I know, I know - two salmon recipes in one week?! But a very thoughtful reader reminded me that Copper River Salmon season is upon us, so when I saw this dark red beauty at Whole Foods today, I just had to buy some for dinner. This is how the "what to have for dinner" thought process went: I knew I wanted salmon, I knew I wanted fennel. While browsing, I caught sight of some favas and thought OH! FAVAS! Then I was shopping at Carfagna's and bought this cool pasta shape, "calamari" - it's shaped like calamari rings - and thought, hmm, maybe I can toss the favas in some pasta and olive oil with lemon juice. And fennel. Then, when I got home from shopping, I decided to taste the new brand of anchovies I bought, and then I had this open can of anchovies, and suddenly, the picture of my dinner was complete. I rarely use recipes, especially for pasta or entrees - recipes for me are usually relegated to baked goods, which require a particular ratio of ingredients to be successful. I just thought I'd give you a little insight into how I develop recipes for you.
So, what is Copper River Salmon and why is it so expensive? Well, the Copper river is a 300 mile long, glacier fed river in Alaska. Each Spring salmon begin the journey back to their home waters to mate. Because they have other things on their mind than eating, they bulk up and store fat for the long journey, which gives them their characteristically rich flavor, and adds an extra dose of important Omega 3 fatty acids, as well. (source) This fillet is a Copper River Sockeye (I should have taken a picture of it pre-cooking); the king variety will be arriving soon as well, and contains a big more fat and packs an even richer punch than the Sockeye or Silver varieties. According to the website linked above, Copper River Salmon is dressed immediately upon catching and is shipped fresh to market (most fish is frozen on boats).
The picture might look like the skin of the fish is burned; it isn't. I think it is very important to eat the skin of the fish, since much of the fat in the salmon is located just below it. Although I couldn't find a source that would confirm this exactly as fact, I have heard many times that the skin is where the good things are located, such as those all-important Omega 3s. Because I don't like mushy skin, I always start the fish out in a hot pan with a little oil to ensure a yummy, crisp skin.
Salmon and fennel are a classic combination which should be enjoyed whenever possible. Fennel is quite good for you, and tasty besides. 1 cup of fennel contains a mere 26 calories and is high in fiber, vitamin C and Potassium. If you get into super healthfoodiness, this meal is great for people who suffer from inflammation, as both fennel and salmon contain compounds which reduce inflammation. In fennel, the phytonutrient is called anethole, and is even thought to prohibit tumor growth and protect the liver from toxic chemicals. Talk about a wonderfood. (source) Salmon is another nutritional powerhouse - it is loaded with B vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids. Niacin, vitamin B3, has been shown to lower cholesterol, and consuming fish such as salmon has been shown to improve cardiac function and reduce the occurrence of cardiac arrhythmia and it also lowers triglycerides. (source)
So I think your mission is clear: get out there and eat some salmon, preferably the fatty and tasty wild Copper River Salmon we'll have for the next few weeks. Your heart with thank you. The price tag might be a bit of a shock at first - the salmon I bought today was $24 a pound, but I only purchased 6 ounces for myself, and it was around $7 for one fillet. You're sure to pay far more than that if you eat it in a restaurant.
Super Healthy Pan Seared Copper River Salmon with Pasta, Favas and Fennel - serves 2
Two 4-6 ounce Copper River Salmon fillets, skin on, but looked over to be sure all scales have been removed
Olive Oil for cooking, and extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (I'm too cheap to be Mario Batali, using only $15 bottles of olive oil for sauteing. Maybe one day)
2 cups dried smooth pasta shape such as gemelli, or these fun calamari rings
1 small tin (1 ounce) anchovy fillets, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup pasta water
1/4 cup white wine
1 juice from 1 lemon
1 pound fresh fava beans, hulled, blanched, hulled and shocked in ice bath (see my former fava post for more detailed instructions on how to do this)
1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed of any brown bits and sliced very thinly (on one of my favorite tools)
salt & pepper
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente, then set aside; you should cook it right next to the sauce, so that you can add the pasta water easily.
For the fennel: place shaved fennel in a small bowl and drizzle with about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Drizzle with juice of 1/2 lemon, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Set aside.
For the sauce: Heat one tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat and add the chopped anchovies and minced garlic; mash with a wooden spoon and cook until everything has practically melted together, about 10 minutes or so. I like to do this first and then get on with everything else. When they have melted, turn the heat up to high and add the pasta water (I like to add it directly from the boiling pasta, right before it's done); reduce until the water is almost evaporated, then add the white wine. Cook until you have just a nice, thick sauce (there will only be a small amount) and then add the drained pasta to the mixture. Turn the heat off and drizzle with about 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and juice from half of the lemon. Add the favas and stir to coat. Taste and correct seasoning: you probably won't need salt, because of the anchovies, but a nice crack of pepper will be nice.
For the salmon: Heat a nonstick saute pan over medium-high heat and add a little olive oil. Pat the salmon fillets dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the fillets skin side down in the pan (you should hear sizzling) and don't move them!! Allow to cook for about 3 minutes and the place the pan in the oven while you get on with everything else, or about 5 minutes for a nice medium - medium well. (Notice: I never turned the salmon. It won't stick, I promise. The trick is to not move it)
Place the pasta in bowls and put a salmon fillet on top. Top with the fennel salad and serve, maybe with some nice crisp white wine. Eat outside! It's nice out!