Crispy-Skin Morro Bay King Salmon, Miso-Braised Buna-Shimeji
Diced Daikon Sautéed in Sesame Oil, Vietnamese Herbs, Bonito Flakes, Dashi Broth
Being a salmon aficionado and curious about the unusually complex rich flavors of this particular fish, I called the fishmonger at Bristol Farms. Salmon from Morro Bay, just like her famous Northern sister, the Copper River King, has unique qualities that come from “lifestyle” – the environment where they hatch, what they feed on, the temperature and strength of the currents they swim in and against, and finally how they are harvested and brought to market.
LL: “I purchased Wild California King Salmon from you yesterday. Can you tell me more about it?”
FM: “Oh yes! They are troll fishing for King Salmon in Morro Bay right now, using hook and line, bringing one fish at a time on board the boats. The fish are handled with the utmost care.”
LL: “I think it is quite possibly the best salmon I’ve ever had.”
FM: “We think so too. It’s extraordinary.”
Morro Bay King Salmon is the star of this dish. All the other components play a supporting role while creating an ethereal experience. Unlike the super-fatty Copper River chinooks, the Morro Bay is perhaps more balanced? While Morro Bay kings are still very rich in the omega-3 fats, there is also a depth and complexity of flavor that is unmatched by any salmon I’ve ever enjoyed. Unwittingly, I chose a light preparation for the dish, so glad I didn’t overshadow the bright character of the fish with heavy sauces or competing ingredients.
Peel and dice daikon. Sauté in toasted sesame oil. Set aside and keep warm.
Slice the very bottom of the stem from the buna shimeji (beech mushroom), taking care to leave enough stem so mushrooms are still bound together in clusters. Cook in simmering white miso broth until tender. Drain. Set aside and keep warm.
Meanwhile, rub the dry, room-temperature salmon fillets with olive oil. Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Place in a hot dry non-stick skillet, skin-side down.
As the fish cooks, use the back of a spatula to press the fillets into the pan to remove any air pockets between the skin, flesh, or pan. This method will give a perfect crisp skin. When the fish is cooked to medium-rare and the skin is crisp, flip the fillets over and very briefly sear the other side.
I recently met some friends for a delightful lunch in Orange County’s Little Saigon. It’s absolutely impossible for me to leave that town without stopping at one of the big bustling Vietnamese supermarkets. This time I came home with several bunches of fresh herbs, among them – rau ram and hung cay.
The Vietnamese herbs bring another dimension to this dish which has predominantly Japanese flavors. Rau ram is also known as Vietnamese coriander. It does have a cilantro-like aroma and flavor, but also lends a more exotic lemony/soapy element. Hung cay adds the fresh spicy/minty quality and is much more alluring than the ubiquitous garden-variety spearmint.
Place the daikon and buna shimeji in a shallow bowl along with Vietnamese herbs (torn in half if too large). Ladle hot dashi over the vegetables, but do not submerge the vegetables completely. They should make a bed for the salmon, so the fillet is not sitting in the dashi, but atop the vegetables.
Place the salmon fillet over the vegetables, skin-side up. Garnish the fish with a sprinkling of bonito flakes and a few herb leaves.
If you are fortunate to have access to fresh Morro Bay King Salmon this season, definitely take advantage of this unparalleled catch!