Tubas and inspiration: Spicy Lemon Maple Salmon

by Terry B on April 8, 2009

Spicy Lemon Maple Salmon fillets have a subtle but lively flavor and just a hint of heat. Finishing them under the broiler caramelizes the glaze. Recipe below.

If we hadn’t gone to the tuba museum, I probably wouldn’t have made this dish. Actually, it was the Travelers Club International Restaurant & Tuba Museum, a wonderfully quirky little place we visit anytime we find ourselves in Okemos, Michigan. As we did this past weekend.

No, we didn’t have fish there, although they do serve it. What caught my attention was the maple malt Marion ordered. I was quite busy taking on an amazing slice of pecan pie, so I turned down her repeated offers of a taste. But I took her exclamations of its deliciousness to heart. And I found myself remembering the Spicy Sweet Chicken I’d made about a year ago, marrying the sweetness of maple syrup with the heat of Chinese chili paste. So later in a book store, when I saw the word maple connected with salmon on the cover of the current issue of Cooking Light magazine, something clicked. And with a quick look at the recipe, I knew I would be putting my own spicy spin on it.

By the way, Marion and I were also quite taken with a delicious Indian-inspired side dish they served at the tuba museum that night. We actually talked the waiter into getting the recipe from the chef for us. After we scale it down from its industrial size—the first ingredient was eight cups of black-eyed peas—and play with it a bit, we’ll do our version here.

Also by the way, Blue Kitchen is featured on LOOK and TASTE this week! Formerly iFoods.tv, LOOK and TASTE is a Dublin-based food site and food community where you’ll find recipes, a video glossary, a blog, a forum and more. And this week, there’s a brief interview with yours truly. Okay, on to the recipe.

Spicy Lemon Maple Salmon
Serves 2 [can be doubled—see Kitchen Notes]
adapted from a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon canola oil, plus additional
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste [see Kitchen Notes]
2 6-ounce skinless salmon fillets
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Special equipment: Large ovenproof nonstick skillet if it will fit under your broiler and stand up to the broiler’s heat. Most nonstick skillets are not labeled for those temperatures; you can use a regular nonstick skillet to start the fillets on the stovetop, then transfer them to a shallow, rimmed baking sheet or—as I did—a small tray made of doubled aluminum foil to finish them in the broiler. See the recipe for details.

Preheat broiler. Whisk together the first 5 ingredients in a shallow bowl or baking dish just large enough to hold the salmon fillets in a single layer. Add fillets to marinade, turning to coat on all sides. Marinate fillets at room temperature for 10 minutes, turning occasionally.

While salmon fillets are marinating, make a shallow aluminum foil tray, doubling the foil and folding up the edges. Place it on an unrimmed baking sheet to make it easier to transfer to and from the broiler. I think this solution was better than using a baking sheet—the foil transfers the heat of the broiler pan faster, approximating transferring the hot skillet to the broiler and helping the fish cook more evenly. [Not sure if I feel more like MacGyver or Martha Stewart here.]

Transfer marinated fillets to a plate and season with salt and pepper. Reserve marinade and microwave on high for 1 minute. Heat large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add a little canola oil then place the fillets in the skillet flesh side down. Sauté for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly coat foil tray with canola oil. Transfer fillets to foil tray, cooked side up. Brush fillets liberally with marinade.

Transfer foil tray to broiler pan, sliding it from the baking sheet. Broil until fish is just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Use the baking sheet to remove foil tray from broiler. Sprinkle lemon zest over fillets and serve immediately.

Kitchen Notes

Doubling the recipe. The only thing you need to double is the number of fish fillets. The marinade will cover them all. Actually, it was intended for 4 fillets; I didn’t halve it because I didn’t want to be chasing marinade around the dish to coat the pair of fillets I cooked.

Adjusting the heat. The 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper I used was very subtle, giving just a hint of heat. That makes sense—much of it stayed behind in the leftover marinade. While it didn’t supply much heat, the cayenne pepper added to the overall liveliness of the salmon. Next time, I might add a bit more. We like heat, though—adjust according to your own taste buds. You can even leave the cayenne pepper out altogether, if you must, but it’s really better with it.


