Salmon and Saag Aloo
It started with a fish.
I’d been looking for sea bass, but the sea bass were looking a bit fishy. My eye drifted over to the salmon, and I was hooked.
I came up with a plan:
Buy a whole salmon, fillet it myself. Preserve one side with a beetroot-cure and cook the other side for dinner tonight with nothing but a little salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon and maybe a bay leaf in the pan – just crispy skin and the essential flavours of the salmon.
But what did I want to serve it with?
A bowl of hot, buttery, new season potatoes, crushed by a fork and sprinkled with grassy chives and flakes of sea salt? Or a nest of wilted spinach – a bitter, dark-green, iron-y tang against the sweet, rich, blushing pink flesh of the salmon?
The answer obviously was both, but as soon as those two ingredients were in my head, my thoughts went to saag aloo. Melding spinach and potatoes with Indian flavours is the best thing I can think to do with either of those ingredients, let alone both, so I was sure it would be the perfect complement to the salmon.
And it is.
Against a plainer accompaniment salmon can dominate a plate, but faced with the bold and spicy saag aloo it reveals the more delicate side of its fishy nature. At the last minute, I decided to add a vegetable fritter, which backed up the crispy salmon skin beautifully and brought the whole dish together.
Salmon and Saag Aloo
Makes 2 portions
- 2x 180g salmon fillets
- 300g new potatoes
- 2 large onions, finely diced
- Butter or ghee for frying
- Neutral oil (eg sunflower oil) for frying
- About 2cm of ginger root
- 300g frozen spinach, defrosted
- 1 heaped teaspoon turmeric
- 1-2 green chillies, or to taste
- Fresh coriander
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 1 smoked red pepper to garnish (optional)
- Optional – a fritter to add an extra crispy element
Boil the new potatoes in salted water for about 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and allow to cool, and cut to size as necessary.
Meanwhile, soften the onions without adding colour by frying over a low flame in a little oil and a knob of butter (or ghee). This takes about ten minutes.
Add the ginger and chillies to the onions, increase heat to medium and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the frozen spinach and toss to combine. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice and keep warm.
Preheat a frying pan over a high heat. Add oil and butter and fry the potatoes with the turmeric, tossing the pan every so often to keep from burning. Ensure potatoes are warmed through and well coated with the turmeric, before adding to the spinach sauce. Toss well, garnish with fresh coriander and red peppers. This can be done well in advance and reheated.
Preheat a frying pan until very hot. Season fillets generously with salt and pepper. Fry skin side down in a little oil over the highest possible heat until skin is crispy. Turn fillets over to sear the flesh side and finish cooking. Remove from pan and rest skin side up in a warm place for 2-3 minutes for blushing pink salmon (my recommendation) or transfer to a hot oven for another couple of minutes for well done.
Plate a piece of salmon with a portion of the saag aloo and garnish with a fritter if you’ve made some.
Tips for Geeks
The key to cooking beautiful salmon is in getting really crispy skin and perfectly cooked flesh. Crispy skin is simple: make sure this skin is dry, fry in a really hot pan, and when you rest it, keep the skin side up so that the resting juices don’t make it go soggy.
Getting perfectly cooked flesh is a little trickier. There is no way to provide an exact time for this (so I don’t) – the variables are what type & how hot the pan is, the power of your stove, the temperature of the salmon before you start (fridge or room temperature), the thickness of the fillet, and your subjective definition of perfection.
After a bit of practice, you’ll get to just know when its right, but if you’re not confident yet then you might want to try using an instant read thermometer – cook it to 50C and rest for five minutes in a warm spot. If you don’t have a thermometer (and really, you should get a thermometer), insert a paring knife or a skewer into the thickest part of the salmon, count to five, and whip it out and quickly (but carefully) touch it to your lip. When the salmon is done it should feel warm (a little above body temperature). If it’s piping hot, it’s probably going to be overdone – take it out of the pan immediately.
You can eat salmon rare/medium rare, and I highly recommend that you do so. Dry, overcooked salmon is not worth having. If you find that you’ve cooked it too rare, don’t worry. Two minutes in a hot oven and it’ll be fine.
I use frozen spinach in my saag aloo, because I think it gives the best result with the maximum convenience. Fresh spinach has to be wilted – buy it frozen and that’s already done for you. If you buy fresh spinach too far in advance it goes slimy and gross and you have to spend ages picking the good bits out. And if you don’t need a whole bag, you have leftover spinach that will sit in the fridge until you have to throw it away. Frozen spinach comes in convenient little balls that defrost in the microwave in a couple of minutes, and will last months in the freezer. And for all that convenience, I think it just plain tastes better in the saag aloo.