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Salmon shakes up Vietnamese dish

Jessica Yadegaran
Bay Area News Group

Cookbook author and Vietnamese food expert Andrea Nguyen has shaken cubes of beefsteak and tofu for the famous Vietnamese main dish salad. It was just a matter of time before she created a pescatarian version.

As she writes in her latest cookbook, “Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh Recipes, Starring Plants from Land and Sea” (Ten Speed Press, $35), she uses salmon for its rich flavor, removing the skin so that the salmon cubes sear well in their rice flour batter.

Not one to waste food, Nguyen bakes the skins into crisp chips to serve with the dish. And she finishes things off by adding ginger for a spritely contrast to the garlicky, peppery sauce.

"Ever-Green Vietnamese" by Andrew Nguyen

Shaking Salmon (Cá Hoi Lúc La)

  • 11/3 pound center-cut salmon fillet, skin removed and reserved
  • Fine sea salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 21/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, divided use
  • 2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, agave syrup or mild honey, divided use
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 11/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 11/2 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion or shallot
  • 11/2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons water or neutral oil (such as canola or peanut; choose water for a brighter salad flavor, oil for a richer outcome)
  • 5 to 6 cups lightly packed spring baby lettuce mix or watercress
  • 1/3 cup hand-torn dill, mint, basil, shiso or a combination
  • 6 to 8 cherry tomatoes or small red radishes, halved
  • 11/2 tablespoons white or brown rice flour
  • 11/2 tablespoons neutral oil (such as canola or peanut)

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Cut the salmon and make the chips: Heat the oven or toaster oven to 375 degrees. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Cut the salmon flesh into 3/4-to-1-inch cubes and set on a plate.

Cut the reserved salmon skin into 3/4-inch wide strips about 3 inches long. Season with a few pinches of salt and pepper and then coat with 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Arrange the skin strips, shinier scale-side up, on the foil.

Bake the salmon skin for 12 to 18 minutes or until sizzling and crisp (expect oil to pool in the pan). The cooking time depends on the strips’ thickness; monitor and remove them as they’re done to avoid burning. Transfer to a plate, leaving the oil behind, and let cool completely.

Mix the seasoning sauce and ready the salad: In a small bowl, stir together the ginger, garlic, 1 tablespoon sugar, cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, soy sauce, fish sauce and remaining 11/2 teaspoons sesame oil.

Rinse the onion in a strainer under cold running water for about 10 seconds, then set aside. In a large bowl (suitable for tossing the salad), whisk together the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, vinegar and water. Add the onion and top with the lettuce, herbs and tomatoes. Don’t toss yet.

Cook the salmon, toss the salad and serve: Lightly coat the cubed salmon with the rice flour. Set by the stove along with the ginger-garlic seasoning sauce, so they’re ready.

Set a 12-inch skillet (I favor carbon steel for its heat conduction) over high heat and add the neutral oil. When the oil ripples, add the salmon and cook, gently turning and tossing it, for about 3 minutes, until the fish is nearly cooked through. To test for doneness, poke the flesh; it should give a bit and the interior should look opaque.

Lower the heat slightly, pour in the seasoning sauce and cook briefly, tossing and gently stirring, for about 30 seconds to cloak the salmon in the sauce. Remove the pan from the heat and let rest and cool for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, toss the salad, transfer everything (including the dressing lingering at the bottom of the bowl) to a platter or shallow serving bowl, and then top with the cooked salmon and skin chips.

Serve immediately, inviting diners to combine the salmon with the salad for a cool-warm finish. Or, ceremoniously combine the ingredients at the table and let diners dive in. Serves 4.

— From Andrea Nguyen’s “Ever-Green Vietnamese: Super-Fresh Recipes, Starring Plants from Land and Sea” (Ten Speed Press, $35)

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