Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Salmon Belly Masala

There is something magical about salmon belly.  The long strips of fatty meat, covered by a narrow stretch of skin. As it cooks, the fat begins to render, bathing the meat in the Omega 3 fatty acids that actually make this belly healthier to eat than pork belly.  Once it is pulled off the grill or removed from under the broiler (or a smoker), you are ready for tasting what might be some of the best that salmon can offer.  After you have tasted the fatty, tender meat, you are left asking yourself, "why the hell do I keep buying salmon fillets or steaks?"  Three little pieces of salmon belly have far more flavor and oh-so-good richness than a pound of salmon fillets or salmon steaks.

I am often surprised by the fact that I do not see packages of salmon belly in stores.  Fillets and steaks are everywhere.  King Salmon, Coho Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Atlantic Salmon (don't buy). Package after package, fillet after fillet, steak after steak.  But, no belly.

Fortunately, a small, locally-owned store near me has been stocking salmon belly over the past few weeks.  This has led to some experimentation on my part with this wonderful ingredient. Before the experiments could take place, I had to have at least some idea of what to do.  I perused various websites and recipes.  The general theme is that salmon belly is best grilled (or broiled) or smoked.  The goal is to achieve a degree of oily goodness, while also crisping the skin.  This can present quite the challenge, as there is a lot of fats and oils in the belly.

Another challenge comes from the richness of the meat.  In my humble opinion, there needs to be something to contrast the unctuous nature of the ingredient.   I gave it some thought and decided that I would use a spice mix to create that contrast.  As for which spice mix to use, I decided that I would rely upon Indian cuisine well known for its mixes ... or masalas.

I focused my search on Indian and subcontinent recipes that included a masala or for salmon.   Based on those recipes, I developed my own spice mix.   The basis of the spice mix is garlic and ginger, along with garam masala.  I then added some small amounts of cloves and cinnamon, as well as some salt.  The end is a mixture that has a lot of spice, but no piquancy or heat.  The goal was to flavor the fat, not to make it burn.

I then decided to make kebabs.  The reason is simple.  As I noted above, salmon belly is very rich.  Too much salmon belly may be too much from some people.  By making kebabs, I can control the portion size, thereby ensuring that no one gets too much of a good thing.

I have made this recipe a couple of times and each time it has turned out well.  The key is to keep the skin side up, so as to allow the skin to crisp as much as possible.  It may not always happen, because the kebabs may not be in the broiler for a long enough period of time.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

1/2 pound of salmon belly, cut into even sized pieces
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ginger powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
Red onions, for garnish
Fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish

1.  Marinate the salmon belly.  Combine the garam masala, garlic powder, ginger, powder, ground cloves, ground cinnamon and salt.  Add the oil to a ziploc bag and then add the salmon belly pieces.  Coat the salmon belly with the oil.  Add the spice mixture and make sure each belly piece is coated with the spices.  Marinate for at least 1 hour.

2.  Prepare the skewers.  Place 3 pieces of salmon belly on each skewer.  Use a brush to brush some more of the marinade on each side of the salmon belly pieces.  

3.  Broil the skewers.   Place the skewers, skin side up, under the broiler for about 5-7 minutes or until done.  

4.  Finish the dish.  Place the skewers over rice.  Garnish with red onions and cilantro.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Shrimp Masala in the Pakistani Style

After having just completed my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge to prepare a main course from the country of Pakistan, which was a delicious dish of Karahi Gosht, I still felt inspired by the Pakistani cuisine.  I was looking for a shrimp masala dish when I came across a recipe for Prawn Masala in the Pakistani Manner.

Before I get to the recipe, there has always been something that kind of vexed me.  Is there really any difference between a prawn and a shrimp?  As it turns out, there is. Prawns come from the sub-order Dendrobranchiata, while shrimp are from the sub-order Pleocymata.  Latin aside, there is a more obvious biological difference.  Prawns have claws on three pairs of legs, while shrimp only have claws on two pairs of legs.  Other than an extra set of claws, prawns are relatively similar to shrimp.  Both come in a variety of sizes, from small to very big.  Both have relatively the same taste and texture.

But, alas, in most supermarkets around where I live, there are shrimp, not prawns.  The prawns seem to find their way only onto menus, usually of higher-priced restaurants. So, whenever I come across a recipe calling for prawns -- like Prawn Masala in the Pakistani Manner -- I use shrimp.  Shrimp are cheaper and, when used in the recipe, it sounds a little less pretentious.

With respect to this particular recipe, it did not really matter whether I used shrimp or prawns.  What really matters is the masala.  The word comes from the Hindi word for spice.  As it is used in cooking, a masala can refer to two things.  First, it refers to the spice mixture or paste that is used in Indian ... and, as this post obviously suggests, Pakistani ... cooking.  The mixture could include a variety of spices, such as chile peppers, coriander, cumin, garam masala (a masala unto itself) and turmeric.  Second, it can refer to the dish that in which the spice mixture is used.  Thus, a Shrimp Masala is a shrimp dish in which a masala is used.  

This particular masala dish uses a really simple masala.  It consists of four ingredients: cumin, coriander, garlic and chile powder.  Those four ingredients work together to produce a complex spice blend that (with the cumin and the chile powder) provide heat on a couple of different levels.   The simplicity of the masala mirrors the simplicity of this dish.  Saute some garlic, then the shrimp and the masala and finally some tomato.  Serve with rice and you have a dish.  Can't beat that, especially after a busy day at work or with the kids on a weekend.  

Recipe adapted from Spice Spoon
Serves 2-3

1 pound of shrimp, deveined, shells and tails removed
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced finely width-wise
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/4 read chile powder 
2 medium sized tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves and stalks

1.  Saute the garlic.  Place a wok or a frying pan on medium heat.  Add the oil and garlic and saute for two minutes, until fragrant.  The garlic should not darken in color.

2.  Saute the shrimp.  Add the shrimp and spices (turmeric, cumin, coriander and chile).  Continue to saute for 3 minutes more or until the shrimp are opaque.

3.  Add the tomatoes.  Turn the heat to medium high and add the tomatoes.  Stir the shrimp with a spatula, and, after one minute, turn the heat off.  The tomatoes should not be overcooked and the skin should remain intact.  

4. Finish the dish.  Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve with crusty bread or rice.