TGIFOOD

TOUCH OF CLASS

What’s cooking today: Pan-grilled Norwegian salmon

What’s cooking today: Pan-grilled Norwegian salmon
Tony Jackman’s pan-grilled Norwegian salmon, photographed in the pan immediately after coming off the heat. I did plate it up, all pretty and garnished like, but I wanted to show that lovely crispy skin. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

The delectably crispy skin and luscious flesh of this piece of salmon made it beyond question the best fish I have ever turned out. Looks like my journey with cooking fish is getting somewhere.

You rarely see seafood in these pages for the simple reason that I live far from the sea. Consequently, I don’t get nearly enough practice at cooking it. However, it seems things are looking up.

I do find myself in Gqeberha/Port Elizabeth occasionally, and when I’m there I hotfoot it to the Fisherman Fresh deli in the docks. The port city is the nearest city to me and is still called both those names, depending on who you’re talking to. I try not to make a political choice out of it, using the name seemingly preferred by the local I’m in conversation with. It’s their city, their choice, and it seems the new name has not quite stuck as yet.

I bought myself a lovely East Coast sole while passing through the other day, and am anticipating eating that for my supper tonight, even while I write this (inevitably, it had to be frozen in the meantime).

When I got back home, I unwrapped the slice of beautifully orange-pink Norwegian salmon I had treated myself to. Yes, it’s an indulgence, but it’s a rare one, and we all deserve a treat now and then, especially after the eight weeks of belt-tightening I (don’t know about you) I’d endured since the late December festive splurge.

Here’s what I want from a generous piece of Norwegian salmon with its shiny skin: I want that skin to be crunchy and just sensational to eat. I want the flesh of the fish to be cooked, somewhat under in the centre. But I want it to go beyond simply seared, which is why, in the headline above, I have called it pan-grilled, rather than pan-seared. It turned out exactly as I had hoped for.

Fish is a tricky thing to cook, so I followed a few rules: Make sure the fish is perfectly dry, and be sure it’s fridge-cold when it goes into the pan. Both of these things help to hold the flesh together instead of breaking up in the pan. A modest salting before going into the fridge is also important.

(Serves 2)

Ingredients

2 x 300g slices of Norwegian salmon, skin on

Salt

Black pepper

A knob of butter

A dash of olive oil

Method

Do the following a few hours ahead of time: Make sure the fish is perfectly dry on both the flesh and skin sides. Put it on a dry plate. Salt the flesh lightly. Put it in the fridge about four hours before cooking it.

On a moderately high heat, melt butter with a little olive oil in a heavy iron skillet or frying pan.

Remove the fish from the fridge and place it skin-side down in the hot fat, and immediately shake the pan quickly to spread the fat evenly beneath it. But leave it alone now, with no movement of the pan, until the fillet has cooked half way through. Check the temperature and adjust if necessary. For instance, the fat may smoke, or you may be able to gauge by the intensity of the crackle in the pan that it might be slightly too hot. So, use your instincts and innate judgement.

When the time seems right, slide a spatula firmly underneath it and carefully turn it over. It’s ready to turn when, on pushing a spatula a little way under it, it lifts from the pan easily. When I did this, the skin was so perfect I lost my breath for a second. This is the kind of skin a cook treasures, and it’s akin to a reward when it’s just right.

Don’t cook the flesh side for very long or you risk it going too far.

What more do you need with this than the drizzle of pan juices and some bright green vegetables such as the sugar snap peas and tenderstem broccoli I blanched, drained, tossed in butter and served alongside it? DM

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido. Order his book, foodSTUFF, here

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

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