Maple Bourbon Cedar-Wrapped Salmon

If you were to scroll through your collection of recipes, I wonder which ones are most overlooked, and I wonder why. We all have recipe cards that hang out in the back of the box—either because they no longer suit our taste (which makes them ripe for a makeover), or they are specific to a season or holiday, or the ingredients are too pricy or difficult to find. Sometimes, though, I believe recipes get passed over because they seem complicated or intimidating.

My own “bucket list” of culinary challenges includes items from all those categories, but after recent conversation with various friends and acquaintances, I have noticed one standout category of food that seems to hold an air of mystery to a lot of people: seafood. It seems that most people enjoy seafood, but many are reluctant to make it at home. It’s no wonder seafood restaurant prices are what they are, and that’s a darn shame when some of those dishes are perfectly manageable for a home cook.

Every week or so, I peek at the activity insights offered by WordPress, where Comfort du Jour is hosted, and this helps guide me in deciding what to make next, and what to share with my foodie friends. I can see at-a-glance the number of views and downloads each page has had to date, and overwhelmingly, the recipe with the highest numbers of both is this one:

Really? Mahi Hemingway is the most popular recipe on Comfort du Jour.

It surprises me to see that Mahi Hemingway is so interesting to others, because it happens to be one of the simplest recipes to make, both from an ingredient standpoint and one of skill level. I developed my own version of that recipe because I couldn’t make sense of the $30 price tag on a similar dish in a local restaurant, which I expect points to another reason home cooks shy away from making their own seafood. If it’s so expensive in restaurants, it must be expensive and hard to make, right? Wrong!  😉

Most seafood is surprisingly easy to make, and I’m about to prove it again with this easy-and-done recipe that is cooked on the grill. The salmon fillet portions, which are easily found in most larger supermarkets, take an afternoon bath in a simple marinade of real maple syrup, bourbon and Dijon mustard. The marinade infuses flavor into the fish during this phase, and becomes a flavorful glaze later, when the fish is grilled. If you prefer, you can also make this in the oven, and the cedar wrap is entirely optional, but I believe it is worth the extra expense. I found these in the grilling section of the supermarket , but you might also check your hardware store, Walmart or Target. Cedar wraps impart an aromatic smokiness to the fish, without the extra time and fuss of cedar planks. The wraps are also less expensive than planks (only $10 for eight of them), and they don’t take up much storage space.

I have garnished the salmon with chopped soy-wasabi almonds, which is a great complement to the maple and bourbon flavors, and the wasabi echoes the horseradish that spikes the easy buttermilk mashed potatoes underneath, the same potatoes I made at St. Patrick’s Day for the Bangers & Mash.

You can begin prep for this meal a few hours ahead, and cooking time is less than half an hour, including the mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus. This meal is beautiful, tasty, quick and easy—collectively giving it a good chance at moving to the front of the recipe box.

I’ll bet this plate would be at least $24 in a seafood restaurant.

Two servings, easy to double.

Ingredients

I cut two portions from this whole fillet of salmon for this recipe. A larger chunk went on the smoker when we made our pastrami, and the rest went to the freezer.

2 Atlantic salmon fillets, about 6 oz. each* (see notes)

3 Tbsp. real maple syrup, preferably dark*

3 Tbsp. bourbon

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/8 tsp. Boyajian maple extract*

2 cedar wraps, soaked at least 5 minutes* (optional, see notes)

Small handful of wasabi & soy sauce almonds*

*Notes

The salmon fillets may be skinless or skin-on; it doesn’t matter because the skin will remain on the cedar wrap after grilling, which makes plating this dish super simple. If your seafood market has steelhead trout or arctic char, they would also be delicious in this recipe, but adjust your grilling time. Both are usually thinner and would cook more quickly.

For the love of good taste, please do not use a fake “maple-ish” syrup from the grocery store. Real maple is the best, and totally worth the expense. There are plenty of resources for good quality maple products; I order mine online from Big Tree Maple in Lakewood, N.Y. Why? Because I grew up under the shade of those lovely trees and they know me.

