Oh, salmon, my salmon!

BEING of Chinese descent, salmon was not something that I grew up eating. Our default fish was lapu-lapu or grouper, which my mom would steam, fry or grill. Since lapu-lapu was a premium type of fish, we would consume it from the head to the tail. No wastage. By the time we were done with it, even its head would not be recognizable—and I know that you know what I mean. But once I got to taste salmon in the course of my career in the publishing industry, this deep-sea fish with a distinct orange-colored flesh instantly became one of my top favorites. My husband Raff and I would consume it the way I and my family would eat lapu-lapu—down to the head and tail plus the belly in between.

Yes, head and tail plus the belly in between! This is because salmon, being a healthy fish and a seriously tasty one at that, is a little pricey. The prized parts are the salmon steak cuts that you can get from the fish when you make thin slices on the fish in the mid-section. This was the part that I got to taste first, grilled but with its natural juiciness and flavor intact, and then I was hooked forever. Raff and I still get to enjoy salmon’s meaty mid-section every now and then. Just recently, when we attended the opening lunch or Diamond Hotel Philippines’ Filipino Culinary Pride food festival held at Corniche Restaurant, the two of us skipped the Porchetta at the carving station and instead indulged in the salt crusted salmon with calamansi and coconut, also at the carving station. It was prepared according to the featured chef Sau del Rosario’s specifications, with the whole salmon fish, skin and all but gutted, covered in rock salt and rock salt pressed down to make it adhere to the skin of the fish, and then baked. When it comes out of the oven, the salt crust has stuck and have to be “hammered” off to reveal the fish and share it with everyone else.

This way, the flavor of the salt and other condiments seeps in to the salmon meat the natural way as it cooks.

Aside from baked salmon, grilled salmon is our favorite way of preparing the lovely fish. The meat is so flavorful on its own that it only needs salt and pepper to enhance and bring out its natural flavors. No need for fancy preparations and margination.

When we buy salmon for home cooking, however, the price of the steak and fillet parts in the mid-section can be quite daunting, so I buy salmon head and salmon tail most of the time. I used to buy salmon belly, but it can sometimes be too fatty or the strips are sliced too thin so there’s not much meat to enjoy. The fish vendors on wheels in our subdivision sell salmon head, the straight cut and the not-so-V-cut salmon heads, and I sometimes buy because salmon head is good for sinigang or tinola. Raff, who is a recovering stroke patient I personally take care of, gets the meaty collar, and I get to sip and suck the rest of the bony head. At times, when I get bored with the default sinigang and tinola preparations of the salmon head, I cook it in garlic and oyster sauce, and it is equally good. Since our fish vendors on wheels often carry salmon tail among their “merchandise,” that’s what I buy more often. It is a bit more expensive than salmon head, but it is meaty and the only disposables are the bones. I have the fish vendor slice the tail like small steak cuts, and it is basically that—salmon steak in smaller form. Now, this I get to prepare in even more creative ways. I steam it with salt, pepper, ginger slices, rice wine, spring onion, a little soy sauce and a drizzling of sesame oil. I make salmon teriyaki with it, as I always have a bottle of mirin in the refrigerator ready. I dice the salmon and make salpicao or bulgogi with it. Sometimes, I just grill it with salt and pepper and make a nice creamy garlic sauce to go with it. At other times, I just lightly cook it in olive oil with minced garlic.

Salmon is the best fish for Raff, whose diet and nutrition I have personally taken charge of as part of his recovery efforts. It is a deep-sea fish and is therefore loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, Vitamin C, zinc, iron and calcium, although, yes, there is a difference in nutrient content between a wild salmon and a farmed salmon. But it is basically a good fish to form bulk of Raff’s diet. His mainly fish (with some seafood and a little chicken, no pork and beef, but lots of vegetables and fresh fruits) diet, coupled with his daily walk outside with me in the morning and his twice-a-week physical therapy sessions, have enabled him to recover fast in the past two years.

Loving salmon in all its forms—smoked, sashimi, sushi, grilled, sautéed, steamed, baked, pan-fried—I continue to experiment with my favorite fish in the kitchen. Here, let me share with you one easy-to-follow salmon recipe I personally whip up for Raff.

SINIGANG NA SALMON BELLY SA MANGGA

SINIGANG NA SALMON BELLY SA MANGGA

1/2 kg. salmon belly
2 Tbsps. cooking oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pc. red onion, cut into wedges
2 pcs. ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 pack Maggi Sinigang Green Mango Surprise Soup Base Mix
1.2 liters water
2 pcs. siling pansigang (finger chili)
1/2 pc. radish, peeled and sliced thinly (optional)
1/2 cup string beans, cut into 2-inch lengths (optional)
1 bunch kangkong (water spinach), leaves picked

Procedure
1. Wash and remove scales of salmon belly strips. Cut strips into two.
2. Heat oil in stock pot. Sauté garlic and onion lightly. Add tomatoes.
3. Dissolve sinigang sa mangga mix in water and pour into the stockpot.
4. Add siling pansigang, radish and string beans. Let boil.
5. Taste and season according to preference.
6. Add kangkong. Simmer for a few minutes, then turn off heat.
This makes four to six servings.

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