FRIDAY FISH: Salmon and Fresh Tomato Salsa on Garlicky Cauliflower Mash…and a Little Plating Fun

With as much fish as we’re supposed to eat for health and six weeks of Friday Fish for Lent every year on this blog (this is now our second Covid Lent), salmon comes up pretty often on our menu. Our friend Chris likes to say, “Puh-leeze give me something else to do with salmon!” Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy serving salmon with at least two vegetables — so you’ve seen a few variations on this theme — hoping to eat less carbs or save them for some bread. I also simply want to increase our vegetable intake. Serving a smaller portion of fatty fish or red meat on a bed of vegetables or just to the side is not only a healthier way to eat (more vegetables), it makes the protein appear larger, more attractive, and puts it front and center for its closeup — an old tried and true restaurant ploy. So if it’s not really something new to do with salmon, it might just look and taste better!

While it’s long ago and far away, I’ve worked at a few restaurants– nearly always as a server, but with my eyes on every dish I carried to the table. A couple of my really interesting restaurant jobs were carhopping and cracking eggs. As a blogger, cooking teacher, and occasional caterer, I never seriously studied plating at all (ok, ok), but if you cook enough and have to take pictures, eventually you’re going to come up with some ideas about what makes this world go round. The old adage of “we eat first with our eyes” is never more obvious than when I put out platters of appetizers for a party and hear, “that LOOKS so beautiful!” And looks make folks want to eat. It also shows guests you care about them. It truly doesn’t take that much more time and effort, but it does require thoughtfulness, being in the moment, paying attention to detail, buying inviting tableware, and…well, garnishing! Even at home. Even for fish. Especially for fish, which is so very often white. Luckily salmon is a beautiful shade of coral.

If you’re interested in plating…check this out; it’s a fascinating subject.

Just below is the recipe for this week’s –yes, it’s gorgeous!!– FRIDAY FISH, and then, right below, check out JUST FOR FUN. Here I include a little exercise in figuring out what elements make a meal “pop” visually and how to get started at home making your food look just good enough to eat! But first, try this:

Salmon and Fresh Tomato Salsa on Garlicky Cauliflower Mash with Crispy Brussels Sprouts

This meal does not take a really long time to cook, but it’s best to begin with the mash, as it takes the most time and the fish is cooked very quickly. I like to serve it with Crispy Brussels Sprouts –get started ahead with those, too — and include the recipe below. Both the mash and the sprouts could be made a day ahead and then reheated while you cook the salmon. Do warm your plates/bowls in a 200 degree F oven.
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 center-cut salmon fillets, 4-5 ounces each
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • Fresh Tomato Salsa for garnish-recipe below
  • Garlicky Cauliflower Mash-recipe below
  • Crispy Brussels Sprouts for serving-if desired (recipe below)
  • Lemon wedges for serving

Instructions

  • Heat a large cast iron or heavy skillet(s) over medium heat; add oil and heat until quite hot. Lay the salmon fillets skin side down carefully and season well with salt and pepper. Let cook 4-5 minutes or until quite browned; turn, season again, and let cook another 3 or 4 minutes or salmon is cooked to your liking.*
  • After the salmon has been turned in the pan, begin plating the meal. Spoon at least 1/2 cup mash across each plate or bowl and add Brussels sprouts to the side, if serving. When the salmon is done, remove fillets with tongs onto the mash and top each piece with a generous spoonful of tomato salsa. Serve hot immediately with lemon wedges.

Notes

*FDA temperature is 145 degrees F for safely-cooked salmon. I like it at medium – 125 degrees F.
FRESH TOMATO SALSA: In a small bowl, gently stir together 20 chopped cherry tomatoes (3 plum tomatoes), 2 minced scallions or green onions, and 1/3 cup minced fresh parsley. Season with a pinch each salt and pepper along with ½ teaspoon lemon zest. (optional: add ¼ cup diced red bell pepper). Set aside until needed.
GARLICKY CAULIFLOWER MASH: In a 6 or 8 quart pot, heat 3-4 quarts water to boiling with ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Add the florets from a large head of cauliflower and 4 peeled cloves of garlic, reduce to simmer, and cook until very tender—about 20 minutes. Drain well in a colander and carefully press out excess water with a plate, bowl, towels, or another colander. (Otherwise your mash will be runny.) Spoon cauliflower and garlic into a food processor; add 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne, 2 tablespoons softened butter or olive oil, and ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Process pulsing until quite smooth, adding a little more butter/oil or cheese if needed. (Or mash by hand with a potato masher.)Taste; adjust seasonings. Return to pot and keep warm or set aside and reheat as needed over low flame, stirring often.