The maple extract, which is optional, amplifies the flavor of the syrup without adding sweetness. Look for it in gourmet specialty stores, or online at King Arthur Baking Company.  Another product I like for this purpose is maple-infused balsamic vinegar, which is easy to find in one of the specialty balsamic shops that have popped up all over the U.S. If you substitute with the balsamic, use about 1/2 teaspoon.

Cedar wood, when soaked and grilled, lends a phenomenal flavor to salmon. If you choose planks, be certain they are designed for culinary use. Cedar grilling planks should be submerged fully underwater for at least an hour, but I like the wraps because they only require soaking a few minutes. You could probably also use soaked cedar chips in a smoker box, alongside the salmon on your grill.

The wasabi & soy sauce almonds are a Blue Diamond product, and you’ll find them in the small cans in the snack aisle of your supermarket, alongside cans of peanuts and mixed nuts. I’m crazy about the horseradish-y flavor, and it is remarkably good against the sweetness of maple and bourbon.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

1 lb. potatoes (I used a combination of russet and golds)

2 Tbsp. salted butter (extra if you’d like)

1/4 cup thick buttermilk

1 tsp. prepared horseradish

Salt and pepper

Asparagus

1 average bundle fresh asparagus

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Zest of 1/2 fresh lemon (optional)

Instructions

You will want to marinate the salmon fillets a couple of hours, so plan this quick prep for mid-afternoon. I’ll run through the easy steps for the salmon here. For visual direction on the buttermilk mashed potatoes, check out my recent post for Bangers & Mash; it is the same recipe, though ingredient amounts are adjusted here for this dish.

  1. Season the salmon fillets with kosher salt and black pepper. Place them, skin side down, in a glass baking dish.
  2. Combine the maple syrup, bourbon and Dijon mustard in a measuring cup with a pour spout, Whisk in olive oil and maple extract (if using). Pour most of the marinade evenly over the salmon fillets, reserving about a tablespoon of it to drizzle over at serving. Turn the fillets over, so that the fleshy side rests in the marinade, and wiggle them around to be sure the marinade coats the exposed sides of the fish. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour, preferably about two hours.
  3. Peel and cut up the potatoes. Boil gently until they are easily pierced with a fork, then drain over a colander.
  4. Add butter and buttermilk to the cooking pot and stir until butter is melted. Transfer drained potatoes back to the pot and mash to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in horseradish and more butter, if desired. Keep potatoes warm until serving time.
  5. While the potatoes cook, prepare your grill, with temperature at 350° F. Soak cedar wraps and tying twine for at least five minutes.
  6. Remove salmon fillets from marinade. Center them, skin side-down, on the soaked wraps and fold up the sides to enclose them, tying snugly with twine.
  7. Place the cedar-wrapped salmon onto a grilling rack, and cook over direct heat for about 12 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with the twist of a fork. You may need to peel back a piece of the cedar wrap to test the flakiness.
  8. Cut the twine to unwrap the cedar and serve the fish atop a mound of the buttermilk-horseradish potatoes alongside your favorite vegetable. Chop the soy-wasabi almonds into crumb-sized pieces. Drizzle salmon with reserved marinade and sprinkle with almonds.

Make the asparagus concurrently with the potatoes and salmon

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Prep the asparagus by snapping off the trimmed ends. Rinse under running water and roll them around on a paper towel to dry them.
  2. Arrange the asparagus in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and roll them to coat evenly. Season with salt and pepper and roast for about 15 minutes. Finish with a sprinkle of lemon zest. If you slide the asparagus into the oven just before the salmon goes on the grill, it will be done right on time!

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One more thing…

You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the brands and products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or merchandise for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀

Terrie

Maple-Cayenne Roasted Brussels Sprouts

For the past several years at our home, some version of this side dish has appeared on the Thanksgiving table. The first couple of years, it was a popular recipe I had seen online at purewow.com, and I made it exactly as written, using honey and sriracha. The next year, I doubled the sriracha because my husband, Les, loves spicy so much. The year after that, I swapped out the honey in favor of maple syrup to keep it friendly to Les’s daughter, who adheres to the vegan lifestyle. What I love most about this recipe (besides the fact that Brussels sprouts are awesome and so good for you) is that it’s easily adaptable and it flies in the face of so many things people believe about their own tastes. This dish has been a winner with guests who don’t like Brussels sprouts, and also with people who don’t like the spicy nature of sriracha.

