First of all, I only started enjoying salmon recently. For the longest time I saw it as a dry flaky mess lacking flavor. It just seemed boring to me. I think I must have had it a few times at restaurants when I first came to the US and the experience was ok. What I probably didn’t know is that the poor fish had been cooked… I mean tortured in the grill/skillet, for, who knows how long, until there was nothing beautiful or tasty left. Later I would find out that salmon and most fish cook at relatively low temperatures and salmon is juicy and flavorful not to mention wonderful, and not dry and lame like in my first encounters. The same goes for asparaguses, never been crazy about them until recent years. How you cook and season asparaguses can make a huge difference. Nicely steamed or grilled, with some bite left, salt, pepper, and a splash of lemon juice, and the potential finally became obvious. Now, combining the two, the flavors and textures make for a a great addition to a cold or hot salad. Add rice… stop… this trio delivers so much goodness is hard to believe this is happening from this simple preparation. Let’s go over this:
Ingredients (4 servings):
1 lb salmon fillet, skin on
1 cup arborio rice
1 pound of asparaguses, medium diced talks and whole tips
1/2 an onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves
2-3 cups of vegetable stock (some fish stock would have been nice)
1/2 cup of a nice dry white wine
1/2 tbsp butter (I didn’t use butter this time)
2 tbsp heavy cream
some dill… finely chopped.
salt and pepper to taste
Prep the fish. Cut salmon fillet in half against the grain. Skin one half. Reserve skin (for making skin crisps for garnishing for example). Cut the half with skin on (against the grain) in half again. You’ll end up with a couple of strips. Halve those along the grain this time, you’ll end up with 4 square portions. I kept the strips, and had to score the skin so they wouldn’t curl on the hot pan. But with four square portions this isn’t really necessary.
For the asparaguses, boil some water in a pot or deep saucepan. Add a good pinch of salt or two. Add the diced stalks first. Cook them for a few minutes until they are softer but still crunchy. Strain, remove and reserve. Also reserve the water, we will cook the tips in it as well and then use it as asparagus stock in the risotto. Let the water come to a boil again. Add the tips, these will cook a lot faster, they are more tender in nature. Don’t over cook. A couple of minutes is probably all they need. Remove and reserve. Reduce the asparagus “stock” to about a half of a cup. Remove from heat. Add some olive oil, and coat to prevent from drying and so they glisten when plating. Reserve.
Heat up some olive oil on a deep and wide saucepan or skillet on medium. Sauté the onions until translucent. Add the garlic, and cook but don’t let it go brown, I can’t stress this enough. Add the rice to the pan and sauté it for a couple of minutes, some grains might start to go a bit golden, lower the heat to low, and add the wine. Start stirring. Add a pinch of salt. Keep stirring. Add the stock. The stock will quickly get absorbed. Keep stirring. Stock has to be added slowly and as the rice absorbs it. Arborio rice is one thirsty rice, so be patient. The starch in the rice will be released during this process, adding to the creaminess of the final dish. Add the asparagus stock, let it be absorbed. Continue to stir (yes.. this process requires patience) Taste as you go, this is so important! I like to adjust risottos as I add stock or any salt, pepper..etc… there is no other way to get it right. Don’t follow a recipe, taste the food as you go instead (don’t be tasting raw chicken or pork, common sense above all please). Once the rice feels soft on the outside but still has some bite left at the core (yes, you have to taste it to find out) Add the skinned piece of salmon. Cook it in the rice. The salmon will turn pink quickly and become flaky, you can basically “shred” it easily with your stirring spoon. By the time the salmon is incorporated into the rice, it will be cooked, the rice should also be cooked. Season to taste. Add the diced asparagus stalks. Add some cream, this is really to your liking, I don’t use a lot of cream. Add the chopped dill. This ingredient isn’t really common in this type of risotto (or italian cooking in general) but it goes so well with the dish that I decided to take my chances here 🙂 Mix everything well and get ready to finish. If risotto is feeling dry you can add a little water to it.
For the side of pan-seared salmon, heat up a skillet with some olive oil until shimmering. Dry the fish with paper towels, this will reduce the amount of oil/water spatter. Add the salmon pieces skin down first. Let the fish cook for a couple of minutes, don’t mess with it. You can see how the fish cooks, from bottom to top, the fish will go from a translucent red to a matte pink hue… when 2/3 of the salmon is cooked, flip carefully. Sear the other side for about 30 seconds to a minute and remove from heat.
To plate. Scoop a portion of risotto and place it over the plate. Top with asparagus tips. Drizzle some olive oil over the plate. Place the pan-seared salmon next to the risotto mound. Add a lemon round. A little pepper over the whole dish. Done.