CRISPY BRUSSELS SPROUTS: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Remove old outer leaves, trim the ends leaving a little bit of stem, and slice in half a pound of Brussels sprouts. Toss with 4 tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, and a pinch of crushed ground pepper. (Can add 2-3 cloves minced garlic if you like.) Turn out onto a sheet pan and turn the sprouts so the cut sides face down. Roast 30 minutes, turning sprouts over halfway through, or until they’re your favorite shade of crispy. Remove from oven and cover with foil to keep warm until needed. Taste and adjust seasonings. These are so good, you might make extra.
Copyright Alyce Morgan, 2020. All rights reserved.

CHANGE IT UP: Rather put your fish fillets in the oven? Try this: Oven baked salmon recipe. Want to roast a side of salmon so you have leftovers? Like spicier? Stir a little minced jalapeño into the fresh tomato salsa a la pico de gallo. Have basil? Use it in place of the parsley in the salsa. Carb loading? Make mashed potatoes and/or turnips instead of cauliflower. Need easier? Buy store bought mashed potatoes at the grocery, such as Bob Evans. I know; you’re surprised to see that. I had them once a friend’s, though, and had no idea he hadn’t made them from scratch. They were good! Who knew? Grits are another option–especially with perky cheese. BRUSSELS SPROUTS: If you’re on the I dunno side of Brussels sprouts, give them a little drizzle of honey, maple syrup, or balsamic vinegar after roasting and see if that cheers your mouth up.

TIPS ABOUT FROZEN SALMON: Don’t be hesitant to use frozen salmon. Lots of great fish is frozen immediately after catching and the prices are easier on the wallet. The best thing is if it’s in the freezer, you can decide to have salmon anytime. Thaw frozen fillets in sealed storage bags overnight in the fridge or in cold water for 30 minutes, changing the now warming water at that point if the salmon isn’t yet thawed. In a real pinch you can cook frozen salmon; it’ll just take a tiny bit longer–maybe. Don’t season it before cooking, cook it flesh side down first, keeping it covered and seasoning it after you turn it.

Go vegan:  Cook up a seared cauliflower steak in place of the salmon. You might also then think about a broccoli-potato mash using vegan butter and skipping the cheese. Keep the Brussels sprouts!

WINE: Pinor Noir or Burgundy is the typical go-to for salmon and I adore that, of course — especially with the cheesy, garlicky cauliflower. The Brussels sprouts aren’t an easy part of the pairing, though. Bitter + wine = (insert stuck-out tongue emoji). But crispy-roasted sprouts should have lost their bitterness or you can, as noted above in CHANGE IT UP, add honey, maple syrup, or balsamic vinegar to calm down that maybe-still bitter edge. In that case, the Pinot will be fine. Otherwise, consider pairing the sprouts more closely than the fish, which could lead you to a White Burgundy — always an excellent value, though you could spend as much as you like! Some folks drink CA Chardonnay with salmon anyway, but in this case, go with the French wine and less oak. Optional, but interesting thought: Grüner Veltliner.

JUST FOR FUN————Plating

Look over the next few More Time salmon photos and think about what elements make them, hopefully, interest you in cooking or perhaps just in eating as long as someone else cooks and cleans up? (I know some of you don’t cook because you hate dishes. Got that.)

Balsamic Glazed Salmon on Zucchini Cakes with Kale, Peppers, and Mushrooms/POST/RECIPE
POST/RECIPE for Salmon Puttanesca
POST/RECIPE for Salmon on Two-Cheese Tabasco Grits
POST/RECIPE for Fast Teriyaki Salmon Bowl
POST/RECIPE for Roast Salmon and Salmon Chowder
I don’t think there’s a post for this, but it’s Dave’s smoked salmon I gussy up for parties. No one hesitates digging in. Here, a simple but very large rectangular white platter bought at the grocery store could hold a large variety of appetizers and meals during the year. Make Smoked Salmon on the Stovetop recipe.
POST/RECIPE for Lentil + Salmon Salad on Tomatoes
POST/RECIPE for Salmon Cheese Spread + How to Get More Salmon in Your Life

