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!

Want to make this easy salmon recipe?

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

Scallion-Sriracha Salmon Cakes

Most every night for the past few months, I have awakened around 3 a.m., for no apparent reason. My insomnia usually lasts at least an hour and a half, during which time I ponder all of the good and evil in the world, or play mindless word games on my smartphone, or venture into the dark corners of our house to find and snuggle our sleeping pets. I’d like to make one suggestion for others who have experienced this phenomenon of waking at 3 a.m.—do not pick up your phone and begin Googling possible causes for said awakenings. The search results are grim, and in a matter of moments, you will begin to question everything from your diet (am I eating sugar too close to bedtime?) to your spiritual condition (what do you mean, exactly, by ‘witching hour?’). My therapist believes I am probably flummoxed over a combination of things, related mostly to work-from-home stress and general pandemic fatigue. Whatever the case, I’m exhausted. Every once in a while though, these sleep interruptions result in something good, and this recipe is a fine example of that.

Out of the blue two weeks ago, I awakened with a start and asked myself why I had never made fish cakes with sriracha and scallions. You might be thinking this is a bizarre question to ask oneself so urgently at 3 in the freakin’ morning, and you’d be correct, but this is my life now. Once I go down that rabbit hole, it isn’t long before I begin dreaming up ideas of just how such a dream dish should be completed, right down to the garnish. Sometimes I pick up my phone and make record of my ideas—and that’s a smart thing, because if I don’t jot it down, my next successful 40 winks may wipe it clean out of my brain. From this particular wide-awake culinary epiphany, I made these exact notes, because I didn’t want to forget what sounded like a great recipe.

I mean, isn’t this the kind of thing that wakes everyone up at 3 a.m.??

It took me a few days to round up my ingredients, and when I got down to it last week, with a few tweaks to my original plan, the result was delicious! These scallion-sriracha salmon cakes were light and fresh, low calorie and easy as could be to make, with just enough heat to make your tongue tingle. I modeled the ratio of ingredients after my favorite crab cake recipe, using only enough mayonnaise and panko crumbs to hold the flaky salmon together with the finely minced garlic and red bell pepper. A little extra panko on the outside before pan frying gave the cakes a terrific crispiness to offset the moist and tender interior.

And the flavor was exactly as I dreamed.

Crispy coating, tender inside, spicy and delicious; these turned out just as I imagined!

Ingredients
Makes 2 servings

6 oz. fresh salmon portion (skinless)

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbsp. sriracha

1/2 tsp. fish sauce* (see notes)

2 Tbsp. minced red bell pepper

2 scallions, thinly sliced (divided)

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 beaten egg

A few shakes Asian Reds hot pepper flakes*

1/4 cup panko crumbs, plus extra for shaping cakes

2 Tbsp. peanut oil

*Notes

Fish sauce is a pungent, fermented condiment found in the Asian section of most supermarkets. If you cannot find it, substitute with soy sauce.

The Asian Reds hot pepper flakes are a specialty item that popped up a while back in my hubby’s Facebook feed, and we could not resist ordering a variety of products from this company, though we have no financial incentive from doing so. I like this pepper seasoning because it includes the hard-to-find varieties of pepper that play so well with other Asian flavors, including the sriracha in this recipe. If you don’t want to spring for them, substitute any crushed red pepper flakes, or omit them for less heat.

We are loving these Asian Reds pepper flakes. They offer a different variety of hot pepper flavors that is a perfect highlight with other Asian ingredients.

Instructions

Here we go with pictures, and keep scrolling for written steps and a downloadable copy for your recipe files!