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Shauna April 8, 2009 at 5:48 am

You’ve been holding out on me- a TUBA Museum and i don’t know about it??!! Oh, my! It’s now on my List!!
Oh and the salmon sounds great, too!

Laura April 8, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Looks wonderful. I’ve actually been using my very ancient cast iron skillet for fish lately and it has been working quite well (I wouldn’t suggest using anything that hasn’t been HEAVILY seasoned though). Would never have considered it except someone told me Le Bernadin uses all cast iron cookware. Figured if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me.

dick April 9, 2009 at 2:28 am

I am totally allergic to fish and seafood. I wonder if this same sauce would work well with chicken breasts. It looks as if it would marry quite well with poultry and maybe even pork.

Terry B April 9, 2009 at 2:45 am

Hi, Shauna! It’s not really a museum, but there are lots of horns festooning the walls, all belonging to restaurant owner William White. Here’s what the website says: “He began playing the tuba in 1959, and his instruments were the first displayed at the restaurant when he began leaving them behind for visiting musicians to play. He collected the rest throughout the years from friends in the music industry, patrons of the restaurant and members of the community. Some even stop in just to drop them off.”

Laura—I’ve really tried to love cast iron, but no dice. One issue for me is its reactiveness with acid—wine, tomato sauce… And this sauce has lemon juice and cider vinegar. However, with the short cooking time of this dish, that shouldn’t be an issue.

Dick—In fact, the magazine specifically said this sauce is great for chicken and pork. I liked the sauce well enough that I’m looking forward to trying it with chicken or pork.

Kim, Ordinary Recipes Made Gourmet April 9, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Oh boy Terry, my mouth is watering, my tongue hanging out.. SALMON with the spicy lemon maple glaze over it! Oh I want a piece for breakfast!! And congrats on being featured in Look and Taste! 😀 You do such a nice job on your blog!! Kim

katrina April 10, 2009 at 12:25 am

Hoo, boy. Tongue tickling ,awesome recipe – I can almost taste it!

Kevin April 10, 2009 at 1:21 am

That salmon looks good! I like the sound of the maple lemon salmon combo.

Carrie Oliver April 10, 2009 at 2:53 am

Terry, we are always looking for new ways to enjoy fish like salmon or trout. Looking forward to trying this! Can you tell me what kind of salad dressing you paired with the salmon?

Terry B April 10, 2009 at 3:31 am

Thanks, Kim, Katrina and Kevin! [Three Ks in a row—how could I resist?]

Carrie [K sound] Oliver—I mixed up a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, Japanese rice vinegar [for its mildness] and salt and pepper. I wanted something very simple to not overpower the sauce on the fish.

Eliza April 10, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Yum! Cant wait until Copper River Salmon season!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) April 13, 2009 at 1:43 am

I love salmon with maple syrup, and adding a bit of heat (maybe with some of that chili paste, too) would be the perfect balance to the oily fish.

And a tuba museum? That’s just the type of place Ted and I would seek out on our travels, too!

Terry B April 13, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Thanks for visiting, Eliza!

Hi, Lydia! The cayenne pepper added just the slightest touch of heat for us. Some chili paste would ramp things up nicely, I think. And before you and Ted pack up the car, it really is a restaurant with lots of tubas on the wall, not a true museum. That said, we enjoy it every time we go.

Allison April 14, 2009 at 6:27 am

Great tips for cooking salmon. The foil tray is a very clever idea, I can’t wait to try it. What interests me the most about this recipe is the lemon juice and maple syrup. I can almost taste how perfectly the flavors combine with the salmon. I usually do lemon and capers on salmon, this will be a welcomed change. Thanks for the post!

Ana May 9, 2009 at 11:54 pm

What a brilliant idea! Your Spicy Lemon Maple Salmon sounds yummy.

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