-lo, gender stereotype!).  Try moderate heat at around 5 minutes per side.

for salmon:
1 1-pound salmon fillet, with skin (ask for it in one piece, preferably "center cut" so that it will be an even 1-inch thick)
3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon butter

for ginger-cilantro vinaigrette:
1 super-heaping tablespoon finely chopped (peeled) ginger root (about a 1-inch chunk)
1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon soy sauce or tamari
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 packed cup clean and dry cilantro leaves and stems (No need to pluck the leaves from the stems! So easy!)
1/2 teaspoon Chinese fermented black beans (optional)
2/3 cup canola oil, or another light-tasting and healthy vegetable oil (not olive)

Begin by marinating the fish: pat the salmon dry with a paper towel and run your fingers over it to feel for any bones, which you should yoink out with pliers. Now pour the soy sauce or tamari into a dish that will hold the salmon snugly and place the fish flesh-side down in it. Cover, and leave at room temperature while you make the vinaigrette, up to a half hour or so.

Make the vinaigrette: in a small pot on the stove (or in a bowl in the microwave), heat the vinegar and ginger together until it just comes to a simmer. Remove from the heat and stick it in the freezer to steep and cool while you clean the cilantro and prepare the rest of your ingredients (if you need to skip this step, you can--but I think it enhances the overall gingery-ness of the dressing).

When the vinegar/ginger mixture is cool, add it the bowl of your food processor along with the garlic, soy sauce or tamari, sugar, cilantro, and optional fermented black beans. Whir this mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula, until it looks quite blended and uniform. Now, with the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil through the feed tube until it's all incorporated; this should take about 30 seconds of slowish drizzling. Taste the vinaigrette: it should be pleasantly tart and just salty and sweet enough: add more of anything it might need. Scrape it into a small bowl and cover while you cook the fish.

Broil the salmon: preheat the broiler, line a small, rimmed baking sheet with foil, and place the salmon on it, skin-side down. Slice up the butter and dot the surface of the fish with it, then broil close to the heat for around 10-12 minutes (more or less, depending on the thickness of the fish), until it is done to your liking. The salmon will brown and sizzle madly and the butter will blacken on the foil (fine), but if it seems like the fish is actually burning at any point, cover it loosely with foil for the remainder of its cooking time. Remember that the fish will continue to cook once you pull it out of the oven, and try your best not to overcook it: use a paring knife to peek at it--I take it out when it's still just slightly translucent at its center, but you may want it cooked a bit more.

Serve the fish and pass the sauce at the table.

Get a printable version of this recipe.

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Roasted Salmon with Ginger-Cilantro Vinaigrette

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About Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman is the author of the memoir, Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family, available online and in bookstores nationwide.

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