Salmon Two Ways with Porcini Mushroom Polenta & Seared Scallops on a Bed of Wilted Spinach and Bacon Cream
A few evenings ago, I was invited to a good friends home to cook diner. He had been wanting me to do fish because he is not comfortable cooking it and wanted to learn. We had salmon fillets which I prepared two ways, seared and steamed. I like my salmon with a medium rare center and a flakey outer layer. Accomplishing this is actually quite simple. For the first method, searing, apply olive oil to the skin side of the fish, then salt. This prevents the skin from sticking. Next, pour a generous amount of olive oil in a skillet and get it right up to the smoking point in temperature. Lay the fish fillet away from you and watch from the side of the fillet as the color changes indicating how much of the fish is done. To keep the skin on the fish and not stuck to the pan, take a fish turner or thin spatula and lift a corner of the fillet. If you salted it well and with plenty of oil, it lifts easily. If the skin is stuck, carefully but firmly scrape it off the pan by applying more pressure against the bottom of the skillet than the fish. With one quick movement, it should release. Once flipped, the opposite side should only cook for about thirty seconds, and you can also sear the sides if you like it more well done. Remove the fish and place it on a plate to rest, it will continue to cook due to residual heat.
That is a very simple, approachable way to prepare fish. However, it is actually the more involved of the two techniques; the next one is even simpler. To steam fish, I have a secret method I have used for a few years. My friend really enjoyed this kitchen shortcut and after seeing how fast and simple it was, he said he would be cooking a lot more fish. The first step is to find two microwave safe concave plates in your kitchen. If the two plates are positioned surface-to-surface, this will create a clam shell style steamer for the fish. Place your seasonings together with the fish on the bottom plate. I used lemon slices under the fillet, garlic cloves, spring onion, and a drizzle of honey on the top. Place the second plate over the top, encasing the fish and vegetables. Microwave for one minute and check the progress, being mindful that the plates will be hot and the steam inside can burn you. The fish should be about halfway done, but I always check just in case. Replace the top plate and return it to the microwave. Like I said before I have been doing this for a few years and it never takes more than two minutes total to cook the fish fillet. After two minutes remove the dish from the microwave, again being careful of the steam and hot plates. Inside you will have a perfectly cooked delicate and flakey fillet with a medium rare center.
Scallops are incredibly delicate and can be tough when overcooked. Using a similar searing technique as the salmon, get a skillet with olive oil hot and add butter. The oil and butter combination prevents the butter from burning quickly. When the butter begins to brown and becomes fragrant, quickly place your scallops around the pan going clockwise. This is a good tip anytime you have a lot of things to turn in the pan so you know where to start. Scallops cook even quicker than shrimp so flip them as soon as you see them turning opaque white. The flesh will split slightly; you can test the density of the meat with your finger to check their tenderness and ensure you are not overcooking. Only flip them once and remove from the pan, reserving the delicious sauce.
Scallops pair wonderfully with fresh spinach. However, I wanted to add something rich and savoury to this dish, so I used crispy fried bacon. I wilted the fresh spinach in the hot bacon grease until it softened, being careful not to overcook the spinach because it will lose its bright green color. I added the minced bacon, and reduced the heat. Once the spinach was cooler I added enough cream to create a sauce, stirring constantly.
Polenta is made from corn and in the south, we call this dish “grits”. It can be many colors depending on what type of corn is used, but white is the most common. Typically, it is a breakfast food served alongside eggs. I bought a bag of yellow polenta that also had some dried carrot and porcini mushroom. We added more porcini and a touch of butter, then boiled it for about 10 minutes, similar to quinoa. The deep mushroom flavor complimented the other delicate aspects of the dish perfectly and made for quite the epic meal. I hope you try a few of these dishes but most of all, the steaming technique. It really is simple. You could literally prepare a delicious, healthy meal of steamed vegetables and fish in two minutes with very little clean up.