Rosa’s pesto salmon

This recipe is a tale of two seasons: summer and winter. Summer being when I first enjoyed this dish. Winter being when it’s most convenient to defrost my freezer and make discoveries like, hey, I have a chunk of salmon in there! (Including a very long aside about the current weather and trials and tribulations of defrosting.)

I first had this meal at Rosa’s house. Rosa is now my mother-in-law, and she’s a really wonderful person. It was in May of 2011, and we were in New Mexico to meet our new nieces (Hazel on Bill’s side & Zoey on mine), visit our families, and plan a wedding. Or get started on planning a wedding.

It was warm, gorgeous and a really fun trip. We made some good memories. Memories of birthday parties in huge backyards, with summer beer. Cuddling little babies. Hanging out with my mother drinking tea. Eating dinner with Rosa.

You know, the kind of memories you hold onto in the dead of winter. Like early January in Chicago. Except…

The weather in Chicago is incredibly weird right now. It’s far too warm.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s chilly out. We do, in fact, live in Chicago, so it’s not a balmy 70F outside and hasn’t been for awhile. But it’s warm. The other day, I think we were in the mid-50s. And, today, 6 Jan 2012, we’re expecting to hit 55F. We’re consistently in the 40s and rarely get to freezing or below during the day. I’ve only recently pulled out my winter coat, and there are days when I do that & I regret it.

It’s warm enough that I have yet to empty my big freezer and defrost it. Which really is unfortunate as it has gotten a much larger than average layer of frost/ice since we had it opening and closing so much the day everyone came to get their hog. Truly, I’ve wanted to defrost it since back then, but I’ve been waiting for the weather to get cold. Once it’s cold out, a couple of coolers on my balcony is akin to a freezer.

Of course, the weather hasn’t cooperated.

The nice thing about defrosting my freezer1 is that I get a reminder of what’s in there. I’m pretty bad at organization, as this blog may have demonstrated, so even when I am ambitious about making a list of what’s in the freezers (because, yes, there are two – sort of three right now), that list is inaccurate within days of being made. Combine that with the big freezer’s tendency toward frosting over on the shelves? Well, let’s just say defrosting is a good time to discover things that were buried by other food and/or ice.

This leads to me being pretty torn about the current weather, wishing it would just BE WINTER, when I really ought to just be enjoying the hell out of it. I DO live in Chicago, after all.

I find I am also torn about the weather because, no matter how warm it is, I just want it to be summer again. Being real winter would be relatively nice as well, because I could make all those stews and long-roasted things I don’t want to make in the summer. It’s not really cold enough yet. (Seriously. I’m not making beef stew on a 55F day.) But, truly, I just miss summer, even if winter has yet to truly make an appearance. It’s not cold out, but it’s colder than I’d like. There’s sun, but it’s a lying bastard, because it’s still cold(ish) outside. And, worst of all? It gets dark so dang early.

I think that’s the real problem. I think these lovely brisk days would be fine if only it wasn’t dark by 4:30 pm. I can’t fathom living further north, honestly. Winters there might be brutal in a way I could cope with, when it comes to snow and cold, but I suspect the early darkness would just make me even crazier than the Chicago winters do. And now that I am taking (or trying to take) photos for the blog regularly again, the light is really killing me.

All of that’s what prompted me to decide to post this quickie “recipe” and photo today. When I saw this photo, I remembered summer. I remembered finding this salmon in that freezer when I pulled everything out and defrosted before the hog came. I remembered thinking it was going to be a bit off-tasting straight on, because of it’s long hiatus. And I remembered eating a dish at Rosa’s house. A dish I was sure I wouldn’t enjoy, but was so wrong. I liked enough to try to replicate it in my own home.

Hers was better, though.

h2. Ingredients

Note: I get the sense that a typical portion of any given fish is approximately six ounces. We tend toward four ounces each2. So, adjust the fish portion as needed. Also note that, because I was throwing this together, all amounts are guesses.

* 2 4 oz filets of salmon (Or, as is common in my household, 1 8 oz filet.)
* 1/4 c pesto (Lay it on pretty thick.)

