Thin slices of salmon cook quickly and slightly warm the mixed greens, green beans and snow pea pods tossed with a Japanese-based miso vinaigrette. Recipe below.
Sometimes a single detail can make all the difference in a dish. Recently when Marion and I had lunch at Lulu’s dim sum & then sum in Evanston, she ordered a salmon salad that, as words on a menu, had done little for me. But when the dish arrived at our table, it was a whole different story. Instead of the expected chunks of cold salmon tossed with greens, there were thin slices of fillet, still warm from being quickly cooked, simply arranged on top of the salad.
Suddenly, it had my attention. I visually dissected the salad as Marion described it, bite by bite [this treatment of restaurant meals is an occupational hazard—or benefit, depending on your point of view—of writing a food blog]. Yes, the salmon was slightly warming the greens. Yes, those were green beans and snow pea pods. And yes, you could taste the miso in the light dressing.
Miso [MEE-soh] is a Japanese culinary mainstay, used in soups, sauces, marinades, dips and as you’ll see here, salad dressings. Marion often uses it to make a miso soup, the kind that begins many Japanese restaurant meals, when anyone in the house is feeling under the weather. It is simple, soothing and restorative. Miso is a thick fermented paste made of cooked soybeans, salt and often rice or barley. It comes in a variety of flavors and colors, from the so called white miso, which we use most often, to golden to reddish brown. White is the most delicate flavored; the flavor deepens and intensifies as the color does.
Miso paste is readily available in Asian markets, particularly those catering to Japanese shoppers. And you can occasionally find it in supermarkets in larger metropolitan areas. It is also popular among vegetarians and vegans for creating flavorful, protein-rich broths. You’ll find it in the refrigerator case, and it will keep pretty much indefinitely in your fridge.
Creating our own take on the restaurant dish that so captured our attention took Marion and me working together in the kitchen, experimenting and tasting, especially to create the miso vinaigrette. But now that we’ve figured it out, it will be quick and easy to recreate. And it was so good that, trust me, we will.
Seared Salmon with Mixed Greens and Miso Vinaigrette
slender green beans, about 20 or so, trimmed [see Kitchen Notes]
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar [see Kitchen Notes]
1 tablespoon white miso paste
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 5-ounce package mixed baby greens
snow pea pods, a good handful or so [see Kitchen Notes]
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
3/4-pound salmon fillet, skinless
Japanese chili pepper or cayenne pepper [see Kitchen Notes]
salt, to taste
Blanch the green beans. Drop the trimmed beans into a small pot of boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Drain the beans and immediately plunge them into iced water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.
Prepare the vinaigrette and salad. Combine olive oil, rice vinegar, miso paste and lemon juice in a small bowl and whisk to blend completely. Set aside. Put mixed greens in a large salad bowl; mix green beans and snow pea pods in a separate small bowl. Having everything ready to go is key—the salmon cooks very quickly, and you want the salads assembled and set to go.
Prepare the salmon. Place salmon fillet on a cutting board, flesh side up [the non-skin side—you can tell the difference, even with the skin removed]. Using a very sharp knife [see Kitchen Notes], slice the salmon across the grain into 6 equal strips. Quickly reassemble the fillet and season the flesh side [now the edge of the strips] with Japanese chili pepper or cayenne pepper [use a light hand] and salt to taste.
Assemble salads before cooking salmon. Toss mixed greens with most of the vinaigrette and a little salt, drizzling a little of it over the green beans and pea pods and reserving a little to drizzle over the salmon. Divide mixed greens between two plates. Top with green beans and pea pods and scatter cilantro leaves over the assembled greens.
Cook the salmon. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high flame. Add a tablespoon or so of canola oil and cook three of the salmon slices about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a plate, then carefully fan salmon strips on top of salad. They will be somewhat fragile, so handle carefully and try not to freak out if they break up on you. Repeat with remaining salmon slices, assemble second salad and serve.
20 or so green beans? A handful of snow pea pods? I know, I know. But that’s how I measured them when I bought them. You want them to complement the mixed greens without overpowering them. Measure with your eyes. Do make sure the green beans are smallish, slender ones, though. I lucked out and found French green beans.
Rice Vinegar. This Japanese vinegar is available in Asian markets and many supermarkets. If you can’t find it, substitute red wine vinegar. But do try to find it; I often use it when I just want a light vinaigrette.
Japanese Chili Pepper. You’ll find this in the Asian section of some supermarkets. My smallish bottle actually says “Assorted Chili Peppers.” The ingredients it lists are these: Chili pepper, orange peel, black sesame seed, white sesame seed, Japanese pepper, ginger, seaweed. Yeah, you can substitute cayenne pepper, but this has a lot more going on. You’ll note I essentially seasoned one side of the fillet. Partly, it was because if I’d seasoned it before slicing it, I would have smeared off most of the seasoning in handling it. But it was also because, with these thin slices, you get some of the seasoning with each bite, so nothing is lost.
How sharp are your knives? We took a one-day knife skills course a couple/few years ago, and the single most important thing I learned is how often to sharpen a knife. The answer? Every time you use it. In practice, I manage about three out of four times—or two out of three times when I get lazy. But the end result is that, over time, your knives become noticeably sharper. And you want a nice, sharp knife for cutting thin slices of salmon without shredding them.