  1. Heat a small, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Pan steam or lightly sauté salmon fillet until just flaky (better slightly underdone than overdone). Cool then refrigerate several hours or overnight.
  2. Combine mayo with sriracha and fish sauce; measure out about 3 Tbsp. for finishing the cakes at serving. I put the reserved portion into a zip-top snack bag (sort of a makeshift piping bag).
  3. Add half of the chopped scallions, red pepper, garlic and spicy Asian Reds seasoning to remaining mayo mixture. Fold in beaten egg and panko crumbs.
  4. Flake fish into large-ish pieces and gently fold into mayo mixture, taking care not to break up the fish pieces too much. Sprinkle additional panko crumbs into your hand and shape mixture into four patties, about the size of hockey pucks, with a light coating of panko on both sides. Place each fish cake onto a parchment lined plate or small baking sheet.
  5. Cover the fish cakes with plastic wrap and chill at least two hours. This gives the mixture time to firm up, and the panko will absorb some of the moisture to better bind the cakes.
  6. Heat peanut oil in a medium, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Cook salmon cakes 3 or 4 minutes per side, until browned and crisp. Serve over rice with your favorite vegetables, top salmon cakes with reserved sriracha mayo drizzle and reserved scallion slices.

If you can dream it, you can make it. 😀

Want to make this recipe?


Salmon with Fennel & White Beans

There has been a fresh and flavorful shift in our kitchen over the past couple of weeks, and it feels so right! My husband, Les, and I have been eating healthier after the holidays, not for keeping resolutions (we don’t bother with those), but out of simple desire to care for our bodies better after a season of splurging. Seafood has been the star of this menu reboot, and I’ve brought back into rotation one of my favorite all-time recipes, a seared fillet of fish rested on a mélange of tender sautéed fennel with creamy cannellini beans and sweet tomatoes.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll confess right here that I actually did not use salmon this time, but steelhead trout. This is a sweet and creamy fish, similar in texture (and appearance) to a farm-raised salmon, and when I can get my hands on steelhead trout, I love to swap it into favorite salmon recipes, including the salmon in phyllo dish that I shared in December. But steelhead trout isn’t always easy to find, especially while adhering to the best practice standards set by the Marine Stewardship Council (sustainability means a lot to me). The dish is every bit as delicious when made with your favorite salmon, which is usually much easier to find.

This dish is satisfying, healthful and full of flavor!

It looks and tastes more extravagant than it is, and although I’ve named it “fish with fennel,” it would be better described as fennel with fish, given that the fennel shows up in three different forms—the seeds are ground to a powder for crusting on the fillets, the vegetable is caramelized in the mélange beneath the fish, and the fronds are chopped and sprinkled on top.


Would it surprise you to know that you can have this meal on the table in about 35 minutes, start to finish? It’s true. And Les, who is practically a living nutritional calculator, announced after cleaning his plate that our meal probably checked in at fewer than 400 calories per serving, which is not too shabby for such a flavorful, satisfying meal.

Ingredients

So few ingredients, yet so much flavor!

2 portions salmon*, skin removed (see notes)

1 tsp. fennel seed, ground to a rough powder

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 bulb fennel, sliced* (should measure about 1 cup)

1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (or canned, drained well)

1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth + 2 Tbsp. dry white wine* (or all vegetable broth)

15 oz. can cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained and rinsed

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

2 Tbsp. fennel fronds, chopped or minced


*Notes

Any type of salmon (wild sockeye, king, coho, etc.) works well in this recipe, but you might also consider swapping in another fish, such as arctic char or steelhead trout, which I used. If you are not comfortable removing the skin yourself, ask the seafood clerk to do it for you. Learn this task, and you’ll be unstoppable!

Fennel is a less common vegetable, one that you may have passed over in the supermarket for something more recognizable. It resembles something between celery and bok choy, but tastes nothing like either. It is crunchy with a slightly licorice flavor, and it pairs beautifully with all kinds of fish, especially when sautéed or stewed. The seed part of fennel might be more familiar to you. It’s the flavor that makes Italian sausage taste Italian.

If you use wine to deglaze the skillet, make it a dry one, such as pinot grigio. Alternatively, I frequently reach for dry vermouth, given that I always have a bottle open in the fridge. If you prefer to not use wine, just add another splash of vegetable broth, no problem.