This year, in advance of Thanksgiving, I’ve been testing a few favorite recipes so that I can jot down the amounts and times that are appropriate for sharing. This has been one of the important challenges of doing a food blog—because I cook by instinct and memory, I don’t always know offhand how much of different ingredients I use or how long I cook them at whatever temperature. But a surprise popped up when I started working on my spicy Brussels sprouts for this post: our sriracha gave an odd aroma, and we realized it was almost a year out of date! Oops.

The saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention, and it’s certainly true in the kitchen, isn’t it? If I had a nickel for every time I made an emergency substitute, we could finally take the plunge on some new granite counters! But in this instance, the substitute was obvious to both of us—cayenne sauce would be the perfect stand-in for the sriracha. It’s mouthwatering, spicy and marries perfectly with maple syrup. If you’re looking to try something a little different this year, I hope you enjoy these.

You can see the caramelization on the cut sides of the sprouts, and the outer leaves are crispy and delicious!

Ingredients

Up to 2 lbs. fresh Brussels sprouts, rinsed, drained and patted dry

4 Tbsp. maple syrup

3 Tbsp. cayenne pepper sauce (we used Frank’s RedHot, of course!)

1/4 cup rice vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
  2. Trim the sprouts by using a sharp knife to make a thin slice off the bottoms. This will loosen the outer leaves, which you may discard. When all sprouts are trimmed, cut them into halves, lengthwise (top to bottom).
  3. In a large bowl, combine syrup, cayenne sauce, rice vinegar, salt and pepper. Stream in the olive oil gradually, whisking quickly to create an emulsion. Alternatively, add all the ingredients together in a jar with a tight lid and shake the dickens out of it.
  4. Immediately transfer the Brussels sprouts to the bowl with the marinade and gently fold to toss them, taking care to coat every side of the sprouts.
  5. Arrange the sprouts, cut side down, onto the prepared baking sheet. Keep a little room between the sprouts to ensure even roasting. Do not discard the marinade.
  6. Roast for 20 minutes, then remove the baking sheet and toss the sprouts once again in the marinade. Return them to the baking sheet (direction does not matter) and back into the oven for 5 additional minutes.

The sprouts emerge from the oven with fragrant, crispy edges and tender, caramelized interior from all the marinade that weeps into the creases between leaves. These are best served right away, but for the sake of sanity on Thanksgiving, you may also make them ahead and warm them up in time for dinner. The sprouts will lose the crispiness, of course, but you will still love the flavor.

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Autumn Weekend Brunch

If I took all the sweet, warm, comforting flavors of the fall season and combined them into a single weekend breakfast, what would it look like?

Pumpkin, maple, cinnamon, apples, pecans…it was a chorus of autumn voices singing across this plate!

Yes, I believe it would look a lot like this pumpkin challah French toast, stuffed with a cinnamon-y sweet and creamy maple-mascarpone filling and topped with a warm apple and pecan relish. I couldn’t resist throwing this over the top, given the surprise outcome of the sourdough pumpkin challah I made last week. The maple spice swirl inside the braided round loaf inspired me to repeat those flavors in a “go big or go home” recipe. The result is this French toast—with a luxurious, custard-like center, spiked with maple and spice and everything nice, and topped with a fresh apple and toasted pecan relish for a contrasting texture and bite.

Is it decadent? You bet. Sweet? You cannot imagine. And the only way to bring harmony to such a sweet and creamy brunch item is to serve it with a fall-inspired cranberry-cider mimosa. The prosecco bubbles, plus the tart and tangy flavor of the cranberry are welcome relief to so much richness.