I’m no leading expert, but you might, along with me, have guessed color, texture, placement, height, freshness, variety of ingredients, cooking methods, and more all contribute to creating an appealing plate. Details and/or components like colorful/contrasting plates or bowls, crispy charred peppers; fresh green parsley, chives, thyme, kale, and basil; bright red round tomatoes; colorful diced sweet peppers; crunchy orange carrots; purple olives; tiny white and black sesame seeds; succulent coral salmon, or in the case of the smoked salmon, shiny salmon are all individual contrasting and harmonious facets working to awaken your senses and then tease your palate.

or, as THE CULINARY PRO puts it:

Vegetables and fruits often constitute the supporting elements of a dish. Whereas proteins tend to be various shades of brown, beige, and white, fruits and vegetables add color and provide a high visual impact. Precise cuts help to create an elegant presentation. Carefully controlled cooking techniques will yield vibrant colors and accents. Textures achieved through variety in cooking techniques include starches, grains, and legumes prepared as smooth purees, al dente pastas, and creamy risottos; or as crisp textured frites, chips, and croquettes. Supporting components provide height in the form of mounded purées, pastas, and grains to support the main item. They contribute to the overall appearance by providing variety in taste, color, shapes, and textures.

The Culinary Pro

Ok, but what to do at your house?

Putting all that to work can be made easier by first paying close attention to at least one or two of these four things:

  • 1. Choosing foods and garnishes of different and/or contrasting colors for appearance and increased flavor (Don’t garnish a broccoli pasta with green parsley, but rather with chopped tomatoes, bright peppers, big shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano, or even toasted dark brown breadcrumbs.)
  • 2. Not overcooking anything, but especially vegetables. Dry or mushy does not look tasty. Seared meat, however, is attractive.
  • 3. Including fresh vegetables and herbs as possible.
  • 4. Arranging food artfully (read not all in a straight line) with plenty of edging space. Use plates, platters, or bowls of contrasting — or at least white — colors. (Thrift stores are my go-to places for a variety of tableware.)

There are many other elements of presentation to learn along the way, but concentrating on just a couple from the start can make a true difference in the looks, style, and flavors of your plate. As time goes on and one or two details become natural, you’ll add more. But from the beginning, you’ll start to see how much healthier your food is, that its taste is improved, and both you and your family or guests will be increasingly interested in eating dinner! Or, as my mom always said, “Pretty is as pretty does.”

Tips: Plan ahead, thinking through the dishes you’re serving and how you might present them together and which plates/bowls you’ll choose. Use odd-numbered elements on your plate as it satisfies the eye more than even-numbered. Example: groups of 3 cherry tomatoes on the smoked salmon above. Make sure and clean the edges of plates or bowls with a clean towel before serving.

Nevaeh White by Fitz and Floyd/Bed Bath and Beyond

Thinking of buying some new tableware? Skip getting a total set. Instead, find a large, shallow white (or black?) dinner bowl you like; they’re often inexpensive and are great for entrées and sides, whole-meal salads, stews, and pasta. Read up here.


POST/RECIPE for Salmon on Caraway Cabbage

MORE INFO THAN YOU WANTED:

More Time’s Top Ten Salmon Recipes (2018)

Which Salmon Should I Buy/EATINGWELL

How to be a Cook Who Makes Food Look Beautiful/KITCHN

7 Tips for Plating Your Food Like a Chef/LATOURANGELLE

#EatTogether Commercial/CRAVEMORE

Lust, Lies and Empire: The Fishy Tale Behind Eating Fish on Friday/NPR/Maria Godoy

How You Can Help Texas Winter Storm Victims/CNN


above: Lurky turkey returns (All I can think is, “DINNER!!” But she? looks pretty skinny and cold.) Sadly, this one’s always alone; turkeys are usually in flocks.

LIFE GOES ON:

A week of freezing cold and more beautiful snow at our house. We had no loss of water or power, though a few neighbors had broken pipes–quite unusual. Additional snow arriving Wednesday. We need the moisture badly, so Coloradans have no complaints. (below)

The beginning of Lent is always like this; sometimes the end is, too. (above)

I’m glad you’re here. I’m happy you’re reading and hope you’re looking forward to a little fishy content for a few weeks. Click on FRIDAY FISH or FISH AND SEAFOOD or specific fish/seafood names (Shrimp, Salmon, Cod) under the “categories” section to check out other years’ offerings.

Be well cooking your salmon,

Alyce

below: This poor guy couldn’t get his car up our hill to deliver restaurant food, so had to hoof it up. Hope he got a $50 tip.

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