I just returned from a wonderful visit with friends and, as always after a nice vacation, it is taking me a few days to resume the usual rhythm of my life. Consequently, I don't have a complicated or technique-heavy recipe to share here today (or even pictures of the process)...just a simple, market-inspired, meal of salmon and vegetables. It was delicious and came together very quickly—making it perfect for those final days of summer when (no matter how much you love to cook) you really just want to spend time out of doors with your family and friends.
Most of the time when we eat fish, it's because I'm at the grocery store shopping for other things and I see some extra nice fish and realize I'm hungry for it. On Saturday, as I stood there in the store looking at the beautiful Coho salmon I mentally began to run through the things I had purchased at that morning's farmers' market to make sure I didn't need to buy anything to go with the salmon. I knew I had some green and yellow wax beans that I wanted to use. They had just come back into season after a break during the worst of our summer heat and were especially beautiful. I also had some nice potatoes and cherry tomatoes, which when combined with the green beans would be the makings of a nice vegetable medley. I thought some bacon (good with just about everything, but especially nice with salmon) and thyme from the garden would pull it all together nicely. And it did.
If you are a novice at pan-searing fish, you can check out last year's Spicy Sautéed Halibut post, where I went over some of the basics. Pan-searing fish isn't difficult—it just takes practice. Make sure you have a nice heavy sauté pan that is just large enough to hold all of the fish you are cooking. I think cast iron and French steel are the best—they are inexpensive, non-stick and can go from the stove straight into the oven (it's nice to be able to "finish" the fish in the oven). Get the pan hot before adding the fish (you can always turn it down once you have added the fish—but if the pan isn't hot enough initially, the fish will stick). Remember that fish is delicate and it is best to turn it with a spatula instead of tongs. When it's time to turn the fish (after it is crisp and golden on the first side), if it is acting like it wants to stick, gently shake the pan back and forth. This will encourage the fat in the pan to slide under the fish and help the fish to release itself from the pan. Finally, don't skip the addition of a little bit of butter to the pan as the fish cooks. The milk solids in the butter will brown, rounding out the golden color of the seared fish and adding a nice nutty flavor at the same time.
Pan-Seared Coho Salmon with Bacon & a Medley of Late Summer Vegetables
3 strips of bacon, cut cross-wise into 1/2-inch strips
3/4 lb. small potatoes (Yukon, Baby Red, etc.), scrubbed and cut into fat wedges
several sprigs of fresh thyme, picked
1/2 lb. mixed green and yellow wax beans (can you all of one color), topped, tailed and cut into 2- to 3-inch lengths
4 to 5 oz. mixed cherry/pear/grape tomatoes, halved
2 filets salmon—skinned or not, as you prefer
salt & pepper
1 to 2 t. unsalted butter
Place the bacon in a cast-iron (or other oven-proof skillet) set over medium-low heat and render until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to a double thickness of paper towels and set aside. Increase the heat in the pan to medium-high. When the pan is hot, add the potatoes and toss to coat in the bacon fat. Cook the potatoes until they are golden brown in spots—turning occasionally—5 to 10 minutes. Season the potatoes with salt & pepper and a scattering of thyme leaves and transfer to a 375° oven and cook until they are a nice golden brown and tender (check occasionally, giving the pan a shake to redistribute the potatoes and make sure they aren't burning)—about 20 to 30 minutes.
While the potatoes cook, blanch the green and wax beans (in two batches—it might not take the two kinds of beans the same amount of time to cook) in boiling salted water until tender. Lift the beans out and spread on paper towels. Set aside. Halve the cherry tomatoes and set aside with the beans and bacon.
About 10 minutes before the potatoes are done, heat an oven-proof sauté pan (cast iron or French steel are best) over medium-high heat. Dry the fish with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, add enough olive oil (could use canola oil...or another bland oil) to just coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil shimmers, add the fish to the pan "service side" (the side that will face the diner—this will be the skin-side if you left the skin on and it will be the other side if you took the skin off) down. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle (the fish shouldn't sputter and smoke). After a minute or two, add a teaspoon or two of butter to the pan. When the butter is melted, scatter the remaining thyme leaves over the butter. Gently shake the pan back and forth on the burner—this will allow the melting butter and thyme leaves to slide under the fish. When the fish is a beautiful golden brown color (after a total of 2 to 3 minutes cooking time) gently slide a spatula under the fish and turn it over. You may continue to cook the fish on the burner, or transfer it to the oven to finish. The fish should only take another 3 to 5 minutes to cook. It is done when it is springy to the touch and a skewer inserted in the flesh is warm to the touch—an instant read thermometer will read about 110° to 115°. Transfer the fish to a plate and pour the thyme-infused butter in the pan over the fish. Let the fish rest while you finish the vegetables.
Divide the roasted potatoes among two dinner plates. Place the pan back on the heat (medium to medium-high) and add the beans and bacon to the pan. Warm the beans, stirring frequently. If the pan seems dry, add a bit of olive oil. When the beans have begun to get hot—after a minute or two—add the tomatoes to the pan and continue to heat until the tomatoes are just warm. (You aren't cooking the tomatoes—just warming them. They should soften just slightly—they shouldn't fall apart). Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper (if the vegetables are well seasoned, but still taste a bit flat, add a splash of sherry or red wine vinegar). Divide the vegetables and bacon over the potatoes and top with the salmon. Serve immediately.
Serves two, but quantities can easily be increased to serve more.