I chose salmon for a couple reasons. First, it’s a good source of lean protein and is lauded for its omega-3 fatty acids. Secondly, I think salmon has that “special meal” feel because a nice fillet makes for a pretty presentation.
But because salmon is such a popular dinner choice, some of us get into a rut when cooking it.
And Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to spice it up. It’s as simple as using your favorite chili powder and a few other pantry staples. The salmon in today’s recipe has an ancho chili powder-based spice rub and is topped with a sweet glaze. The sweet and spicy tones provide just the right blend.
When it comes to chili powders, all are not exactly the same. Products simply labeled chili powder may also contain other ingredients including salt, cumin, garlic powder and even oregano. In today’s recipe, I used ancho chili powder, one of my favorites. I like it because it’s fairly mild and has hints of smokiness. In its fresh form, ancho is called a poblano chili pepper. It’s a deep green color, almost heart-shaped and mild in flavor. Once dried, the pepper takes on a little more heat.
You can use any favorite chili powder in this recipe, just keep in mind you don’t want to overpower the mild-flavored salmon.
My best advice for salmon? Don’t overcook it. I know, I know. It’s easily done. But you can take a few steps to prevent it from happening.
Brining is a good way to be certain the salmon stays moist during cooking, even if you overcook it by a few minutes. To brine salmon (even the two pieces in today’s recipe) mix together 6 cups of water with 1/4 cup kosher salt and 1/4 cup sugar, until both dissolve. Place the salmon pieces in a glass baking dish, pour the salt/sugar mixture over, making sure the salmon is submerged in the water. Refrigerate it for about 2 hours. When ready to cook, remove the salmon from the brine and discard the brine. Rinse and pat the salmon dry. You can brine the salmon as little as one hour and up to 3 hours. Brine fish any longer than 3 hours and you run the risk of it becoming mushy.
My preferred method of cooking salmon is to broil it because it is quicker than baking and easier for me to keep an eye on it to judge for doneness.
The last component to this dish that makes it special is the avocado crema. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I gush over avocados. Rarely is my kitchen without avocado. I love them for their creamy, almost buttery flavor and that they, like salmon, are considered a good fat. The avocado crema is made by mixing avocado with sour cream, a bit of lime juice to help smooth it out and a pinch or two of salt. This creamy mixture also helps to balance this dish because it provides a coolness to the chili spice.
ANCHO CHILI-SPICED SALMON WITH AVOCADO CREMA
Serves: 2 / Preparation time: 15 minutes / Total time: 40 minutes
2 center cut salmon pieces, about 5 ounces each, rinsed patty dry
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder (or favorite chili powder)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch of cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cumin, optional
1 tablespoon Dijon
2 tablespoons maple syrup or agave
1/2 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled
1/4 cup Mexican crema or sour cream
2-3 teaspoons lime juice
Pinch of salt
Brine the salmon, if desired. Place the pieces in a glass baking dish. In a large glass measuring cup, mix together 6 cups water with 1/4 cup salt and 1/4 cup sugar until both dissolve. Pour over the salmon pieces, making sure there’s enough liquid to completely cover them. If there isn’t, add more. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours. When ready to cook, remove salmon from brine, discard brine and rinse and pat salmon dry.
Season the salmon pieces lightly with salt and black pepper.
In a small bowl, combine all the rub ingredients and sprinkle all over the salmon. Let stand for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a separate small bowl combine the glaze ingredients.
In a blender, food processor or drink blender combine the avocado, sour cream, lime juice and pinch of salt. Process until the mixture is smooth, but slightly on the thick side, like Dijon mustard. Set aside.
Preheat the broiler. Place the salmon on a foil-lined baking sheet. Spoon some of the glaze on top — some will drip off. Place under the broiler, about 6 inches from the heat element, and broil about 10 minutes. Halfway through, spoon on more glaze if desired.
Remove from broiler, let stand a few minutes before plating. Slide a spatula between the skin and the salmon flesh and transfer salmon to a plate. Serve drizzled with crema.
From and tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen. Nutrition information not available.
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