When I was in college, one of my favorite recipes to make as a special treat on the weekend was my mother’s Chinese pan-seared salmon. Made sizzling in a smoking wok, the fish comes out tender and flavorful, with a fantastically crisp soy-caramelized skin. But it can be a bit of an endeavor, requiring constant attention and a little sweat and labor over a spitting wok. That may not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially after a long day at work.
So upon entering the working world, I’ve resorted to a little help from the French to keep this dish manageable but still date-night special. Namely, I’ve started to cook it en papillote, or “in parchment.” If the name or the method intimidates you, don’t let it. It sounds fancy, but all it involves is a little bit of folding, sealing the fish up in parchment or foil pouches and steaming it instead of pan-frying. With a little bit of fusion action, you get a delicious Asian salmon that’s actually far easier to make—reliably tender and perfectly done each time, with no fuss and no sticky, blackened wok to clean up. You’ll even have time left to whip up some sides.
ASIAN SALMON EN PAPILLOTE FOR TWO
Two 1/2 to 2/3-pound salmon fillets
1 inch ginger root, sliced
4-5 cloves of garlic, smashed or roughly chopped
2 scallions, chopped (both the green and white parts)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup (2 Tbsp) Shaoxing rice wine or sake
3-4 Tbsp brown sugar
01. Wash the salmon fillets and pat dry. Place in a shallow, flat dish or a large Ziploc bag with the ginger, garlic, and scallions. In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, rice wine and brown sugar until sugar dissolves. Pour the soy sauce mixture over the fish and let marinate for at least 30 minutes, ideally 2-3 hours and up to a day in advance.
02. When ready to cook, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
03. Take a large piece of parchment paper or foil and fold it in half, then cut into a heart shape. When folded in half, the parchment should still be larger than the salmon by at least 3 to 4 inches on each side. (The larger it is, the easier it is to fold.)
04. Open the paper and place one salmon fillet in the center of one half (as shown) along with a generous helping of the ginger, garlic, and scallions.
05. Drizzle some of the marinade lightly over the fish, then fold over the parchment and pleat the edges shut, starting with the rounded side of the heart.
06. When you reach the end, twist the end shut. If you’re nervous about sealing the packet, try using foil instead, which remains airtight more easily. Either way, it’s not essential that the parchment is absolutely sealed, though it will help keep the fish more moist.
07. Repeat with another piece of parchment and the other salmon fillet. Reserve the rest of the marinade and a few pieces each of the ginger, garlic, and scallions—you’ll use it to make a sauce while the fish cooks.
08. Bake the fish at 350 degrees on a rimmed baking sheet for 15 to 25 minutes, longer for a thicker piece of fish. It’s hard to overcook the salmon using this method, so if you’re unsure about the cooking time, just let it go on the slightly longer side. A 1/2-pound fillet should take about 15 minutes, while a 2/3-pound should take no more than 20.
09. When the fish is nearly done, pour the marinade into a small saucepan and turn the heat to medium-high. Stir until the marinade thickens into a sauce. I usually add a bit more soy sauce and a few more tablespoons of sugar at this point to create a thicker sauce, but it’s up to you. When it thickens to your liking, let cool, then serve over the fish.
EASY ASIAN BROCCOLI STEM SALAD
2 broccoli crowns, with the outer skin peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch disks (makes about 2 cups)
1/2-1 tsp salt (enough to coat the stems evenly)
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1-2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp balsamic or Asian vinegar
red chili pepper
01. Cut the broccoli stems from the crowns, combine, and salt. Toss to distribute evenly. The stems should be quite salty but not inedible. Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes, or until stems release water.
02. Drain the water. Then add soy sauce, sesame oil, and vinegar, and toss to coat. Sprinkle red chili pepper over top and serve.
EASY STEAMED BROCCOLI
2 broccoli crowns, florets only (about 3 to 4 cups)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup chicken broth
2-3 tsp oyster sauce
01. In a large wok, heat oil over medium-high heat until simmering. Pour in the broccoli crowns and sauté briefly. Shake salt and pepper evenly over the broccoli, stir-fry for another 10 to 15 seconds, then add the chicken broth and turn the heat to low.
02. Cover and let steam for 5 to 10 minutes, or until tender to your liking. Add oyster sauce and stir again to distribute evenly. Enjoy!