I needed a little 'zing.' I needed a little 'easy.' I got what I asked for with this quick orzo and salmon success story!
Aww, the cute little 'orzo.' Not rice, not grain, it is actually a pasta. A tiny, flat, football-shaped pasta that is often nothing more than filler for pasta salad, or soup. Maybe not something to build a menu around, but that's your assumption. This somewhat uninteresting ingredient was muse for this whole post.
I had been having a particularly bad day. Not catastrophic, just bleh. REALLY bleh. And when it came to dinner time I just wandered around my kitchen, opening the pantry and the fridge and the cupboards and just uttering more, "bleh..." As I moved around boxes from the back of the shelves looking for inspiration, I ran across the dreaded Onion Soup Mix box. Yes, I do have some of that. Some of you may need a moment to compose yourself after gasping. But remember, I don't always use ingredients the way they may have been intended. I often take one thing and make it another, or use only the flavor packet. Quite frankly I figure there are no rules when it comes to cooking something unique. Those words, "Three easy steps!" on the side of any prepackaged food box mean NOTHING to me.
But I did have an idea for that onion soup mix. Remember, I was having a bad day. I needed a little zing. And I needed to use the frozen Alaskan salmon in my freezer. Hmmm. Maybe I could accomplish all this in one pan and whip up something that would be the poster child for comfort food?
Yeah, I think I can.
If there is anything that is a dead giveaway of flavor combinations for my style of cooking, it is that I love salty and sweet together. I just think the tongue deserves it. One brings out the other. And whatever is in between just gets better.
The results of this blending were super spectacular. Just the right texture. Just the right flavors. Just the right dinner for turning a night of bleh into zing!!!!
First secret is building layers of flavor. Some butter and onion and a little garlic are shoe-ins. And of course a good stock and other complimentary seasonings are essential. I decided to begin by toasting the orzo a little in the oil and butter, much like the first steps you take when making good 'ol RiceARoni. It helped create the right amount of chew for the orzo, and the gradients of color from the browned butter were lovely.
Once you nest the salmon into the boiling liquid, setting the lid on askew is vital. You want it cooked in the liquid but you don't want it rubbery. And salmon cooks in an instant. So don't dally and let a little steam off while poaching (actually it is a little braising and poaching...).
You may not have all these ingredients and I usually like to share recipes using items you can easily get, but I encourage you to use a somewhat sophisticated preserve flavor if you do not have brandied cherries. I used a bottle from Harry & David but there are several purveyors that offer the same kinds of flavors and will yield excellent results.
Just looking at these photos makes me realize how much my mood changed when I was eating this. It is testament to the fact that I am actually easy to please after all, and a hug, along with a good bit of food can put any level of blues on hold.
RECIPE: Poached Salmon with Orzo and Brandied Cherry Sauce
Serves 4 / Click here for printable version.
4, 4 ounce Alaskan Salmon Filets
1/3 C sweet onion chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 T unsalted butter
2 T oil
2 C good chicken stock (reserving ½ C only if needed)
3 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 C white wine, (Unoaked Chardonnay best)
2 T onion soup/dip mix
¾ C chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 C brandied cherries (or other not too sweet bottled cherry preserves) I used Harry & David brand
2 T fig vinegar
Using one large saucepan begin by heating 2 T of oil to medium high. Add the onion and saute until they begin to barely brown a bit. Add some salt and pepper and 2 T butter and then the 1 C of orzo pasta. Saute until bits of the orzo begin to brown and caramelize. Add the two T of the onion soup mix, turn to medium high and mix in until moist, bringing all ingredients to a good blend. Deglaze the pan with the wine and let bubble off for a minute. Then add the lemon juice and stir well. Finally, add 1 C of the stock and turn to low so it is simmering consistently. Stir and blend a bit, letting it bubble, then stir, almost like you would if you were making a risotto. Then add the garlic about halfway through the process, and continue to stir. When half the liquid is absorbed, add the other ½ cup of stock and stir, and then add half the parsley and combine. While still on low but bubbling slightly, nest the salmon filets in, and top each with a dot of butter, using the remaining 2 T of butter to do so. Gently ladle a bit of the liquid atop each filet. Then cover with the lid askew and let braise in the liquid just until you see it becoming opaque but not cooked through which only takes about 3 minutes. The mixture should be thick and moist but not dry. If needed, add a bit more stock a tablespoon at a time.
Mix the brandied cherries and fig vinegar together and heat through either in a small pan or the microwave. Don’t boil, just get piping hot.
To plate, put a mound of the orzo mixture in the middle of the plate. Top with a salmon filet. Drizzle a couple of spoonfuls of the brandied cherry sauce on top. Sprinkle with more parsley to finish. Serve.
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Meet the Cook...
My name is Camine Pappas and I love to create beautiful and delicious food that anyone can make. My signature style is one of combining things in a way you might not expect as I work to find a hidden combination of colors, textures and flavors from the things that are in my pantry and/or easy to obtain.