Steamed salmon with sharp chillies, salty soy sauce and sweet hoisin; all the gorgeous flavours get locked in by wrapping fish in cling film for steaming.
Salmon poached in dishwasher
Are you familiar with that urban cooking myth that the best poached salmon is cooked in the dishwasher? I don’t actually know anyone that’s done it, probably with a good reason. I should worry what happened to the poor fish placed it in the machine. Would it go on upper or lower rack? The machine on normal or eco wash?
What if it uses hot tap water that comes through the unsavoury reservoir tank in the loft? There might be a tablet mistakenly inserted for the next time after the dishwasher was last emptied. The programme would go on for too long, shrivelling the fish to oblivion. I think it belongs in the myth’s realm.
Cold salmon – poached or steamed?
Salmon is an old-fashioned classic dinner party centrepiece, one side or both. It is usually poached, in a poacher rather than dishwasher, and it is extremely nice when cooked well.
My memorable poached salmon is the one they served in the seafood buffet, the weekly feast at the hotel I used to stay at when skiing in the Alps. My attention back then hardly skimmed the salmon, all focused on the glorious langoustines, dazzling oysters and the lobster bisque.
But the few times The Weather Man, whose favourite was the salmon, tempted me with a bite I was impressed how lovely it was: moist and succulent yet not scary to those who like everything ‘cooked properly’.
But who has a poacher these days? Air fryers and slow cookers rule the kitchen worktop roost, and neither is suited to cooking salmon. Plus, the whole fish or even a whole side is a little daunting – parties of the size that call for four kilos of salmon are usually assigned to professionals.
But salmon gently cooked is rather delicious, as long as it’s taken out at the right time and seasoned sensibly. I have several times had the misfortune of being served poached salmon that was curiously wet and dry at the same time and tasted of nothing but bland fish.
Poaching is simmering gently in liquid which is usually stock or broth, sometimes milk but it can also be butter with excellent results. Apart from the last example, I tend to shy from plunging fish into water – once it has been caught and sold to me of course.
Steaming is gentler and lets the seasoning cling to the fish flesh instead of dissolving and diluting in the poaching liquid. Especially if you wrap it in cling film to retain all the flavours.
Before you ask: yes it is safe, as long as the cling film is food grade, obviously, and no it won’t melt into the fish and disappear into a poisonous or inedible extra to the salmon.
How to season steamed salmon?
Sweetness and acidity, herbs and a little heat – that seems to hit the sweet (and acidic) spot. In this recipe it’s a combo of mild green and red chilli, some sweet hoisin sauce, lemon juice, soy sauce and lots of finely chopped coriander. I mix it all together and spread over both sides of the fish.
A little softened butter dotted all over will turn into lovely sauce and it is also handy for telling when the salmon is ready.
Wrapping the fish in cling film, especially when you have a sizeable half a side, is a little tricky.
The best approach is to place it skinned side up almost in the middle of the length of cling film, spread the marinade and butter then cover with a longer end of the film. Flip it with the film and uncover – the other side will be ready to season. Then fold the sides in and the ends over each other, like an envelope.
How long to steam salmon?
Use a large stockpot or a wok so the salmon has lots of space. You can place it on a silicone insert or a steaming basket. Failing that, place it on a plate that fits inside your pot or wok and set it on an upturned heatproof bowl.
The timing depends on the size. Half a side, like in the recipe below, weighing about 1 kilo will need 25 minutes. If you’re only steaming a piece the size of two fillets, a pound or less, 12-15 minutes will suffice.
You can tell that it is ready when the butter dotted over it has melted completely.
The salmon should be moist and juicy, the flesh only just turned opaque.
How to serve steamed salmon?
It is truly delicious warm, almost straight from the steamer, still fragrant with the seasoning mix. But it tastes even better the next day, provided you bring it up to room temperature.
So it is a good, reliable dinner party dish that can be cooked beforehand, and your guests will fight for the last morsels. But it may just as well be served warm for dinner and a half side will happily feed four, generously.
A dipping sauce of mayo mixed with sweet chilli sauce, and another of yoghurt with chopped chives will make it into a really special meal.
More salmon recipes
Simple things are the best, so a good fresh fish can be simply grilled, with the skin on.
Bake the fillets if you prefer, flavoured with a glaze of maple syrup, soy sauce and garlic.
Salmon is also great stir fried, with ginger, lemon and greens.
More steamed fish recipes
This recipe combines fine dining with one pan cooking: halibut steamed atop braised leeks and carrots.
Asian flavours in whole steamed sea bass are incredible and the fish is topped with chopped coriander and spring onions.
Steam your fish in the oven, and you can use your ordinary electric oven for it: here’s oven steamed sea trout.