Chili Cinnamon Seared Salmon- You Kiddin’ Me?

seared salmonI still have a taste for spicy. I don’t mean hot like the Spicy Vietnamese Shrimp from yesterday though. This time I am looking for a deeper, earthier more nuanced spice blend.

This is a Spiced Seared Salmon. To “spice” it I am turning to chili powder and cinnamon. Which may seem like an odd combination to you. But, not really when you consider an amusing little fact that I am hoping will amuse you! Cinnamon and chili powder are the most common spices found in American households.

Plus the combination is not entirely unheard of especially in Indian cuisine. So those two facts tell me that I can make a good spice rub with just these two powders and a bit of salt.

I am going to rub this combination on some gorgeous Copper River Sockeye salmon fillets. These babies and their deep red flesh are the real deal. The “pinker” Atlantic farm raised salmon (that is way too common in our groceries stores) is artificially colored with chemicals.

Not only is that disgusting to think about, but Seafood Watch rates farm raised Atlantic salmon as AVOID. Partly due to the atrocious manner in which it is raised. It takes three pounds of feeder fish to raise every pound of salmon. How can that be sustained very much longer? Besides the Environmental Defense Fund has issued a health advisory against farmed salmon due to high levels of PCB’s in its flesh.

None of this means you shouldn’t eat salmon. But when you do eat it. Go for the very best. My Sockeye salmon was wild caught. Seafood Watch rates it a BEST CHOICE because Pacific “salmon are among the most intensively managed species in the world, with excellent monitoring of both the fish populations and the fishery itself.”

Besides, when it comes to the most important factor I need in choosing salmon, Sockeye wins hands down. It simply tastes better. Need Sup say more?

Searing fish is really one of the easiest ways I know to cook it too. I know there are people out there who have a bit of fear when it comes to cooking fish. If that describes you then this is a good technique to master because it is very straightforward and even a bit intuitive if you watch and pay attention.

For this particular preparation choose salmon fillets with the skin on and start by washing and drying them. Drying them well is very important in achieving that super crunchy skin that is so delicious. Wet fillets just don’t crisp up as well.

In a small bowl mix 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1/2‑teaspoon cinnamon, and a 1/4‑teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Sprinkle this mixture on both sides of 4 salmon fillets.

Heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil and 1 scant teaspoon of sesame oil in a large saute pan. Choose a pan that is large enough to give each fillet plenty of room. You need not use a non-stick pan. I don’t even own a non-stick pan. When properly cooked this fish will release itself when it is time to turn it. I promise. Though there is no reason why you can’t use a non-stick pan. I just don’t trust Teflon for some reason.

When the oil is very hot, almost smoking; add the salmon, skin side down. Cook it until the skin is very crisp, dark brown and releases easily from the pan. This should take 3 to 4 minutes. Do not be tempted to check or move the fish around in the pan during this time. You will only succeed in making it stick to the pan or worse ruin your beautifully crisp skin.

Click for More on Angeline Pinot NoirClick for More on Angeline Pinot NoirAnother thing about searing  fish is the noticeable changes it goes through as it cooks. Fatty fish like salmon will actually visably shrink as soon as it hits the pan. Watch for this. It is key in indicating that your pan is propely heated.

Also pay close attention to the fish as it cooks. Not only will it release itself and flip very easily. But you can also literally watch it cook. The change is dramatic and easy to see. You will notice that the fish gets lighter and more opaque. Do not let it cook more than about 1/4 of the way through at this point. You might be worried that the rest of the fish seems quite raw, but honestly this is a good thing.

Once the skin has crisped flip the fish, and cook it an additional 2 (maybe 3) minutes more.  Do not let it cook all the way through. The fish will continue to cook after it leaves the pan. Your goal is a succulent flesh graduating from a rare center outwards to a crispy crackly skin. If you are unsure, please err on the side of less cooked. There is no reason to be squeamish about fish. You really are throwing away good money if you overcook your salmon.

I am serving mine very simply, with arugula. I am going to put the argula raw onto the plate and top it with very hot shitake mushrooms and shallots sauteed in a little canola oil. You can also add a tiny bit of sesame oil to the pan if you like.

seared salmon in a panI say “tiny bit” and “if you like” because I want you to keep in mind what wine you choose to pair with this meal. Fish need not always be paired with white wine. The flavors you choose to accompany it however will help you decide between red and white in this case.

My brother Grant has paired it with a Pinot Noir. Too much of the sesame flavor won’t really help the pairing. But a tiny bit does not conflict with the wine and will really round out the palate on this meal and make this a complete experience!


Greg Henry