Cooking By the Numbers: Sockeye Salmon, 20-20-20-50 Style

So while the Prick breaks through a bit of writer’s block borne of trying to shove more ideas and tangents into a simple restaurant post than a David Foster Wallace novel, how about a little more home cooking? On the menu: Sockeye Salmon, 20-20-20-50 Style.

And already I hear you ask, “What’s up with all the numbers, Prick? I was led to believe there’d be no maths here.”

The simple answer is, it’s just a useful heuristic by which to remember the key points of the recipe: The salmon is brined for 20 minutes in a 20 per cent salt solution and then cooked for 20 minutes in a water bath at 50 degrees C.

Thus 20-20-20-50.

Why brining? It tightens up the flesh, gets rid of any slimy albumin that might otherwise mess up the dish or make it flabby, and pre-seasons the fish as well.


Ticket to brine

Brining is the first step, and an easy way to get this done is to boil 500ml, or 500 grams, of water (remembering that one millilitre = one gram) with 200 grams of salt, and then add another half-kilo of ice. This gives you a quickly-chilled brine (500 grams + 500 grams = 1 kilo, and the 200 grams of salt = the 20 per cent solution) that can be knocked up after work without having had to think this all through in the morning. Pop your salmon in – I’m using some beautiful wild Canadian sockeye salmon that is flown in and utterly different from the farmed stuff. The flesh is denser, orange, and not flaccid at all: these fish spent their lives swimming upstream, not lounging in a pool in the Bass Strait. The result is something almost steak-ey.

When the salmon has had its twenty minute salt-bath, take it out, rinse, pat dry, and place filets into sous-vide sacks with a good grind of pepper and a glug of good olive oil. Put these aside until you’re ready to go.

Meanwhile, get your accompaniment going. Here we’re doing a classic petit-pois a la Francaise. Everyone has their own way of doing this, but at Stately Prick Manor we do a pretty rich and creamy take which might annoy some purists but nonetheless goes like this:

Heat a good whack – 40 or 50 grams – of butter in a pan, and slowly soften some eschallots (shallots, for North American readers) and garlic. Add a good slug, half a cup or so, of white wine and cook down by three-quarters. Then, a cup or so of stock – brown chicken stock if you have some, the collagen in good home-made stuff makes for a much richer final product – and cook it down again. Then, add some cream, another cup or so, and bring to the boil, then simmer for a bit with a lot of frozen peas, depending on how many you’re serving.

(This recipe works for two hungry Pricks, but add 50 per cent and one could easily serve four).

(And yes, frozen peas. Along with tinned tomatoes this is one of the few “processed” foods that’s worthwhile keeping around. As a wise chef once said, Wait until peas are at the peak of their season, and then buy frozen.)

Oh, and don’t forget the bacon. Crisp up some lardons (use speck or pancetta or anything smoky you have to hand) in another pan and drop in to infuse the cream. Take off heat until you’re ready to serve.

What’s left? Just drop the sacked salmon into the water bath for twenty minutes at 50C (it’s all in the name!) and then finish off with a quick sear in a pan with a bit of oil and butter. Plate up, and garnish with a bit of chervil – it looks nice and adds a pleasing tang. You could pan-roast the fish, but that’s not as much fun, nor does it let you justify the capital expense on cool kitchen gadgetry.


And there you go. Sockeye Salmon, 20-20-20-50 Style, a la Prick.


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4 Responses to Cooking By the Numbers: Sockeye Salmon, 20-20-20-50 Style

  1. Free Advice says:

    Wow that looks good. Your finest photo to date. Have you got a new camera?
    Peas are really underrated both as decoration and as second fiddle.
    The white wine reduced sufficiently is the key with these dishes, as well as the drop of cream.
    Well done.

  2. The Village Idiot (Reformed) says:

    But were they John West salmon ???

  3. Richard says:

    Yum. When a friend in Canada (BC) told me that she could buy wild salmon for around $2 or $3 per Kg at some times of the year, I almost went into shock.
    By the way, they’re shallots just about everywhere in the English speaking world except for Sydney and Sydney-influenced places and institutions. Why Sydney should call spring onions “shallots” is beyond my comprehension. Call them green onions or scallions if you like. One thing they are not is shallots.

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