Sous Vide Salmon with Crispy Skin

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I was reading a book on superfoods recently, and it mentioned chlorella and spirulina (types of algae) and how good they were for you. So I rushed out and bought some greens powder, which is a combination of chlorella, spirulina, wheatgrass, powdered green vegetables, enzymes, probiotics and vitamins. I added a teaspoon to my smoothie and voila, not only did my smoothie look like pond scum (as per usual) but it now tasted like pond scum too. I finally managed to choke most of it down, but since then, the jar of greens powder has remained firmly shut.

Fortunately not all superfoods are disgusting. Some are even truly delicious. Did you know that salmon is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet? It is one of my favourite fish, sustainable and high in Omega 3 fats.

If, like me, you are fussy about how your salmon is cooked, then this post is for you. I usually don’t order salmon at restaurants as they often overcook it; it can quickly go from moist and slightly translucent to dry and stringy. For that reason I have salmon either raw, ceviched, smoked or sous vide. Sous vide is a method of cooking where the meat is vacuum packed and submerged in a heated water bath where it is left to slowly cook and reach a certain temperature. The advantage of sous vide is that the meat cooks evenly all the way through, without the outer parts of the meat getting overcooked before the inside is done.

You don’t need to splash out several hundred dollars for a sous vide machine. Here’s how to cook sous vide salmon using things you probably already have. It works very well and the result is perfectly cooked salmon every time. It does take more time than plonking the salmon in a fry pan so even though it is a great method, I can’t be bothered to cook it like this all the time. Where this method comes into its own however is for dinner parties. It is an especially efficient and stress-free way to cook salmon en masse for guests, as you can do most of the cooking beforehand. In the recipe below I haven’t included any flavourings as I am mainly conveying the method of sous vide cooking, and because I typically eat salmon simply, with a squeeze of lemon, some parsley and black pepper.

salmon process

Equipment

Double boiler (I use a metal bowl which sits inside a saucepan, such that the base of the bowl does not touch the water inside the saucepan)
Digital probe thermometer
Zip lock bag

For 2 serves:

Brine solution: 200g cold water and 20g salt, dissolved
2 salmon fillets (approx. 160g per person); get the freshest you can, sometimes this is labelled ‘sashimi grade’.
Coconut oil or ghee

  1. Remove skin from salmon, in one piece if you can. Reserve the skin.
  2. Place salmon pieces in the brine and leave for 20 minutes at room temperature. This step flavours the salmon and prevents white coagulated protein from seeping out during cooking, which can be unsightly.
  3. Remove salmon from brine and dry with kitchen paper. Discard the brine solution. Place the salmon in a ziplock bag and add any spices or herbs you wish, such as dill. If you are cooking very large pieces of salmon, put them in their own bag. Small multiple pieces can be placed in a single layer in one bag. Close the bag except for a small gap.

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  4. Fill a bowl (for your double boiler setup) with water measuring 48-50°C. Fill your saucepan with around 2 inches of just-boiled water. Place bowl on top of the saucepan. The base of the bowl should not come into contact with the water. Immerse the bag of salmon in the bowl, holding it by the open end. When all the air has come out of the bag, close the bag and submerge it entirely. Cover with lid. Maintain the water temperature at around 47°C for 15-17 minutes. This is sufficient for 160g fillets but you may need to go up to 20 minutes for larger pieces.

    The advantage of sous vide is that provided the water temperature is maintained, you cannot overcook the fish even if it is left in for longer. Hot water from the tap should be hot enough to reach the stipulated temperature initially, and the hot water in the saucepan will help to keep it warm. Monitor the water temperature from time to time and if it drops, place saucepan over the heat until the temperature comes up, or replace some of the water in the bowl with freshly boiled water. I find that I only need to do this once during the cooking process.

  5. Meanwhile, pan fry the skin with a little salt until it is browned and crispy. Sometimes it curls up in the pan, in which case you can tease it out so that it goes flat. When it is done, remove from pan and set aside.
  6. Remove fish from bag, dry with kitchen paper and sear for 30 seconds on each side.

If you prefer your salmon cooked a bit more, increase the water temperature by a couple of degrees and leave it in longer. It may take some experimenting to find your perfect salmon, but keep notes and once you work it out, you can replicate it every time. Bon Appétit!

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by Lorinda Seto

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