Welcome back, Autumn! We’re so glad you’re here. 🙂

I’ll describe how I made this, but of course, I already had the sourdough pumpkin challah, which is not easy to find. If you enjoy baking bread, you might consider making your own. Or, to replicate the big autumn flavors in this dish, I’ll offer suggestions that allow you to use a regular challah or brioche, either of which should be much easier to get your hands on from the bakery department of your supermarket. My posts are meant to inspire, and however that happens at your house, enjoy!


Ingredients

4 large slices challah or brioche, slightly stale* (see notes)

3 oz. mascarpone*

2 Tbsp. maple cream*

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

3 eggs

2/3 cup whole milk* (see notes for pumpkin adjustment)

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

pinch of kosher salt


*Notes

Challah and brioche are similar “eggy” breads—each has a light and delicate crumb, and both are perfectly suited for French toast, including this recipe. The primary difference is that brioche is made with butter and challah (being a popular Jewish bread) is frequently made with oil. Leave the slices unwrapped overnight, as the stale texture will force them to better absorb the egg mixture.

Mascarpone is an Italian-style cream cheese, but a bit richer and denser. I buy it in small tubs at Trader Joe’s. Regular cream cheese would also work fine in this recipe.

Maple cream—oh, sweet wonderful maple cream! This delightful confection is pure maple, but in a different form from syrup. It’s made by heating the syrup then whipping until it’s a spreadable texture, similar to peanut butter. It is positively decadent. If you cannot find it, substitute about 1 tablespoon maple syrup.

If using regular bakery challah or brioche, reduce milk to 1/2 cup and add 1/4 cup pure pumpkin puree to the egg mixture before soaking.


Instructions (a.k.a. “feast your eyes”)

  1. Using a handheld mixer, whip together the mascarpone, maple cream and cinnamon until smooth and spreadable.
  2. Spread maple-mascarpone mixture onto two slices of the challah or brioche, then top with remaining pieces to make two “sandwiches.”
  3. Whisk together eggs, milk, pumpkin (if using), vanilla and salt. Pour some of the mixture into a flat glass baking dish and place the filled sandwiches in the egg mixture. Drizzle the remaining mixture over the sandwiches and turn several times for about 20 minutes until most of the mixture has been absorbed.
  4. Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-low heat. When it’s evenly heated, place sandwiches on the griddle and cook until the underside is golden brown. Turn sandwiches over, taking care not to allow the top piece to slip off. Cook until the second side is golden brown.
  5. Serve warm with maple syrup, or go crazy and make the warm apple-pecan relish (below).

For warm apple relish topping:

To this point, pumpkin has enjoyed all the attention in my autumn-inspired brunch. But apples have equal star power this time of year, and this is their cue to step in and share the spotlight. This chunky topping provided textural contrast and flavor to the soft and creamy french toast.

1 medium firm apple, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice (to prevent browning)

2 Tbsp. chopped toasted pecans

1 Tbsp. maple sugar (or syrup)

1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon

Squeeze lemon juice over apple pieces in a small microwave-safe bowl and stir to toss. Microwave for 30 seconds, just long enough to warm and slightly soften the apple bits. Stir in pecans, maple sugar (or syrup) and spice.


For the cran-cider mimosa

This brunch cocktail was exactly what we needed to slice through all the sweet, rich flavors of the French toast. If you prefer, you could easily adapt this to non-alcoholic by substituting selzter or ginger ale for the prosecco. My suggested amounts are for one cocktail.

2 oz. chilled apple cider (I used spiced cider from Trader Joe’s)

2 oz. chilled cranberry juice cocktail

2 oz. chilled prosecco or other bubbly (champagne, seltzer, ginger ale)


Layer ingredients in a champagne flute just before serving the French toast.


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Maple Bacon Bourbon Onion Marmalade

There have never been two flavors more perfectly designed for each other than bourbon and bacon. My friend Linda would give an amen, and we’d be correct. Or maybe it’s chocolate and cherry. I’d ask my husband, but it would probably prompt further discussion of all the recipes we should concoct to incorporate all four—bourbon and bacon and chocolate and cherry. Maybe brownies? Or ice cream? That sounds like a rewarding challenge for later—I’ll work on it and let you know (wink).

