Simple details, beautiful results: Seared salmon with mixed greens and miso vinaigrette

by Terry B on October 8, 2008

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
Serves 2

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
canola oil

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.

Kitchen Notes

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.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

canarygirl October 8, 2008 at 5:24 am

Oh my…this looks incredibly delicious! I love the contrast in textures and temperatures…YUM.

Mimi October 8, 2008 at 10:43 am

This really sounds perfect, TerryB, and exactly what I am in the mood for. Too many carbs consumed while on vacation, I guess.

I guess I will have to hunt up my father’s knife sharpener, BTW. My husband has a knife that fits into a sharpener, but we just bought new knives and I need to protect that investment. Thanks for the tips!

maris October 8, 2008 at 3:59 pm

This sounds really good! I can’t stand lettuce when it’s warm, but I do like to add protein to salads so that they are more substantial as meals, but usually the chicken or fish is cooked and warms the lettuce – next time I’m out I’ll ask for the meat to be sliced very thin – what a great solution!

Terry B October 8, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Hi, canarygirl! Thanks for stopping by.

Mimi—You really will see old knives spring back to life. The biggest proof for me was in slicing tomatoes; instead of the skin resisting the blade and smooshing the contents within, it gave easily and the knife sliced cleanly through it.

maris—To be clear, this isn’t a dramatic heating of the lettuce—it’s just a nice, subtle thing.

Chris October 8, 2008 at 8:34 pm

This is exactly the kind of meal we enjoy.
Thanks for posting it, and congrats on the new web home.

Mike October 8, 2008 at 8:41 pm

For such a “simple” salad, its really quite attractive (as are all of your photos!) and it sounds like it would be really tasty

umami girl October 8, 2008 at 9:10 pm

Terry, I just discovered your blog the other day through a BlogHer link. It’s really exquisite – I’m glad to have found you! Looking forward to reading more. – Carolyn

Haley October 8, 2008 at 9:21 pm
Mandy October 8, 2008 at 9:36 pm

That is one delicious salad! I am going to bookmark this recipe. Btw, I keep staring at the picture and wonder why my dinner never look so pretty?!

Christina October 9, 2008 at 2:13 am

Beautiful! Man, I can’t wait for my peas to come in to toss into this . . . I have to finish the plot first, I guess.

I love a good miso vinaigrette, but I’ve never ventured out into trying to figure it out myself. Now I don’t have to. Thanks!

And, as always, such a gorgeous picture.

Terry B October 9, 2008 at 2:41 am

Thanks, Chris! I’m enjoying Blue Kitchen’s new home. By the way, I really like the give and take you and Lisa have on your blog.

Mike—Putting this together the first time was rather involved because we were figuring it out as we went along, but now it would be simple. And keeping mixed greens and the miso vinaigrette as constants, I could see riffing on this salad in lots of ways.

Thanks so much, umami girl! I can’t wait to explore your lively blog some more.

Haley, thanks so much. I’ll have my people call your… er, I mean, I’ll be in touch.

Thanks, Mandy! I have fun with my photographs, but as a result, I never eat hot foods hot or cold foods cold when you see them in a post here.

Christina—Once we’d gotten the mix right on this miso vinaigrette, Marion and I agreed it would be seeing more use than just on this salad. A simple, delicious dressing for all kinds of salads, chilled, cooked green beans, asparagus…

Toni October 9, 2008 at 11:39 pm

My computer decided you were OK, I guess, ’cause here I am. And grateful to be here, because not only do I love this kind of food, but I had no idea I was supposed to sharpen my knives that often. So now I’m on a mission – thanks!

altadenahiker October 12, 2008 at 1:42 am

Oh, once again Blue Kitchen sends me hither and thither to find: Chili pepper, orange peel, black sesame seed, white sesame seed, Japanese pepper, ginger, seaweed. ” And just as I was going to sneak in something generic, he chides, “Yeah, you can substitute cayenne pepper, but this has a lot more going on.” I’m exhausted — Not just any old sesame seed, but white sesame seed?

altadenahiker October 12, 2008 at 1:47 am

I just think you’re kind of mean, because here I have this quart sized bottle of Ralphs All Purpose Pepper Sauce (with real pepper-like flavoring), and it’s just going to go to waste.

Susan from Food Blogga October 14, 2008 at 2:27 am

I’m so glad you and Marion were pleasantly surprised when the salad arrived. Warm salads are often so much more flavorful than cold ones.

Terry B October 14, 2008 at 3:07 pm

altadenahiker—You know, I really do try to limit my use of even semi-esoteric ingredients just so I won’t send people “hither and thither.” But riling you up somehow makes it all worthwhile.

Toni—Glad your computer decided I was legit again. Regarding knife care, for everyday sharpening, just use a standard steel. The ones with the industrial diamonds actually wear away the blade and are best used for reviving knives that are extremely dull or damaged; a regular steel just realigns the edge. Hold the knife at about a 15º angle to the steel and make a dozen or so passes along the entire length of the blade, alternating sides of the blade. That should do it. As I said above, if you do this every time [or almost every time] you use a knife, you’ll see its sharpness improve over time.

Susan—Oh, we’re big fans of warmed salads. I’m thinking particularly of spinach salads wilted with bacon grease—so less than healthy, but delicious. The surprise for us was a visual one, the way the salmon was sliced and arranged on top of the salad.

Prudence October 18, 2008 at 6:34 pm

Hey there- This look divine! I am making salmon tonight coincidentally! I enjoyed reading your blog and found you thru iVillage! Stop by for a visit if you have a chance!!

JessieB February 22, 2013 at 2:40 am

THANK YOU FOR THIS AMAZING RECIPE!!! I used it as a basis for a salad I made my own version (using ingredients I had on hand) & since the ingredients for the Japanese Chili blend were in my pantry already, I made my own. It was one of the best salads I’ve had in a long time. Thanks again!

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