Friday, March 22, 2013

Pan-Seared Salmon with Bacon Clam Chowder

This might sound kind of cheesy, Chef Michael Smith is kind of a culinary hero of mine. It was his show, Chef at Home, that I first started watching years ago that made me think that I could actually cook something decent if I tried (I didn't count boiling pasta and heating sauce from a can as "real" cooking back then). He really made cooking accessible for me, and I began to see that it was actually easier than I thought to put together great dishes.

Nowadays I also follow chefs like Jamie Oliver who seem to have a similar approach to home cooking. They have shown me that it's not necessary to obsessively follow recipes to make good food, but rather to learn the basic processes and the ingredients and then get a feel for how the dishes are made so that you can freestyle somewhat and personalize the dishes once you get comfortable with them. Some may say it's a casual approach to cooking, but I like to think of it as instinctive.

Either way, sometimes I'm a little too "instinctive" in the kitchen. I often start without getting all of my equipment and ingredients ready (against Jamie Oliver's advice) so sometimes it looks like a bomb has gone off. Bless my patient husband who, in those circumstances, still does the dishes even though I'm convinced that cleaning up is more work than cooking everything in the first place.

This salmon recipe is one of Chef Michael Smith's which I've adapted slightly. It's one of my favourites, and before seeing it on the show, is the kind of dish that I wouldn't have thought that I could make. I would never have had the courage to attempt clam chowder before seeing how straightforward it could be.

I do have to warn you that this isn't a typical clam chowder with some salmon in it. Rather, the salmon is the main attraction here, and the chowder is the accompaniment, so these quantities won't make you a big bowl of chowder for each person - just in case that's what you were expecting.

What this dish is is a really flavourful mix of some of my favourite ingredients. There is a lot of rich, creamy flavour in the clam chowder, and it complements the salmon so well. Mix in some fresh parsley and toss bacon on the works and you have a winner.

Ingredients (serves 2):
  • 2 4-ounce salmon fillets, skin removed
  • 3 slices of thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can of clams and their juice
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/8 cup of white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 teaspoon of corn starch 
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley for garnishing, chopped

Fry the bacon pieces over medium-high heat with a splash of water. The water will render the fat from the bacon and help it cook evenly and crisp up nicely. When the bacon has cooked to a deep brown and crisped up, remove it from the pan and set it aside. Do not discard the bacon fat.

Making sure the pan is still hot, sear the salmon fillets in the bacon fat over medium-high heat. Let the salmon form a nice brown crust before you turn it over.When meat or fish has formed a browned crust and is ready to be turned over, it should actually un-stick from the pan itself, provided you have preheated the pan and oil well enough before putting the meat or fish in. If you have to force the meat or fish away from the bottom of the pan, it's likely not done browning yet, and will probably get mashed to pieces in the process. (I speak from experience.)

Remove the salmon fillets from the pan when they are nicely browned on both sides. They don't need to be cooked all the way through yet, as they will finish cooking with the chowder. Set the salmon aside on a clean dish.

Turn the heat down to medium. Add the onion, celery and garlic to the pan and cook them until they are softened and fragrant. Push them around the pan to remove the brown bits from the bottom of the pan that were created by cooking the bacon bits and salmon.

Add the clams and their juice, the heavy cream, the white wine and the bay leaf to the pan. In a small bowl or cup, stir the corn starch and water together until the corn starch is fully dissolved. Pour the corn starch slurry into the pan. Mix well until the chowder starts to thicken. Bring the contents to a gentle boil.

Place the salmon fillets on top of the chowder and place the lid on the pan. Turn the heat down to low and allow the chowder to simmer and the fish to completely cook through, approximately 5-7 minutes.

Ladle the chowder into two bowls and season to taste. Top each of them with the salmon fillet and the chopped parsley to garnish. Serve immediately.


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  1. I really like Michael Smith as well. It's fun to see what he comes up with on a whim.....well at least he makes it seem that way. :)
    The chowder looks so good, especially with the salmon and the bacon addition. I can never resist anything with bacon in it!

    1. I've always wondered how spontaneous his cooking decisions and his dish switch-ups really are. Probably not that spontaneous, but he does certainly make it seem like he's just cooking on a whim! And I agree with you when it comes to bacon - that's part of the reason I like Chef Michael Smith so much. He puts it in so many dishes! Can't argue with a man that cooks with bacon fat. Yum.

  2. Stopping by from Scrumptious Party~ I have got to try this delicious chowder!! It looks absolutely wonderful~now following~ Stop by for a visit some time~Lynn @ Turnips 2 Tangerines

  3. This looked absolutely delicious. I haven't ever attempted to make my own clam chowder. I always saved it as a restaurant dish, but I think i'd like to try it out. Especially paired with salmon.


    1. You should! You won't be sorry. It's so delicious, and really straightforward!

  4. Wow that looks fantastic! A definite must try for me.

    1. If you do, I hope you like it! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Can I come to your house for dinner? That sounds delicious!

    1. Thanks! I love salmon, and this is one of my favourite ways to prepare it. It's so hearty and good, and way easier to make than I would have thought!


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