For now, I’m cooking up a storm in advance of Memorial Day weekend. I know, none of us are likely spending the weekend quite as we’d planned. That’s a given on just about everything this year. My husband, Les, and I have already missed a dreamy beach weekend with Linda and her husband, and my heart positively aches for everyone who has sacrificed once-in-a-lifetime plans for weddings, graduations and funerals. Just thinking about that makes me feel guilty and selfish lamenting a weekend getaway. For sure, the pandemic is revealing all that we’ve taken for granted, and given us new appreciation for the simplest things in life—like a backyard cookout. So this weekend, Les and I are following tradition and firing up the grill to usher in the summer season, even if it ends up being just the two of us. Chances are, you’ll be doing the same.

Everyone has their own favorite thing to put on the grill, and our burgers are no better than yours. But if you’re looking for something new to dress up whatever you’re putting on the grill—well, cue the bourbon and bacon!

My inspiration for this recipe is a book that literally jumped into my cart a few years ago while I was casually browsing at a discount store.

What could possibly go wrong?

It includes plenty of discussion about bourbon etiquette and whiskey history, what type of glass is correct for different types of bourbon cocktails, and what it means for a bourbon to be “bottled in bond” (if you’re wondering, it’s the result of one season, one distillation, and one distillery, and it’s bottled at a minimum of 100 proof; that’s on page 28). But there are also dozens of mouthwatering recipes—for bourbon, for bacon and for a few crossovers that include both. The latter are, without question, my favorites. Here’s my adaptation of one of them, and I’ve elevated everyone’s happy with yet another complementary flavor, maple. Oh yes, I did. The end result is a delicious smoky, savory, sweet and slightly spicy topper for your burgers, steaks, chicken and perhaps even slipped inside a grilled cheese sandwich. (You’re welcome, Linda!)

The recipe will make just about 1 cup and it’ll keep in a jar in the fridge for several weeks. But you’ll be lucky if you have any left after the three-day weekend, especially if you find yourself eating it straight from the jar at 3 am while everyone else is asleep—not that I’ve done that.

Ingredients

2 slices smoked, uncured bacon* (see notes), chopped into pieces

1 small sweet onion, cut into thin, crescent-shaped strips (not rings)

1 small red onion, roughly chopped into pieces

1/4 cup maple sugar*

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

2 Tbsp. bourbon

Pinch of crushed red pepper (or as much as you like)

About 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

Pinch kosher salt (maybe)*

*Notes

I only purchase “uncured” bacon, which is free of the unnecessary preservative sodium nitrite. If you can find the maple kind of bacon, that’s a win-win. If you aren’t sure what “the maple kind” is, maybe you need to watch this. I literally cannot think or write about bacon without hearing this dog’s “voice.”

So, the maple bacon will be a nice extra touch, but the real flavor comes from the sugar.

Maple sugar is literally a dehydrated, granulated form of real maple syrup. I buy it online, directly from a sugar shack in upstate New York, my old stomping ground. Click here to get some from Big Tree Maple. If you can’t wait for it, substitute 1 Tbsp. light brown sugar and 2 Tbsp. real maple syrup.

You may not want additional salt in the recipe, depending on the sodium content of your bacon. Ours is house-cured by a local butcher and puts a perfectly salty kiss on this. Wait until your marmalade is finished, and add salt only if desired.

Instructions

Cook bacon in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until crisp; remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Drain and discard all but about 1 Tbsp. of the bacon grease. Add sweet and red onions to the same skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until onions are soft and caramelized.

Add maple sugar, stir until dissolved. Stir in vinegar, bourbon, red pepper and thyme leaves. Cook a few minutes until liquid is the consistency of syrup.

Crumble the bacon into smaller pieces, if desired, and add to the onion mixture. Continue to cook several minutes, until mixture is thickened to a jam-like consistency. Adjust salt to taste.

Transfer to a covered jar and store in the fridge up to a month. Slather it on your favorite grilled meat. Or just eat it with a spoon—there’s no judgment here.

The finished marmalade will keep nicely in a sealed jar, or any dish with a tight lid. Keep it in the fridge, but bring to room temperature when you’re ready to use it.

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