Earlier this week I posted a recipe for a wonderfully cozy bowl of creamy chicken soup with dumplings. I mean, talk about craveable comfort food, right? Although, as the title “The Craveable Kitchen” might imply, my food cravings don’t always run the comfort food variety. In fact, my daydreams about food often lean more towards entertaining. A certain idea might start with the craving of a particular ingredient, say pancetta, and then before you know it, I’m rounding out the complete dish with crispy skinned salmon and seared cauliflower all piled perfectly high for a beautifully plated main course. Just like you see here:
What can I say? Entertaining is engrained in me as a career, but also as a hobby. I think it was a hobby first, serving as the original catalyst towards culinary school, but who can really say for sure? All I know for sure is that now my brain is constantly designing menu ideas that would be great for cocktail parties or seated dinners. The many years I spent catering high-end events in New York City while also hosting Apartment 404 dinner parties with my roommate on the weekends contribute to this continuous stream of pretty food ideas.
All that brings me to this point…I will absolutely, undoubtedly share entertaining recipes with you here on this blog. The crave-ability of these recipes might start with a single ingredient, but beyond that will be the desire to invite friends to the table and nourish them with thoughtful food.
So how does this lovely plate of food come together? Well, it’s easier than you might expect. The trickiest part is the crispy skin on the salmon, but it’s not tricky if you know a few tips. First, buy your salmon from a counter where all the seafood looks fresh and vibrant. If it looks sad, or withered, step away. This might require a little recon on your part ahead of time, but I don’t share that tip to intimidate, I share it to empower. Trust your gut. Once you find a good place, go there over and over again, ask questions and get to know the people who work there.
Since we want to eat the crispy skin, we need to make sure all the scales are removed before cooking. You may be surprised that the fish you buy at the store is not descaled properly. By shopping at the counter you can confirm with the staff person that the fish is in fact totally descaled. If not, ask nicely and maybe they will remove them for you while you finish shopping.
If you get home and discover the fish still has scales, don’t panic. Take a knife and scrape in one direction and then the other direction to determine which way the scales are directed. Continue to scrape in the opposite direction and the scales will pop right off. You are not cutting the fish here, just scraping across the surface to release those little suckers. At best, it’s annoying.
To crisp up the skin you want to set a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat and add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Get the oil nice and hot. While it’s warming you can pat the fish dry on both sides, and season with salt and pepper. Once the oil is quite viscous, meaning it swirls easy and freely around the pan, you can add the salmon skin-side down. You should hear a very active sizzle. If not, remove the fish and let the oil heat up a little more.
Let the salmon cook untouched for about 4-5 minutes until you see the edges of the skin turning golden brown and the sides of the salmon changing color halfway. Carefully flip the filets, and finish cooking on the other side. I turn down the heat on the second side to help manage how hot the pan is getting. The trick to finishing filets on the stove rather than transferring to the oven is to manage the heat so it doesn’t brown the outside of the fish before cooking into the center.
PSA: Fresh, properly-handled salmon does not need cook all the way through. Medium temp on the inside is best.
One of my obsessions this recent season has been seared cauliflower. I love firing up a pan, getting it nice and hot, adding the cauliflower and letting it sear for 3-4 minutes before tossing or stirring. This allows a good amount of contact with the hot pan so the cauliflower caramelizes quickly, upholding the texture of the crisp vegetable with the added flavor of a good sear.
Searing the cauliflower only takes about 5-8 minutes total, so it can be done while the salmon cooks. To finish with extra flavor I add white wine vinegar, chopped fresh parsley and a pat of butter along with the pancetta I crisped up before I started on the fish. The pat of butter is totally optional, but I mean, butter makes everything better, in my opinion!
I happen to think this dish looks dinner party worthy. It’s colorful, composed and it screams “I’m delicious”! The greens piled on top provide the true finishing touch. These are called “cress” and can be found in the greens section of most grocery stores. Usually they are sold in a bag with the root system still attached. They are very delicate, so don’t fuss with them until you are ready to plate them. All I did here was squeeze some fresh orange juice over the top. A light citrus boost pairs nicely with the fish, and the acid helps cut the richness of the pancetta. Such a simple step that helps elevate the final dish.
I hope you try this at home! Let me know if you do by posting in the comments, or taking a picture and tagging @TheCraveableKitchen on Instagram! Bon Appetite!
Crispy Skin Salmon with Cauliflower and Pancetta is easier than you might think. Try it for dinner tonight or serve it up the next time you have guests over.
2 6-ounce salmon filets, skin on, all scales removed
4 ounces cubed pancetta
3 cups cauliflower florets, trimmed to just slightly larger than the pancetta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons white wine or Champagne Vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter, unsalted
2 cups Cress greens, or other baby greens
Set a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and cook until render is rendered and pieces are crisp, about 5-8 minutes. Stir often. Transfer crispy pancetta to a clean plate lined with paper towels. Reserve the pan with about 1 tablespoon of fat for cooking the cauliflower.
While the pancetta cooks, trim the cauliflower and chop the parsley.
Pat salmon filets dry. Be sure fish is totally descaled. Season filets with salt and pepper.
Set a medium non-stick saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and warm. Once oil is very hot add the salmon filets skin-side down. Sear until skin is crisp and salmon sides look nearly halfway cooked up the sides. Carefully flip the filets over and lower the heat to medium. Continue to cook until sides look completely cooked. For 1/2-1 inch thick filets this should take about 9-12 minutes for medium cooked center.
Set the pancetta pan back over medium-high heat. Once pan is very hot, add cauliflower. Sear for 5-8 minutes, resisting the urge to stir or toss for the first 3-4 minutes. This will allow the cauliflower to brown. Season lightly with salt and pepper, then add the white wine vinegar. Cook until liquid is absorbed then add back the pancetta and finish with chopped parsley and butter. Toss until butter is melted then remove from heat.
In a small mixing bowl, toss the cress with 1 tablespoon of juice from the orange and season with salt and pepper. To plate, scoop some of the cauliflower mixture onto each dinner plate. Top with a filet of salmon, skin-side facing up. Loosely collect the greens and pile high atop the salmon. Serve warm!
For more information on properly descaled salmon, see my description in the blog post.