Instructions


  1. Using a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder, crush the fennel seeds to a rough powder. Don’t have either? Try putting the seeds into a bag and use a rolling pin to crush them. Season the fish fillets with kosher salt and pepper, then sprinkle the fennel powder onto both sides of the fillets and press to fully adhere it.
  2. Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil. When oil is hot and shimmery (but not smoking), lay fish fillets into pan. Cook about two minutes, then carefully turn fillets to cook the other side another two minutes. Transfer fish to a small plate and keep warm. I usually slip it into the microwave while I make the mélange.
  3. Add fennel pieces to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté, tossing occasionally, until fennel is caramelized and tender, about five minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes, then broth, plus wine. Stir until combined and liquid is simmering.
  5. Add beans and mustard. Toss to combine, reduce heat to low.
  6. Return fish to the pan, resting the fillets on top of the mixture. Cover and simmer on low for about 8 minutes, which is just about enough time to set the table and chop the fennel fronds.
  7. Plate the meal, with fish fillet resting on top of the fennel-bean mixture. Sprinkle the chopped fennel fronds on top and serve.

Want to make this recipe?


If you’re hungry for more seafood, check out these easy recipes from the Comfort du Jour archives.


Salmon in Phyllo with Champagne Cream Sauce

If you think “elegant” and “easy” cannot co-exist in the kitchen, allow me to introduce you to this moist and flaky salmon, wrapped in layer upon layer of crispy buttery phyllo and dressed with a champagne-and-cream sauce that sends it over the top. As impressive and fancy as this sounds, you may find it hard to believe that it is easy to make. But if you can use a paintbrush and wrap a small birthday gift, you have the skills to do this.

Don’t be intimidated by the delicate, flaky layers of phyllo. This paper-thin wheat dough that is popular in Greek and other Mediterranean cuisine is not as fussy as it may seem. My first experience with phyllo was years ago in a catering kitchen, where I worked part-time during peak seasons, including holidays. The kitchen team wrapped this stuff around nearly everything in those days—appetizers, entrees and desserts—and though I was nervous at first about handling phyllo, I got over it quickly with a few helpful tips. Give it time to thaw overnight before you start, brush or spray every layer with oil or melted butter, and do your best to keep the extra sheets covered so they don’t dry out. Those are the key rules. Get it right and the rest is easy.

There is flexibility in this recipe, too. You can swap out the seasonings, use different fish and even change up the sauce if you want. Once you nail the technique of phyllo (which you will after this), there are many possibilities. Finally, whether you’ll be serving two people or eight, you’ll appreciate being able to prepare these cute little “packages” ahead of time and just pop them in the oven in time for dinner. Yes, so much easier than it looks. But every bit as elegant; the champagne cream sauce can be whipped up while the salmon is in the oven.

For a restaurant quality presentation, here’s a simple trick I learned from pro caterers: place the salmon phyllo packet on top of the sauce rather than smothering it. You’ll want your loved ones and guests to see the full beauty of the delicate phyllo. This little flip is one of the simplest things you can do at home to elevate a meal that includes a sauce. Let the swooning commence.

My recipe is for two adult servings. Adjust accordingly for extra portions.

The butter between layers makes the phyllo extra flaky, and the salmon remains moist inside the packet.

Ingredients

Fresh salmon fillet (5 oz. for each serving), skin removed* (see notes)

Salt and pepper

Fresh or dried dill leaves

5 sheets phyllo dough*

1/2 stick salted butter, melted (possibly more if you brush heavily)


Champagne Cream Sauce

1/2 cup champagne (or dry white wine, such as pinot grigio)

1 small shallot, finely minced*

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup half & half (or light cream)

1 1/2 tsp. all-purpose flour

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

A couple of pinches of white pepper


*Notes

If your supermarket offers pre-portioned salmon fillets, that’s a good way to go. Ideally, you want the skin removed from the fish (they will usually do this for you at the fish counter, but I will teach you how to do it yourself).

