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Sunday 19 September 2010

Simple Salmon Lunch for a Baby / Salmon Teriyaki Stir-Fry

I had my sister round for lunch yesterday and, feeling daring, I offered to cook for her and my niece, rather than heading out anywhere. We had discussed eating out near where I work, but that would tend to be more useful if meeting her after work, during the week.

My cunning plan was to make a second attempt at a Salmon Teriyaki stir-fry recipe detailed by a friend which, on the last attempt, burnt rather badly. It's a simple enough dish to prepare, but best done without distractions of any kind, because various parts of it can burn very quickly if left unattended, and it's very easy to get the timing wrong.

Teriyaki probably isn't the best idea for a baby, though, so the niece had to make do with a small salmon steak, baked in the oven alongside a potato waffle, and a serving of peas cooked in the microwave.

I must confess that I guessed at the timing for the salmon on this one - I've baked fish before, including salmon, but it had always come from a cardboard box in my freezer which carried cooking instructions. This chunk of fish had come from the fishmonger.

Estimating that, if the waffles needed 12 minutes to cook (at 200degrees in a fan-assisted oven), I surmised that the salmon steak would need... less than that. I guessed about 8-10 minutes, thinking that the waffle could stand a minute or two extra if necessary.

So, it went something like this:
Once the oven got up to heat, a timer was set to 12 minutes, the waffle placed on a baking tray and inserted into the oven. 4 minutes elapsed, then the salmon - wrapped loosely in tin foil - was introduced to the baking tray for the remainder of the cooking time. After a further 6-7 minutes, a serving of peas was placed into a microwaveable plastic bowl, the lid left ajar, and cooked on full power for two minutes.

The waffle and salmon were removed from the oven and transferred to a plate, and the peas were strained and added before serving to a young lady of just over a year old.

Naturally, even a small salmon steak was too large, but she managed about half of it, and it was all pretty much cooked to perfection.

"Now," I said, portentously, "watch me ruin the stir-fry..."

  • Salmon Steaks (one per person, but the average frying pan can only usefully accommodate two at a time)
  • Fresh ginger (one reasonably-sized chunk)
  • Garlic (two or three cloves, depending on how much you like it, and how much you want people to know you like it)
  • Onions (these will be the bulk of the stir-fry, so either a good sized normal onion, or plenty of spring onions)
  • Butter (about a half-inch slice of the average-sized block)
  • Olive oil
  • Teriyaki sauce (I wish I'd measured... I guess 'add to taste'?)
  • Microwave rice (I used Uncle Ben's egg fried rice)

Preparation Time: Honestly, I have no idea... I couldn't concentrate very easily, despite having done so well with the baby's lunch. Not long, by any measure.

Tools Required:
  • Hob
  • Frying pan
  • Small knife
  • Spatula/egg turner

For best results, chop up the stir-fry ingredients ahead of time. Peel the ginger and chop as preferred - chunks, slices, matchsticks... it's all a matter of preference. Chop the garlic into thin slices. Chop the onion finely. Place in a covered bowl till you're ready to begin the stir-fry.

Place a frying pan on the hob (large burner preferable) and introduce the butter and oil. When it's all melted, throw in the onions, ginger and garlic. Move them constantly while frying and, when the garlic turns a nice, nutty brown, remove and place to one side.

Add the salmon to the pan and seal on all sides. Once it all looks opaque, add the Teriyaki sauce. As the salmon cooks through, the sauce and melted butter should slowly start to thicken and, hopefully, bond with the salmon. Turn the salmon so all sides are nicely coated.

As it cooks, microwave the rice. I stretched one packet between two people, but the only drawback to using a whole pack each is that you'll need more time for two packs - each one takes 2 minutes, on average.

By the time the rice is done, the salmon should be almost ready to serve, so pour the rice out onto a plate, add the stir-fry, add the salmon, and pour the remainder of the Teriyaki tar over the fish.

The Results:
Yes... well... those words turned out to be very portentous. Basically, I'd made a whole series of mistakes on this attempt. The stir-fry part went well enough, but fishing it out of the butter/olive oil was a chore and, when it came to serving it all up, I almost forgot about it. I guess the reason it burnt last time I tried this is that I left it in the pan while the salmon was going.

Then there was the salmon itself. Rather than traipse off to a supermarket, I thought I'd make use of my local fishmonger, a short walk down the road. The sign by the door, rather off-puttingly, states "Anyone Served"... surely such statements are unnecessary in this day and age? Nevertheless, the fishmonger was very helpful, saying that if there was nothing suitable in terms of size/shape out on the counters, there was plenty more salmon in the back. I've basically lucked out with my fishmonger - salmon is their speciality!

But what I hadn't factored into my calculations for cooking time was the skin. Last time I cooked this, I used supermarket-bought skinless salmon steaks. Sadly, the skin is an excellent insulator, so the fish was less ready than I'd thought when I first served it up. Both steaks had to go back into the pan for another couple of minutes before they were properly edible. By this time, the remaining Teriyaki tar was turning into a solid mass, and had separated entirely from the olive oil.

Nevertheless, no-one was poisoned... and I learned a valuable lesson in preparing this dish for next time: Remove the bloody skin. I may well give this another try during the coming week, just to improve my confidence... and using the frozen steaks I already have in my freezer, if only to just to get rid of them. I already know they're going to make life more complicated because they'll be so waterlogged having been frozen.

The Alternatives:
Egg fried rice does work very well, but plain rice, or possibly some of the other seasoned varieties (mushroom rice, perhaps? Special fried rice?) might work. Definitely do not use any of the heavily seasoned/spicy varieties, though.

The stir-fry is where the most interesting changes or additions can be made, but it's important to balance the flavour of the fish and the Teriyaki sauce with whatever you choose to add. I'd considered the remainder of my sweet pepper, but that would have been far too sweet as part of the stir-fry. Chopped up and added to the rice raw, it may have worked, but I'd forgotten to chop it beforehand, and the final stages were such a mess, I didn't get round to it. Runner beans or edamame would definitely suit, but I'd be tempted to add them in with the Teriyaki, just for a bit of extra flavour. Similarly, beansprouts and water chestnut are a stir-fry staple, and would fit in nicely, I suspect.

Another thing to consider is, rather than giant salmon steaks, what about slicing it up into more manageable chunks? That should make it quicker to cook, but would it end up making it too fussy, requiring too much attention?

My sister suggested part-baking the salmon before adding it to the frying pan and, while this would certainly increase the certainty of it being properly cooked, it would be kinda cheating.

As far as my niece's meal goes, I believe the official verdict was "it was all fine until she found a bit with jelly on it... then she just started throwing it around."

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