Sunday, June 20, 2010

Vietnamese Cucumber Relish

Isn't it salmon season?

I've had a real longing for salmon lately. On the hunt, I went to Fish King in Glendale. Good news –– they had wild King Salmon for sale!

Screech. For $39.99 a pound.

Can you imagine if you overcooked that fish? You would have to jump off a bridge!

There is no way that I could justify that expense.

Fast forward several weeks. I found some wild Coho salmon at Whole Foods at a price that I could accept. I had the idea to try another David Tanis recipe. He has a recipe in A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes for "Wild Salmon with Vietnamese Cucumbers".

I purchased all the ingredients to make this, but I got slightly distracted on the way.

Now I have started to think that I know best when it comes to cooking fish. I follow my mother's lead. High heat (400 to 450 degrees) for a short time (maybe 10 minutes, depending on the cut). This usually works brilliantly. Nine out of ten times the fish is moist and a little bit golden.

With salmon, I insist on medium rare. I really do not like it when it has been cooked all the way through. Medium rare and slightly custardy in the middle is perfect to my mind.

Well, believe me, I sure wish that I had used David Tanis' slower-and-lower method when I realized that I had cooked the salmon about two and a half minutes too long. The salmon was still delicious, but I hate overcooking fish. To many, it was probably cooked à point, but it was definitely not to me.

What I really want to share with you, though, are these lovely Vietnamese cucumbers. This is a great little recipe. Not fancy or complicated, yet quite refreshing and stunning with the fish ––probably with any fish, really.

Vibrant with lime juice and ginger, this cucumber relish would have been a perfect foil for the rich and oily black cod that I cooked two days later. Depending on your affinity for heat, these cucumbers can have quite a kick, especially if you use plenty of serrano chiles. I used two because I didn't want to overdo it for A. Next time I will probably crank up the heat –– I can't help myself.

The recipe calls for palm sugar. Tanis recommends Mexican piloncillo or raw brown sugar. I used standard golden brown sugar to good effect. I might, however, consider cutting back on the sugar ever so slightly.

I served the salmon with boiled new potatoes and sautéed escarole with garlic –– a very healthy and well-balanced meal (so says A!).

I can easily imagine serving these Vietnamese cucumbers with a roast chicken or a barbecued tri-tip. My sister and I gobbled up the rest the next day as a cooling, late-afternoon snack.

Vietnamese Cucumbers

4 large cucumbers
Salt and pepper
Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam) or Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into a fine julienne
Palm sugar
Serranos or jalapenos or fresh Thai chiles
2 or 3 limes
Mint sprigs
Basil sprils
Thinly sliced scallions or sweet onions

Peel the cucumbers, cut them lengthwise in half, and remove the seeds with a spoon if they are large (I used about 8 persian cucumbers and did not remove the seeds). Slice the cucumbers into thickish half-moons and put them in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle lightly with fish sauce, then add the ginger and a couple of tablespoons of palm sugar. Toss well, and let the cucumbers sit for 5 minutes or so.

Add a good spoonful of finely chopped serrano or jalapeno chiles (seeds removed to lessen spiciness, if desired) or finely slivered Thai chiles. Squeeze over the juice of 2 limes and toss again, then cover and refrigerate till serving.

Just before serving add a fistful of roughly chopped mint and basil leaves. Taste and adjust the seasoning with lime juice as well as salt and pepper. Garnish with thinly sliced scallions or paper-thin slices of sweet onion.

Serves 8-10

1 comment:

Helen said...

This recipe sounds delicious and I am definitely going to try it. Wish I had made it last night when I made King Salmon which was about $13.00 a pound at Costco and was absolutely fresh and delicious.