By Angela Denstad Stigeler
There’s plenty of rich food around at this time of the year, and ample occasion to indulge in all manner of meats and sweets. But if you’re looking for healthier holiday fare, there are alternatives in keeping with different cultural traditions, many of which espouse eating fish as a Christmastime feast. It’s also said to be good luck to eat fish for the new year; their coin-shaped scales signal a prosperous twelve months to come.
If you’re looking to spice up a special occasion, this pepper-crusted salmon entrée is a true gift of good eating. The buttery fish blends with a cracked peppercorn crust to create a contrast in taste and texture. The mixed peppercorns and whole spices may seem fiery at first, but they bring all manner of flavor nuance, from fruity to floral, along with their heat. If you want to cool the spice a bit, swap out the most assertive white peppercorns for sweet fennel seeds, or try the same technique with other seeds and spices. The buttery sauce is a nice indulgence and greatly enhances a simple side of plain rice and green vegetable. When you need a holiday-worthy meal in a flash, this one comes together with just a fraction of the time and calories, but twice the flair. ’Tis the seasoning that makes a plate so merry!
Pepper Crusted Salmon
with Vermouth Butter
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon green peppercorns
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns
1 teaspoon white peppercorns or fennel seeds
1 12-ounce salmon fillet with skin
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup dry white vermouth or wine
Mix the coriander seeds with the peppercorns and crush them lightly with a mortar and pestle. (Alternatively, you can use a small, heavy skillet on a cutting board.) Spread the crushed spices evenly on a plate. Sprinkle the fish all over with sea salt. Dip the skinless side of the salmon into the beaten egg, then dip it into the spice mixture, pushing gently, so the spices stick to the fish.
Heat a splash of olive oil in a medium-sized heavy pan over medium-high heat. Add the salmon, skin-side down, and cook for about 5 minutes until its cooked almost halfway through. Carefully turn the salmon over, trying not to dislodge the spices, and turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook another couple of minutes, until flaky but still pink. Turn the fish out, skin-side down, dividing it onto two plates. Season the fish to taste with sea salt.
Place the pan over high heat and add the butter. Once it starts to sizzle, add the vermouth and deglaze the pan, using a spatula to scrape any bits off the bottom. Season with salt and whisk the sauce together for a few seconds. Pour it onto the plates beside the fish. Serve immediately.
Recipe adapted from Eat in My Kitchen by Meike Peters (Prestel, 2016).