My mother doesn’t know it yet, but she already had her Mother’s Day Dinner at my house, a couple of weeks ago. Once again, she’s off galavanting around the world and will be gone on Mother’s Day, this time to Istanbul and Italy. Had she been in town, I would have made this for her on Sunday. Instead, a few weeks ago she asked if I could get some wild salmon, the first of the season, and I obliged with this special meal. At the time, I forgot she’d be gone, so because I didn’t say it then I will say it now, “Happy Mother’s Day Mom!”
While all meals made with love are special, this was was especially so because of the ingredients. First there was the salmon. Why is wild salmon so special you ask? Mostly because of how it differs from Farmed Atlantic Salmon. Think of it as the difference between an animal raised on a farm, kept in a pen, fed a diet of processed feed, antibiotics and colorants vs. one which has had the freedom to follow its natural path, eating the same food its ancestors have for thousands of years with nothing else added.
Salmon are anadromous fish which means they are born in a fresh water river, migrate out to the sea, and when they are ready to spawn, they swim back upstream to procreate in the exact same spot they were born. In order to do this, they feed and fatten themselves up for the journey because they need to expend a ton of energy to get upstream. It’s at this point that the fishermen capture them, at the mouth of the river, when they are at the absolute peak of their existence. While it may sound sad to capture an animal in the prime of its life, many are allowed to get through to continue the cycle of life. And trust me, you don’t want to eat them after they have spawned. They stop feeding once they enter the river and are quite literally spent at the end of their journey. The salmon I cooked was Columbia River King Salmon which is supposed to have the highest oil content of any salmon out there because they have the longest trip upriver to swim. This oil adds flavor and those good omega filled fish oils we all hear about.
The other special ingredients in the dish were red quinoa (the health benefits of which I’ve discussed on this quinoa salad post), dandelion greens (filled with vitamins) which add a bitter and complex note to the dish to balance the quinoa’s earthiness, and roasted pistachios which I brought back from my own trip to Istanbul last month. Those pistachios, by the way, were the best I’ve ever tasted and I was loathe to share them, but hey, my mom is that kind of special, so she’s worth it!
Pan Roasted Wild Salmon with Quinoa, Dandelion Greens and Parsley Pistachio Vinaigrette
Printable recipe for Salmon with quinoa in PDF
1.5-2 lbs fresh wild king salmon, skin on (cut into 4 pieces, 6-8oz each)
1 Tbsp canola oil
kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 oz fresh dandelion greens, washed, dried and chopped into 3″ pieces
2 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, sliced into strips 2″x1/8″
kosher salt and pepper to taste
.25 oz flat leaf parsley, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 oz shallot, minced
1.5 Tbsp white wine/champagne vinegar
4 oz extra virgin olive oil
3/4 oz shelled pistachios, dry roasted and roughly chopped
kosher salt and pepper to taste
How to make the vinaigrette:
Chop the parsley very fine and mince the garlic and shallot, placing all in a medium bowl. Add the vinegar and whisk in the extra virgin olive oil. Add the pistachios and season with salt and pepper. This can be made a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.
How to make the quinoa:
Combine the quinoa with the water, bring to a simmer, and cover. After about 10 minutes, remove the lid and stir, checking for the amount of water left. It should take about another 10 minutes for the rest of the water to be absorbed and finish cooking. If you want to make in advance, remove the quinoa from the pot and spread on a baking sheet to cool.
To prepare the rest of the quinoa portion of the dish, heat a large saute pan or wok and add the extra virgin olive oil. Add the garlic, shallots and sliced bell pepper and saute for about 2 minutes, taking care not to let the garlic burn. Add in the washed and cut dandelion greens and saute until they wilt. If necessary, add a tablespoon of water to help the greens cook. When the greens are mostly wilted, add in the cooked quinoa and mix with the greens to reheat. Finish with a squeeze of lemon and season with salt and pepper. Serve under the cooked salmon.
How to pan roast the wild salmon:
Place the pieces of salmon skin side up on a plate and pat dry with a paper towel if there is excess moisture on them. Season the skin with salt and pepper.
Heat a heavy bottomed saute pan. When hot, carefully add the oil and swirl to cover the bottom of the pan. Using tongs, place the salmon skin side down in the pan. Be careful as the oil may pop when it comes into contact with the skin. Turn the heat down to medium and cook about 3-4 minutes until the skin is evenly crisp and browned. Using the tongs and a spatula, gently turn the fish over in the pan and continue cooking another 3-4 minutes**. Remove from pan to a warm plate.
**Cooking times are based on a piece of fish which is 1.5-2″ at its thickest point and an internal cooking temperature of “medium”. You may want your fish more or less cooked depending on your personal taste.
Place about a cup of the warm quinoa/dandelion mixture in the center of a medium sized plate. Place the cooked salmon, skin side up on top of the quinoa mixture. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of the parsley pistachio vinaigrette over and around the fish. Garnish with extra pistachios. Serve with a pacific northwest pinot noir.
Set the quinoa to cooking first. Then make the vinaigrette and set aside. Cut the vegetables which get mixed into the quinoa. About 20 minutes before you want to eat, put two pans on the stove, one for the quinoa mix, and one for the salmon. Make sure you have all your ingredients ready. Finish the quinoa part of the dish and cover to keep the heat in. Cook the salmon, set up your plates after turning over the salmon the pan, and serve.
If you have any leftover quinoa and vinaigrette, it makes a particularly good salad the next day.