Flaky, moist salmon with perfectly crisp skin, sitting on a bed of creamy lemon rice. It might look fancy but it’s a cinch to make, even on a weeknight.
Hey, you! Our old buddy! You made it out of 2016! Us too – and look, Nerds with Knives is exactly where you left it, a little battered, a little bruised perhaps, but we made it to the other side of the timeline mostly intact. Now, don’t get alarmed, but we’ve moved a few things around. We’re on new hosting, which won’t affect your NWK experience too much (perhaps a little faster, do you think?), we have a new ad partner, and we are now Pinteresting like never before. You can visit and follow us here. Other than that, it’s still just the two of us wombling along making things to eat and hoping you like them.
I know that the food trends in the beginning of January are all about salads and smoothies (and salad smoothies and smoothie salad bowls, etc), but we decided to go in a different direction. It’s 19 degrees and snowing tonight and while I like a good smoothie as much as the next food blogger, I want something warm and comforting as well as healthy for dinner.
That’s why I decided to pan-sear a couple of salmon fillets and make a pot of comforting, creamy, lemony rice (it could be called faux-sotto but I won’t horrify you by actually titling it that.)
For the fish, we used a few simple techniques to ensure the skin came out as crispy as you’d find at a high-end seafood restaurant, while keeping the fillet moist and medium-rare.
We paired it with a creamy, lemony rice. Full disclosure: I’m now obsessed with this dish. It has all the flavor and texture of risotto, without all the stirring. It’s a game changer.
So, first let’s talk about the fish. I used to think it was impossible to make truly perfect fish fillets at home. You know, the kind you get at high-end restaurants, with shatteringly crisp skin and perfectly moist flesh.
Turns out it’s not magic. If you follow a few instructions, you’ll master it in no time. This post from our friends at Serious Eats has a really great, step-by-step instruction guide on this process but I’ll take you through it here too.
The #1 most important thing to remember is the drier that skin is when it hits the pan, the crispier it will be (and the less it will stick). Blot it very well with a paper towel. You can also gently scrape the skin with a very sharp knife a few times to eliminate any surface moisture (see the Serious Eats article for photos of this). Then salt the skin just before you put it into the (very, very hot) pan.
Speaking of pans, you probably always cook fish in a non-stick skillet, right? I did too, but not anymore. Turns out a good, well-seasoned cast-iron or (carbon-steel) pan is a much better option. It heats to a higher temperature and retains that heat, which helps crisp that skin to give you a perfect sear. Non-stick pans will work, but they tend to get hot spots which can scorch the delicate fish in spots. Not a disaster, but not ideal. A seasoned cast iron pan will be as non-stick as Teflon, with a much more even sear.
So get the pan very hot, add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add the fish (that you’ve dried well and just salted) skin-side down. Press the fillets gently with a spatula to make sure they’re making good contact with the pan and then leave them alone for 3 minutes (you can turn the heat down a bit once the fish is in if it seems too high). Once the skin has seared, it should release easily. Flip it, cook just a couple of minutes more on the other side (2-3 minutes for medium-rare), and boom: perfect fish.
Okay, onto this rice that I’m completely in love with. When I was first thinking about this dish, I considered risotto but I wanted this to be an easy, weeknight recipe. Standing at the stove, stirring in one ladle-full of broth at a time is just not gonna happen after work on a Wednesday. Luckily I found this great recipe from Women’s Day (of all places) and decided to adapt it. The result has almost the identical flavor and texture of a traditional risotto but the broth is added all at once and you only need to stir it once or twice, just whenever you feel like it. Much, much easier.
One last note: traditional risotto usually has a soupier consistency. This recipe makes it a little tighter, but feel free to add a little more stock if you like it wetter.
Crispy Pan-Seared Salmon with Creamy Lemon Rice
For the Lemon Rice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium leeks white and light green parts only, washed well and diced (2 cups)
- 1 large yellow onion diced (1 1/2cups)
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 large cloves garlic minced or grated
- 1 1/2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice from about 1 large lemon
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest finely grated (from about 1 large lemon)
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
- 3 tablespoons mascarpone or cream cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino
- 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley chopped
For the Salmon:
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil like canola or grapeseed
- 4 6-ounce salmon fillets
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and onion along with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic and rice cook for 2 minutes, stirring to make sure rice is coated in a little oil. Add the wine, lemon juice, and zest and season with salt and pepper (we add about 1/2 teaspoon each) and cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed, about 2 minutes.
- Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid has absorbed and the rice is tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream cheese, Parmesan and parsley. Set aside while you cook the fish.
- Pat salmon dry and season only the skin-side with salt. Heat oil in a cast-iron pan over medium-high; add salmon, skin-side down and gently press each fillet with a spatula to ensure even contact with the pan. Cook until the skin is crispy, about 3 minutes. Season the flesh side with salt and pepper, then flip and cook a further 1-2 minutes. Transfer lemon rice to a serving platter (or dinner plates) and top with salmon. Garnish with lemon slices and parsley, if desired.