I went a little crazy buying fish this past year, but my excuse is that the stores were offering such darn great prices. I mean, two whole albacore tunas and two gigantic salmon, both filleted on the spot with the bones and heads bagged and ready to go in the stock pot for half (or less) of what they normally go for? It was a deal I obviously couldn't resist.
Beautiful Northwest salmon. Wow.
All this is to introduce a dilemma, albeit a delicious one, that I faced last week: a friend from New York was visiting his family over the Thanksgiving holiday and we'd cajoled him into stopping by before he flew out of town. A freelance writer and playwright, his first produced play will be opening in January in the Big Apple, a pretty darn momentous event that deserved to be celebrated.
Contestant #1: Salmon mac'n'cheese.
My thoughts immediately swam to one of those amazing salmon fillets waiting patiently in the freezer, envisioning it glistening from the heat and smoke of the grill, served with a risotto of wild chanterelles and an oh-so-Northwest kale salad. So that took care of dinner. For four people. Which meant that there was a huge amount, probably at least two pounds, of gorgeously smoky cooked salmon left over.
Contestant #2: Salmon and corn chowder.
What to do? Well, two ideas came to mind, one a completely over-the-top, possibly much-too-much, macaroni and cheese casserole with chunked salmon folded in at the last minute. The other was a more sedate, but totally delicious, salmon chowder with corn and bacon.
I made both (on separate nights) and put them to a family vote. Which did they like better?
To my surprise, the mac'n'cheese (top photo) was the winner, selected because, well, it's a darn good recipe for that cheesy classic and the smoky salmon was perfectly complemented, but not overwhelmed by, the sharp cheddar. Though the voters said that any time I wanted to make the salmon chowder again, they'd be willing to help make it disappear. So nice!
Decadent Macaroni and Cheese with Salmon
1 lb. dried pasta
4 Tbsp. butter*
4 Tbsp. flour
2 c. milk*
3/4 lb. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 oz. cream cheese*
1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
2-3 c. cooked salmon, chunked into bite-sized pieces
Smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton), optional
Boil large pot of water. While water is heating, melt butter in medium-sized saucepan. Remove from burner and add flour, stirring to combine. Place back on burner and cook on low heat for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add milk gradually, stirring/whisking until it thickened, then add cheese in handfuls until melted. Add cream cheese and stir until sauce is thick and creamy, then add hot sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
Add pasta to boiling water and cook till al dente. Drain and put back in pasta pot, add salmon and cheese sauce and stir gently to combine. Transfer to baking dish. Sprinkle with smoked paprika, if desired. Bake in 350 degree oven 30 minutes.
* For Dave, who is lactose intolerant, I use margarine instead of butter, substitute lactose-free whole milk for the regular milk and Tofutti cream cheese for the cream cheese. It works great…even the lactose-loving will rave.
* * *
Salmon Chowder with Corn and Bacon
3 slices bacon, cut in 1/4" pieces
2 Tbsp. butter*
1 onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 potatoes, chopped into 1/2" dice
2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 c. chicken stock, fish stock or corn stock
4 c. milk
2-3 c. cooked salmon, flaked
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook bacon pieces in a large soup pot over medium-high heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is cooked but not crispy. Add the onion and garlic and sauté till translucent, then add the butter and allow it to melt. Add potatoes and sauté till slightly tender. Add corn and stir to bring up to temperature, then pour in stock and milk. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to simmer and cook until potatoes are completely tender. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Add the salmon to the pot and stir gently until it's just warmed (a minute or so).
* As in the mac'n'cheese recipe above, margarine was used in place of butter and whole lactose-free milk was substituted for the regular milk.