Writing about pomegranate molasses yesterday made me crave it. I’d planned salmon for dinner, so used the molasses for marinade that doubled as sauce. The marinade added flavor to both the fish and the Parsley Couscous Pilaf I served with it.
The salmon was caught last summer in the icy waters of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. During fishing season, my husband’s friend Richard regularly tows his boat - and his friends - hundreds of miles down the Seward and Sterling Highways in search of wild Alaska seafood.
Fish must be properly packaged for it to survive in the freezer without developing freezer burn or off flavors. Because it is fatty, salmon is particularly susceptible to turning rancid while frozen. Over many years, we’ve developed techniques for protecting fish against the freezer’s ravages.
Fish must be kept on ice until frozen, and should be frozen as soon as possible after it leaves the water. No matter how tired he is, when my husband gets home from fishing we immediately start processing and freezing fish. For those who buy it rather than catch it, any fish not to be eaten fresh should be frozen immediately upon return from the market.
I prefer freezing fish as fillets because they are easiest to portion, lie flat in the freezer, and freeze faster than other cuts. I pack the fillets in pieces large enough for two to avoid thawing out more fish than can be eaten at one meal.
As my husband fillets each fish, I cut the fillets to size and put them in the heaviest duty zip-lock freezer bags I can find. I fill a clean sink with very cold, clean water. I push the bag underwater and let it fill up with water so there is no air left in the bag. While it is underwater, I force enough water out of the bag for it to lie flat in the freezer and then firmly seal it.
I wrap the sealed bags of fish in freezer paper to form a flat package, tape it shut, and label it with the date, species of fish, and weight of the contents. Labeling is very important and protects against eating geriatric frozen fish discovered in the freezer’s depths.
When the fish is wrapped and labeled, I spread the packages out in the freezer to make sure they freeze as fast as possible. Fast freezing prevents large ice crystals from forming in the fish. For the same reason, you can also turn the freezer down to its lowest setting while the fish freezes. Don’t forget to turn the freezer back to its normal setting when the fish is completely frozen.
Vacuum-packing is another method of preparing fish for the freezer. This method works as long as the seal holds. If something punctures the plastic vacuum bag, air leaks in and vacuum packing’s protection is lost. For maximum freezer burn protection, wrap vacuum-packed fish in freezer paper to shield the plastic from punctures.
When vacuum-packing fish, make sure it is lying flat before applying suction. If fish is all akimbo when suctioned, the packages won’t stack well in the freezer. With one or two packages of fish, this isn’t a problem. However, it is very difficult to fit 20 irregularly shaped packages in the freezer at one time. Even worse, when the packages can’t be stacked they become dangerous rock-hard footballs that fly off freezer shelves and knock you in the head when you try to extricate a bag for dinner.
Frozen fish is best when thawed quickly. The easiest way to do this is putting the sealed bag of fish under cold running water. Resist the temptation to thaw fish in warm or hot water; doing so causes undesirable texture changes. Although some recommend it, I’ve never successfully thawed fish in a microwave and think it is a bad idea.
Thawing fish overnight in the refrigerator works, but the fish will lose a lot of moisture. I often thaw fish at room temperature without problem, but food safety experts advise strongly against doing so because it can cause bacterial growth and spoilage.
Last night we enjoyed silver salmon that was caught and packed in July. I thawed it under cold running water, put it in marinade when the center was still slightly frozen, and refrigerated the fish until just before I was ready to cook.
No matter how well you package it, frozen fish loses some moisture and is more susceptible than fresh fish to drying out. For this reason, be careful not to overcook fish that has been frozen. Serving frozen fish with a sauce, as with Pomegranate Salmon, also helps counteract dryness problems.
Pomegranate Salmon (Σολομός με Ροδί)
Serves 4 – 6
In blind tastes tests, wild Alaska salmon beats farmed salmon every time. Besides having better flavor and texture, wild Alaska salmon is better for your health and for the environment. The color of wild Alaska salmon comes from its natural diet. It is not pumped full of dye, hormones, and antibiotics, as farmed salmon can be. Wild Alaska salmon is labelled as such; if your fishmonger doesn't identify salmon as wild, it is farm-raised.
2 pounds wild Alaska salmon fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
1/4 cup thyme or other full-flavored honey
1/4 cup finely minced garlic
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup dry white wine
Minced parsley for garnish
Wash the salmon and dry it well. Using needle-nosed pliers, remove as many pin-bones from the salmon as possible. Skin the fillets and cut them into 4 – 6 even-sized pieces.
Thoroughly mix the pomegranate molasses, honey, garlic, Aleppo pepper, salt, and 1/4 cup wine. When the molasses and honey have dissolved, mix in the remaining wine. Put the marinade in a zip-lock bag (I use the bag in which the fish was frozen), add the salmon, seal the bag, and jostle the ingredients until the salmon is completely coated with marinade. Refrigerate and let the salmon marinate for 1 – 2 hours.
Pour the marinade in a small saucepan. Bring the marinade to a boil, watching carefully so it doesn’t boil over, and immediately turn down the heat to low. Simmer the marinade while you cook the salmon.
Remove the salmon from the bag and place it on paper towels. Pat the salmon dry, and season it on both sides with freshly ground black pepper. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan large enough to hold all the salmon until it is hot but not smoking. Sauté the salmon for 2 - 4 minutes per side, depending on its thickness. Don’t overcook the salmon; it tastes better slightly underdone than slightly overdone.
Spoon a pool of sauce (cooked marinade) on a plate. Top with a piece of salmon, and sprinkle it with parsley. Serve with Parsley Couscous Pilaf and a crisp green salad.
Parsley Couscous Pilaf (Κουςκούς Πιλάφι)
Serves 4 (If you are serving 6, proportionally increase the amount of ingredients.)
“Toasted couscous” is also sold as “Israeli couscous” or “pearl couscous.” It is not couscous as that term is commonly used in Moroccan cooking. Rather, it is pearl-shaped pasta that can be boiled and sauced, made into cold salads, cooked as risotto, or, as here, substituted for rice in pilaf.
1 cup minced shallots
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup toasted couscous
2 cups hot water
1 cup thinly sliced green onion
3/4 cup minced parsley
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon peel
Sauté the shallots, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until they soften and turn golden. Add the couscous and sauté until the couscous starts to brown. Add the hot water, bring to a boil, cover, turn down the heat to low, and cook for 12 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the green onion, parsley, and finely grated lemon peel. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Serve immediately.