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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Think Like a Chef Part - Salt Roasted Salmon

“What are you cooking Sunday?”  “Salt-roasted salmon.”  “…Alright…I’ll eat as much as I can…”

Needless to say, my wife is not a salmon fan.

Truth be told, she’s not a fish fan.  I’ve tried to make salmon a couple of different ways for her, but I always ended up eating half of it.  Granted, salmon has a stronger taste, but she has enjoyed all of the recipes from Tom Colicchio’s Think Like A Chef so far, including the pan roasted fish, so I figured, go for it!  Now, the question is, how to get her to eat it and maybe even enjoy it?

I mentioned before that I have someone who is following this series who is making really cool suggestions about side dishes and accompaniments.  That got me thinking about what I could serve with the salmon that would be new and interesting for me to cook, but be familiar enough for Cathy to enjoy.  I started looking through some other salmon recipes and I found an Emeril recipe where he makes a cauliflower puree.  Sounds good!  Hey…am I starting to think like a chef??

Okay, a word about fat.  One of my goals was to make these recipes low fat.  However, not all fats are created equal!  According to, a 4-ounce piece of salmon is 166 calories, 60 from fat.  But, according to, the fat in salmon is omega-3 fatty acids, which can help protect against heart disease and other conditions.  It also has a ton of other nutrients and you can read that article here.

Now, the only added fat to the salmon was 1 tablespoon of extra- virgin olive oil and a bit more for drizzling.  Figure on ¼ being absorbed into each piece of fish.  No problem there.  As for the cauliflower puree…

The recipe for the cauliflower puree is ½ pound cauliflower, salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and ½ cup of heavy cream…HEAVY CREAM?????

According to, ½ cup of heavy cream = 411 calories, of which 397 is fat, and we are not talking healthy fats!  So, if I wanted to make this, I needed to find a substitute. 

Unfortunately, I can’t locate the exact website I found, but one source said you could use fat free evaporated milk as a substitute for heavy cream.  This would provide a similar type of creaminess.  I used Carnation fat free evaporated milk.  One serving is 25 calories, so ½ cup would be 200 calories, zero from fat.  Half the calories and zero fat?  Sounds good to me!

Now, on to the actual cooking!

First, after trying unsuccessfully to cut off my thumb using a pairing knife to cut up the cauliflower, I rinsed the cauliflower in cold water, and put it in a pot of salted water.  Then I brought the water up to a boil, and let it simmer for 30 minutes.

As it simmered, I began to heat up the extra virgin olive oil in my cast iron skillet over medium high heat, and also pre-heated the oven to 400 degrees.  Now, this brings up an interesting point, which Colicchio mentions right away.  Throughout the roasting chapter, he says he prefers to roast at a lower temperature, because it helps bring out the flavors of whatever he is roasting.  However, because the salt will insulate the fish, you have to roast it at a higher temperature.

Now, after the oil was heated, I put the salmon on skin side down and was supposed to cook it for two to three minutes.  Well, I WOULD have done that had my salmon had skin on it.  My salmon did not.  In any case, I figured if I let it go the full three minutes, it would still form some type of crust on the fish. 

After the three minutes, I took the pan off of the heat and covered the fish in kosher salt.  It took approximately 1½ cups of kosher salt to get the job done.  Once the salmon was covered, it went into the oven.  The recipe called for 6 minutes to cook the salmon to medium rare.  Colicchio says that the top of the salmon should look slightly rare.  I knew if it looked rare at all, Cathy would not eat it, so I chose to go one extra minute.

While the fish was in the oven, the cauliflower finished cooking.  I had to remove it from the heat, and drain.  Then into a blender went the cauliflower, the extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and the evaporated milk.  I blended it until smooth, and tasted it.  It seemed it needed more seasoning, so I added a bit more salt and a lot of pepper.  Tasting it again, it was really quite good, although, unlike potatoes, it is not something I would eat by itself.

Now the fish was done cooking, so I took the fish out of the oven, and transferred it to my cutting board.  I started to take off the salt dome.  

I then brushed the salt off of the fish.  Now, time to plate.

First, I put the cauliflower puree on the plate.  

Next I put the salmon on top of the puree.  

Then, I drizzled a little bit of extra virgin olive oil over the salmon.  

Finally, it was time to taste.

The fish was cooked to a perfect medium.  It did indeed get a crust on the bottom of the salmon.  Although cooked to medium, the salmon was still quite firm but not tough, and not fishy tasting at all.  It did have a salty taste, no question about it, but it wasn‘t over powering.  The cauliflower puree was quite creamy.  I guess I would describe the taste as kind of a mild, nutty flavor. 

The real test?  Cathy ate the entire piece!  I wouldn’t say she loved it, but it was the first time I ever saw her eat an entire piece of salmon.

Finally, the calories:  We had a six ounce piece of salmon, which is about 249 calories, 90 from fat, but remember, the vast majority is good fat.  Between the olive oil absorbed in cooking, the drizzle on the fish and the cauliflower puree of which half was left over, I figure roughly ¾ of a tablespoon, all fat, but again, good fat, as it is monounsaturated.  Because half of the puree was left over, the calories from the fat free evaporated milk was 50 calories, zero from fat, and the cauliflower was ½ pound, approximately 4 cups raw (total guess) so per serving that is another 25 calories, only 1 from fat.  That makes the totals:

Calories = 414, Fat = 181 (remember, mostly all good fats).

So I think this dish was a complete success.  The only thing I would do different is make a side dish like asparagus next time to add a little bit of color to the plate…am I thinking like a chef again??


  1. You are ABSOLUTELY thinking like a chef! Good for you! Yes, unfortunately Emeril's recipes aren't the best to follow for low fat alternatives, but you thought like a chef and did something about it! (Look at Emeril's packaged foods in the supermarket and then take a look at what he REALLY looks like these days...he's put on some pounds from cooking and eating that way---just sayin'!).
    Kudos to your wife for diving into these dishes (despite her dislike for fish). Further proof that she is supportive and all of the wonderful things you wrote in the post about her birthday. Yeah...salmon can be strong alright...
    Cauliflower is definitely a bit bland (in taste and color), but it could make for an interesting side dish too. Think about mashing it (after it's steamed to be tender) with carrots. You don't need to go to "mush" with it---you can leave some texture in it. The carrots will provide some color and taste (and texture). Go crazy and add a small pat of butter to the mash (along with salt and pepper). Go crazier and add a small amount of micro-planed ginger for some zing. Keep thinking like a chef---you ARE doing it! Keep on cooking!

  2. Herbs. Use herbs for flavor, color, and to dress up plates. Dry herbs are ok for some (especially Oregano), and fresh for others (you can't beat the aroma and taste of fresh Basil). Dry usually need some form of "activation"---either by heating them in a dry pan to bring out their oils, by sprinkling them into a sauce so they get saturated and release flavor, or by grinding them in a spice mill (aka coffee grinder). You may want to do some research on herbs---and how they best compliment certain foods. Keep thinking like a chef!