Spring Salmon with Asparagus

The only part of this recipe where measure matters is for the rice and even there I haven’t found the need to be too precise. Perfect rice is perfect for you: add more water, less water, more salt, oil, a bay leaf, a chopped onion. In time, you’ll have a lot of perfect rice. I like baked brown rice— it turns out with a little more bite left to it. This also works well if you are roasting the asparagus since you can make double use of the heat your oven worked hard to get. I do try to make extra rice since it is so useful for so many things— even plain for a quick snack. But sometimes everyone is really hungry and the only thing left is a small prize of rice scrapings for whoever is cleaning the dishes. If you need to adapt this for a tiny kitchen, you can do the rice and salmon on a two burner stove and the asparagus in a toaster oven.

Asparagus options: If I am using medium to thick asparagus, I roast them. These seem to really like being roasted and will thank you with a smoky sweet flavor. If I have the thin asparagus, I trim their woody ends, leave them whole and drop them into boiling, salted water for two minutes at most and then run them under a bit of cold water and onto a kitchen towel. Then they would be strong enough to merrily jut out of the bowl and you could eat them by hand, dipping them in the sauce as you go. It’s always fun to use your fingers. If you can’t find asparagus, you could try broccoli or broccolini or any other greens.

Salmon options: I have been seeking out wild Sockeye, King, or Coho salmon because they have the deepest color. I’m not sure what goes on with farmed salmon, but they look like I do after a long winter—pale. Some even have natural color added. Something added is never natural. What color was it before? I would rather have a smaller piece of a salmon that lived the salmon life. And here you don’t need a big piece. I might try arctic char the next time.

Rice options: Instead of brown rice, you could use white rice, quinoa, couscous, or some sort of small pasta.

Sauce options: Greek yogurt has been finding its way into more of my cooking all the time, but I used to use mayonnaise and there are probably other things that would work well. Regular plain yogurt would be fine. The herbs could be anything: dill, tarragon, basil….

Time note: If you do the baked rice, it will take about 10 minutes to prep and boil the water and 50 minutes in the oven. Everything else will come together within that time. I usually manage to clean up the kitchen and check messages, email, etc. while things are cooking.

For this four person version, you’ll need:
• Around a quarter to a third of a pound per person for the salmon
• 3 cups of medium grain brown rice
• Two bunches of asparagus
• Plain Greek yogurt (small 5.3 oz.)
• Around a quarter to a third cup each of finely chopped chives and parsley— save some chives or parsley to garnish.
• Around 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
• Salt, ground pepper, olive or canola oil
Optional: sea salt flakes, fresh cracked pepper

Cooking Equipment I used:
• Frying pan for salmon (I used a 12″ pan for four pieces of salmon)
• 13×18 sheet pan for the asparagus
• Anchor Hocking 11 cup covered baking dish or 9×13 baking dish with foil to cover for the rice
• Four cup Pyrex measuring cup for boiling water

Make sure there is room in the oven for the baking dish with the rice on the top shelf and the baking sheet with the asparagus on the middle rack and get the oven going at 375º.

Next, get the rice going. This is my big, hoping for leftovers portion, but you can cut it in half or thirds:
• Mix 3 cups medium grain brown rice and 3/4 tsp table salt in the baking dish
• Bring 4 2/3 cups water to a boil in a pot or microwave in a four cup Pyrex measuring cup (it will  fit the extra 2/3 cup) or other microwave safe bowl.
•  Add the boiling water to the rice
• Stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil
• Cover and bake for about 50 minutes.

Once the rice is in, put the bowls on the stove to warm up and cut up the asparagus. I usually cut them on the bias (just because I like the way they look and it doesn’t take any more time here) in roughly 3 inch pieces. Discard (or compost) any really woody ends. Toss with a little olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt flakes, and put them in the oven with the rice for the last half hour. When you take the rice out, move them up to the top rack and broil for a few minutes to get some nice brown spots going if you want.

Now make the sauce. Mix the Greek yogurt, or any plain yogurt or mayonnaise, with a handful of fresh minced chives and parsley. You can also try adding mint. Or maybe some tarragon could work. Squeeze in enough lemon juice to get the taste and consistency you like (I’ve been using around two tablespoons) and add a dash of salt and a little fresh ground pepper. Set it aside to let the flavor come together.

When the rice has about fifteen minutes left, set a pan or a griddle on the stove and let it get good and hot. Prepare your salmon: rinse, dry, remove any bones, season with a little table salt and ground or fresh cracked pepper. Sear the flesh side, turning after it releases from the pan and has a little crust to it; I don’t find that I need any oil here, I just have to wait for the pan to let it go after a few minutes. Sear the other side a few minutes and let the skin crisp up, someone at the table will probably love a side dish of crispy salmon skins. Turn the heat down and let it finish cooking, anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes depending on how thick it is and how done you want it to be. Sneak a peek with a sharp knife if you’re not sure. I always do this because I’m never sure. When the salmon is almost done, take out the rice and move the asparagus to the top rack and broil for a few minutes.

It’s ready. Remove the skins from the salmon if you want. Or leave them on. Assemble your little bowl with as much or as little as you want. Top with a few chive batons if you’re in the mood.

Why a bowl? You can use any kind of dish, but I like a bowl. I like to cup my hand around the bowl while I’m eating to share a little of the food’s warmth with my hands. The best part is at the end: holding the bowl helps you get every last bit out.

Notes: For olive oil, I use Columela— it has a sort of spicy flavor, for sea salt flakes, I use Maldon, and for pepper, I use the Tellicherry variety. I use table salt for anything mixed in or cooked and save the sea salt flakes for finishing or roasting. Using these ingredients adds a little extra flavor to the dish and they’re getting much easier to find now.

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