This is not a particularly budget-friendly recipe, purely because salmon isn’t cheap. But it’s one of those foods that shouldn’t be, I think. If I’m going to eat a fish, I want one that used to swim in the sea and is fished sustainably and transported so that it’s still fresh, and so it should cost a lot of money. (I also believe in good treatment for animals, but that’s slightly different because it’s possible to buy an unpopular cut of a well-treated animal at a reasonable price). However, we made this the other day from a salmon I’d frozen after buying it from the supermarket at less than £10 a kilo. It was a lovely specimen – firm, rosy-fleshed salmon from Scotland, and very fresh. It was so cheap because it was unprocessed – gutted, but then just bagged up. It’s a cost-efficient way of buying enough salmon for dinner with friends, but only if you don’t mind wrestling a fish longer than your arm. I spent longer de-scaling and pin-boning that sea monster than preparing the rest of the dinner put together. Just call me Ishmael.
As a second-generation British-born Chinese, I often get asked where I’m from. I live in London, was brought up in Surrey and born in Liverpool, but that’s not really what the questioner means. Despite my parents’ best efforts, I don’t understand Mandarin and look terrible in a cheongsam. But I do really, really like the food.
It’s a cultural legacy of sorts – given a free choice of where to eat out I’ll always pick something if not Chinese, then at least in South East Asia. We live in Islington but a quick 15 minute tube ride from Chinatown, and an easy cycle to Dalston for cheap, authentic Vietnamese and pretty much almost anything else we feel like. An ever-growing list of particular favourite destinations can be found here.
At home, it’s a slightly different story. The Asian section of this blog tells it well enough – it’s not exactly fusion, more like confusion. I like to think that what my interpretation of South East Asian cooking lacks in authenticity it makes up for in pragmaticity, but that’s definitely not a word. A recipe I’d be too ashamed to post (but that we eat about once a week) is for quick stir-fried noodles, seasoned with everything in the cupboard with Chinese characters on the label – sesame oil, soya sauce, shaoxing rice wine, sometimes a splash of fish sauce or (controversy alert!) a squeeze of ketchup, and with optional lashings of sriacha, sweet chilli or chilli oil.
This salmon dish was inspired by a recipe Ross Shonhan of Flesh and Buns contributed to the guardian – ribs with chipotle miso barbecue sauce. We made it once, as written, and it was a gorgeous experience, all char and meaty beefiness with big, punchy flavours of umami, sweetness and salt. I wanted to cut some of the sugar and pare back the flavours to make it more of a weeknight recipe, and so this is very simple – just using miso, honey and mirin to make a gorgeous golden paste for marinating salmon, which is baked and then grilled to get an edge of smoky char on the sweet and tender fish.
Unfortunately there is no picture to accompany this recipe. How Chinese am I? As it turns out, enough to take photos of my food in restaurants, but not enough to do it at home in front of friends who have come for dinner.
Recipe: Miso Honey Salmon
Serves 2, but scale (!) up as necessary
Salmon fillets, de-scaled and either with skin intact or removed. Bones can be removed with tweezers but if you can get a fishmonger to do it for you, definitely do! I fishmongered at home but at least was wearing my husband’s jumper.
2 Tbsp miso paste (available from Asian food shops), I normally have medium in the house but white or dark miso also works
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp mirin
Spring onions and crispy onions, to serve
1. Mix the miso, honey and mirin in a saucepan and heat gently until everything is combined into a smooth paste
2. Pat the fish dry with paper towels and marinate it in an ovenproof serving dish (e.g. cast-iron shallow dish, or ceramic) for at least 30 mins at room temperature, or up to a day in the fridge, tightly covered
3. Bake the fish in a preheated oven at 180C for 10-15 minutes. You can do this before your guests arrive. It should come apart in flakes at the edges.
4. Just before serving, turn on the grill to 230C and cook the fish again until it is touched with a deep brown at the edges.
Snip sheaves of spring onions over the dish and sprinkle crispy onions over as well. We served this with steamed rice and just-cooked broccoli, as well as pickled cucumbers and a colourful confetti of chopped radishes, peppers and tomatoes with sesame dressing.