Minnesotans take great pride in telling people where their ancestors came from and for the most part there are only three places of origin. Norway, Sweden or Germany. If you have relatives who came from anywhere else, say, Poland, you are considered “exotic.” I’m a 50/50 Norwegian/German; Shaina is less pure, much less pure, which makes her “exotic” by some standards. I guess that makes our kids mostly nothing, but we like to think of them as little Vikings; they certainly act like it most of the time. And as Vikings, we try to keep a fair amount of fish in our diet. This can be cod or tilapia; occasionally it might be sea bass or mahi, but for the most part, we are a salmon family.
We all love a simple grilled salmon with lemon and herbs, but when you consume enough of it, you begin to crave variety. I achieve this with the occasional cedar plank or teriyaki style salmon, but lately I have been having the urge to search even further. Tonight that search ended up at the end of the Mississippi River with a Cajun style blackened salmon. The great thing about this is that if you have a moderately stocked spice cabinet, chances are that you won’t even have to make a special trip to the store to pull it off (assuming that you already have the fish).
With the help of my second in command (Kola Nut – The Terrible – and oddly well dressed) we put together a sizzlingly spicy salmon as black as a Viking pillaged sea port. And you can too!
Start with a nice slab of salmon (this one was 3 1/3 lbs). We buy them large and freeze what we’re not going to use. The local Costco usually has a nice selection at under six dollars a pound. We cooked up about half of it, and I’m saving the other half for the smoker.
Rinse off your fish and dry with a paper towel. Cut the fillet into serving sized portions (this rub quantity is enough for about four 5 oz fillets). Lightly coat these with olive oil (you don’t need much) and set aside while you prepare the rub.
For that you’ll need:
1 ½ tbsp paprika
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp white pepper
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
¼ tsp of the following
And the heat – cayenne pepper – this really depends on your tolerance for spice.
The first time I made this I used almost 2 tbsp. Let’s say that it was good, but I had a runny nose and a sweaty forehead for the better part of the evening. Tonight I went for a bit less than one tbsp. I think this was just right.
I should mention that before I added the cayenne, I split the rest of the mixture in two and only added the cayenne to one half. That way I could make a few “little Vikings” servings and still have some “big Vikings” portions that were up to my desired level of spice.
All that’s left is to coat your fish. You want a good coating. I put enough on so that you can’t see any fish, only spice. This way you’ll get a nice black crust when the whole thing is done. So just evenly pour the rub over your fillets and work it around with your hands until they are uniformly coated.
Now, if you forgot to light your grill, do it. If you planned ahead then you are ready to grill….wait, you wouldn’t go outside without a beer, would you? I don’t even think that my grill works without one. Today it’s a Copper Hook from Red Hook, just in time for spring.
Normally blackened foods are done so in a hot pan on a stove top, but that’s not how I roll. It is a warm day on the North Sea when I cook any meat indoors. Luckily, this recipe does well, nay, is enhanced, when done on the grill. The savory spicy rub mingles with the smokey highlights of food cooked over an open flame – I tell you, it’s magic. But I digress.
To properly blacken anything you need heat, higher than normal heat, I aim for about 500 degrees. Get your grill up there and scrape it down, we want things nice a clean for this. Toss the fish on and close the lid, turn the burners down to medium. Now don’t go too far, these will cook up rather fast.
If all is well, you should be ready to flip after about 3 ½ minutes. If possible, flip to an area of the grill that wasn’t just occupied with fish. That way the grates will be hotter than flipping it in place. This will aid in blackening. Close the lid for about 4 minutes, and flip again, the herb crust should now be turning a lovely shade of black. This is good, your fish is not burning, it is just the herbs and spices fusing together into an impending flavor explosion.
Close the lid for another 2-3 minutes, now flip one last time and turn off the grill. Go in and get a foil lined plate, bring it back, retrieve them, and wrap them loosely. Let them rest for about 5 minutes while you get the rest of the meal plated, then serve up the salmon and enjoy.
If the cayenne got away from you and things ended up a bit spicy, just serve a bit of sour cream on the side. That does a good job at cutting the heat (wimp). This method is a great alternative for keeping things fresh in the salmon department. Now if you’ll excuse me, one of my little Vikings is trying to pillage the cookie jar.