Any kind of salmon (sockeye, king, coho, etc.) works for this recipe, but you may also substitute steelhead (ocean) trout or arctic char. Both are mild in flavor but similar in texture to farm-raised salmon. In the photos for this post, I used steelhead trout and it was delicious.

Phyllo is a paper-thin wheat dough, popular in Greek and other Mediterranean cuisine. You’ll find it in the freezer section near the pie crusts and puff pastry. The brand I buy comes in 9 x 14” sheets, which are very manageable and large enough to wrap two fillets.

If you don’t have shallots, substitute very finely minced sweet or red onion. Do not confuse scallions for shallots. As you can see, they are most definitely not the same. 😊


You’re about to see how easy it is to make this impressive phyllo-wrapped salmon, but first, a few tips for success when working with phyllo:

Use melted butter on every layer of the phyllo. Keep the new sheets covered with a clean towel to prevent them drying out as you work. Use a pastry mat for brushing the phyllo with butter or clean your counter really well before and after. Transfer unused phyllo to a gallon-sized zip top bag and seal, squeezing out as much air as possible. Store it in the refrigerator but try to use it within a week.


Instructions

Gather up the tools you’ll need, including a sharp chef knife (to remove salmon skin), a pastry mat or clean section of counter space, a heavy-duty baking sheet and a pastry brush for spreading butter on the phyllo layers.

Have a look at the slides first, then keep scrolling for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.

  1. Follow package instructions for thawing the phyllo. It usually requires overnight in the fridge or a few hours on the counter.
  2. Preheat oven to 375° F, with oven rack in the center. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Remove the skin from the salmon if the fishmonger did not do this for you. Beginning at the tail end with the flesh side up, carefully slide the tip of a sharp knife between the flesh and skin, just enough to loosen about 2 inches of skin. Grab the skin with a paper towel. Position the knife at a low angle, and gently tug the skin side to side, holding the knife firmly in place. Continue to pull the skin until it releases from the fillet.


  4. Cut the fish into equal portions, approximately 5 ounces each. Sprinkle the fillets with salt, pepper and dried dill leaves. Set aside.
  5. Spray a pastry mat or clean section of the counter with olive oil spray. Melt butter in a small bowl. You may need to re-heat the butter as you go. Unroll the phyllo dough so that the sheets are lying flat.
  6. Carefully spread one sheet of phyllo dough onto the counter, gently pressing down the edges to keep it in place. It may tear or fold on itself in some place, but this is OK. The layers will help to hide imperfections so just keep going. Remember to cover the remaining phyllo sheets with a clean towel and damp paper towel to prevent them from drying while you work.
  7. Brush melted butter all over the phyllo sheet, starting in the center, and cover the full sheet all the way to the edges. Repeat with four more layers of phyllo.
  8. Using a sharp knife, cut the phyllo stack in half, creating two smaller rectangle-shaped stacks. Arrange the salmon fillets, face side-down on the center of each new rectangle.
  9. Fold the short end of the phyllo stack up over the salmon, then fold in the sides and the other end. Brush the packet with melted butter, then turn it over and brush the other side. Transfer the packet to the cookie sheet and repeat with the other fish packet. If you are working ahead, cover with plastic film and refrigerate. When you’re ready to bake, remove from fridge while oven preheats.
  10. Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes, until phyllo is golden brown. Prepare sauce while fish is baking.
  11. Spoon a portion of sauce onto each serving plate. Carefully cut fish packet in half and stack the halves on top of the champagne cream sauce.

Serve with your favorite roasted vegetable or a fresh crisp salad. Oh, and about the rest of that champagne… 🙂 🍾

Champagne Mustard Cream Sauce

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine champagne and shallots. Cook over medium heat to a light boil, then reduce heat and simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Whisk flour into half & half until smooth. Add to champagne mixture and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Stir in Dijon mustard, white pepper and salt to taste. Keep sauce warm until ready to serve.


Want to make this recipe?