Eric Akis: A very merry West Coast dinner

Eric Akis

If you need an attractive West Coast-style main dish for a festive holiday lunch or dinner, bake a whole side of salmon. It’s not hard to do and when presented on a pretty platter, it looks impressive and very B.C.

If I have you hooked on that idea, try my recipe for baked salmon with brown sugar, lemon and spice glaze.

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In the recipe, a one-kilogram or so boneless side of salmon, which could be steelhead, sockeye or other B.C. species, is set on a large parchment paper-lined baking sheet, skin-side down. The fish is topped with a brown-sugar mixture flavoured with lemon zest and an aromatic mix of spices, including coriander, cumin, smoked paprika, ginger and black pepper. To balance the sweetness of the sugar, the salmon is drizzled with lemon juice.

As the salmon cooks, the brown sugar melts and melds with the spices and lemon, creating a shimmering glaze for the fish that gives the flesh a very succulent flavour.

To further enhance that taste, I served the salmon with a cool and tangy sauce flavoured with three types of mustard, and a seasonally coloured cucumber and grape tomato salad. Round out the meal by also serving the salmon with boiled or steamed miniature potatoes and some sliced sour dough or rye bread.

The salmon recipe serves six, but it, and today’s other recipes could easily be doubled if you’re feeding a larger group.

Baked Salmon with Brown Sugar, Lemon and Spice Glaze

In this recipe, a whole side of salmon is sprinkled with a nicely spiced brown sugar mixture, drizzled with lemon juice, and then baked until beautifully glazed and delicious.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 18 to 20 minutes

Makes: six servings

3 Tbsp golden brown sugar

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper (do not use finely ground pepper)

1/2 tsp flaked sea salt or kosher salt

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 (about 1 to 1.25 kg) side of steelhead, sockeye or other salmon (see Eric’s options)

2 Tbsp lemon juice

• lemon slices and fresh dill or tarragon sprigs, for garnish

• Three Mustard Sauce (see recipe below)

Combine sugar, zest, black pepper, salt, coriander, cumin, paprika, ginger and cayenne pepper in a small bowl (see Eric’s options).

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a large, 18-x-13-inch or similar sized baking sheet with parchment paper. Set salmon skin-side-down on the baking sheet. Sprinkle and spread the top of the salmon, evenly as you can, with the brown sugar/spice mixture. Drizzle salmon with the lemon juice.

Bake salmon, in the middle of the oven, 18 to 20 minutes, or until cooked (see Note). Carefully transfer salmon to a serving platter. Drizzle with any pan juices. Garnish salmon with lemon slices and fresh dill (or tarragon) sprigs, and then serve with the mustard sauce. The salmon could be served hot or room temperature. Use a sharp knife to cut it, widthwise, into six servings.

Note: Salmon fillets can vary in thickness, so when determining whether or not the fish is cooked, remember that when it is, the fish will feel slightly firm. Too soft means it’s not cooked through, too firm and it’s overcooked. When cooked, the fish will also start to separate slightly into flakes and a white protein may seep out from the flakes.

Eric’s options: If for some reason you can’t find a whole side of salmon the size called for in the recipe, buy a one kilogram piece of salmon fillet and top and bake it as described in the recipe. The brown sugar/spice mixture can be made many hours before needed for the salmon. Cover and keep at room temperature until ready to sprinkle on the fish.

Three Mustard Sauce

Two types of Dijon mustard and dry mustard flavour this tangy and tasty sauce you can spoon on servings of the salmon. The sauce also tastes great with the steamed or boiled miniature potatoes you can serve with the fish.

Preparation time: five minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: one cup

2 Tbsp Dijon mustard

2 Tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard

1 tsp dry mustard (I used Keen’s brand)

1/3 cup sour cream

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbsp brown sugar

1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill or tarragon

• salt to taste

Thoroughly combine ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate sauce until needed for the salmon. Sauce can be made many hours in advance.

Cucumber and Grape Tomato Salad

A holiday themed red and green salad goes great with the salmon. You can slice the cucumbers and tomatoes and chop the herbs for the salad many hours in advance. If you do, keep them refrigerated until ready to toss with the vinegar mixture.

Preparation time: five minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: six servings

3 Tbsp rice or cider vinegar

2 tsp brown sugar

• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 cups thinly sliced English cucumber (about 1 medium cucumber)

20 grape tomatoes, each halved (see Note)

1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill or tarragon

Combine vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a salad bowl. Add cucumbers, tomatoes and dill (or tarragon) and toss to combine. Let cucumbers and tomatoes marinate in the vinegar mixture 20 minutes or so. Toss again, before serving.

Note: Grape tomatoes are shaped like grapes, hence the name. You’ll find them for sale in the produce section of most supermarkets.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Times Colonist Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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