* Olive oil, for cooking

* Several stalks of kale

* 1/3 c brown rice

* However much water you use to cook brown rice (Since I hate recipes that don’t list water as an ingredient.)

h2. Instructions

Pull the pesto out of the fridge or freezer and bring to room temperature, or as close as you can get it before you are famished and must eat nownownow.

Cook the brown rice however you, personally, cook brown rice. If you don’t cook brown rice, follow the directions on your brown rice package. If you bought brown rice for the first time from a bulk bin & thus don’t have a package with directions to follow, try putting 2 parts water to 1 part rice (2/3 c water to 1/3 c rice for this so-called recipe) in a pan for which you own a lid. Put the lid on the pan, then bring the water to a hard boil (as in, you’re kind of terrified the lid will fly off). Hard boil for two minutes, then without removing the lid remove the whole thing from the heat and allow to stand at least 30 minutes, up to however long it takes either it to cook or you to be done, call it 50 minutes. Fluff it before serving.

Remove the leaves from the kale stems, leaving the leaves fairly large. Steam or saute or cook those leaves in some way that you like. I think I steamed them.

Grab a medium-sized skillet, maybe 12 inches in diameter, and put it on the stove over high heat. Add a couple of swirls of olive oil – some amount that you think looks sane. Allow the oil to become quite hot – not smoking, but maybe thinking about it, then add the salmon filets, skin side down. Cook, depending on how done you like your salmon, just a few minutes. Probably three or so, then scoop that guy up with your turner, and flip him over and cook slightly less on the other side.

Once your salmon’s done, madke a bed of rice and kale on two plates, and put the salmon on top. Smear half the pesto on each salmon filet and serve.

h2. Cooking and Consumption Notes

h3. Cooking

I started to tell you to start with cooked brown rice. Then I decided it was kind of a cop-out. Especially since I’m sure I started with uncooked rice. But, in truth, I couldn’t tell you how to make brown rice. I have, once, made it successfully on the stove top (following the directions I gave). All other times have been abject failures, in both the direction of “crunchy, horribly underdone rice” and the direction of “once, this was rice & now it is charcoal.” (I have also gotten both of these kinds of failures with the directions I gave.) These days, I use the pressure cooker/rice cooker Bill’s dad and stepmother got us for Christmas a couple of years ago. It’s still not perfect, in that it tends to come out a bit wet, but the rice is leagues ahead of what I seem to be capable of stove top. I still wonder why it is so.

I oversteamed the kale. It is sad. Luckily, overcooked kale is still pretty tasty, but (as you can see in the photo) it’s not super attractive. You wouldn’t be thrilled to be served this in a restaurant, both due to color and (somewhat) taste.

You can use commercially prepared pesto, or make your own. I vastly prefer to make my own, but that’s at least partially because I’m pretty finicky and not actually a huge basil fan (Sorry, Grandma!). So, my pesto tends to be lighter than most. It’s also really easy to make and freeze, so it’s a nice thing to have around for future use.

h3. Consumption

I have to say this looks really good, and I know we have more frozen salmon and frozen pesto and brown rice. I think I might also have to make this again, sometime this winter. The pesto is so fresh and “green” tasting, I think it will make me feel more like summer in winter.

Overall, this is something I never would have thought to do if I hadn’t eaten it at my mother-in-law’s house. And, while her pesto is basilier than mine (which Bill really appreciates), it was surprisingly good. She did better on the sides/bed of food, for sure. Hers was sauted onions and potatoes and probably some goodies I’m forgetting.

She also did it all in cast iron, which is a +2 vs cooking. Just so you know, when you’re contemplating cooking.

Go. Eat this! You won’t regret it! (Especially if you have salmon that needs a little help because it’s been in the freezer too long. Fair warning: that kind of salmon is at least a -1 vs cooking.)

fn1. Other than it no longer being filled with frost, of course.

fn2. Not because we don’t like fish, as we both really do, but because it’s one of the easiest things to get portioned at the seafood counter/fish monger “correctly” for two people. We’d probably eat other meats more sparingly if portioning were as easy. (Ask how we’ve split many a pork chop.)