Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

A small miracle occurred in my kitchen last week: I cooked salmon. Salmon that was totally raw – not smoked, or preserved in any way. No one was holding a gun to my head, and I had purchased the fillet of my own free will. Even better, I actually thought the final product was GOOD, and not just in an “I will tolerate this food for the sake of my health” kind of way… but in an “I would willingly eat that again, even without the presence of a threat of bodily harm if I don’t” sort of way. This can mean only one thing: I am growing as a person. Next thing you know, I’ll be ordering raw oysters at restaurants! (No. No, I will not. I am growing as a person, not growing CRAZY.)

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

In all seriousness, I’m not gonna pretend that I just lightly seasoned the salmon with some salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and then delighted in the wonderful taste of the sea as I ate my dinner. On the contrary, I crusted that fillet up with all kinds of seasonings, topped it with a delicious, creamy sauce, and then rejoiced in the fact that I could only detect a hint of salmon flavor. Enough to know it was salmon, but not enough for it to taste too fishy. Success!

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream
adapted from here
serves 2

For the salmon:
2 salmon fillets, 5-6oz each
2 T brown sugar
2 t chili powder
1 t smoked paprika
1 t smoked salt (kosher salt is fine, if you don’t have smoked)
1/4 tsp cayenne papper
olive oil
one lime, cut into 4 wedges

For the sauce:
1/2 a medium avocado
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt (I use 2%)
juice of half a lime
1 clove of garlic
small handful of fresh parsley
large pinch of kosher salt

1.) Mix the brown sugar, chili powder, smoked paprika, smoked salt, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Meanwhile, heat a skillet (non-stick is helpful) over medium heat.

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

2.) Gently rub the spice mixture into all sides of the salmon fillets. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, and add the fillets, skin side up, to the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes on the first side, depending on the thickness of the fish, until each fillet has a nice, dark sear, and then flip.

3.) Cook the fillets for about 2 minutes on the second side. Meanwhile, place your limes in the pan, cut side down, and allow them to caramelize. Flip once the first side is a nice golden brown.

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

4.) While the salmon fillets cook, place all the ingredients for the sauce into a food processor or blender, and pulse until the sauce is smooth and creamy.

5.) Serve each fillet with the sauce spooned over the top, and a caramelized lime wedge. Squeeze the lime over the fish, and enjoy!

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

Like I said, this salmon recipe is not for you if you like the pure, unadulterated flavor of salmon. However, for those of use that want the health benefits of eating salmon without the fishy taste, this is PERFECT. The sweet, spicy, and smoky seasoning gives the fish a ton of flavor without completely covering it up, and the cool, creamy avocado sauce is fantastic. My husband literally ate the leftover sauce with a spoon, and proceeded to make proclamations about how delicious it was all evening.

Smoky Brown Sugar-Crusted Salmon with Avocado Cream

This recipe also fits nicely into the category of “impressive enough for dinner guests, but easy enough that you’re not stuck in the kitchen all night.” There are never enough of those kind of recipes, are there?

You can also file this one under “easy enough to tackle, even when you’re 3 cocktails deep,”
Tina

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Philadelphia Roll Stacks

Of all the weird, interesting, different foods I’ve tried to make over the years, one specific food has never appealed to me: sushi. I loooooove me some sushi for EATING… but learning to MAKE sushi has never sounded like much fun. I’m sure that one day, I’ll suddenly feel a need to make sushi, and I’ll run out and buy $50 worth of tools and supplies, and then come back here to declare to you how much I LOVE, OMG, LOVE making sushi at home… but for now, my sushi-eating remains in restaurants, where someone ELSE puts together my dinner.

Philadelphia Roll Stacks (with smoked salmon and avocado)

All that being said: this meal is really, really sushi-like, without 90% of the fuss. Last week, my mom and sister and I threw a wedding shower for a dear family friend, and when it was all over I had an extra package of smoked salmon left. I thought for a while about what to do with it, and eventually it lead me to the idea of a Philadelphia roll! The Philadelphia roll is one of my favorites – smoked salmon, cream cheese, and avocado (though I’ve also had it with asparagus, on occasion). I figured that rather than rolling it up, I could just make it into a nice little stack, and it would taste much the same… and I was right!

Philadelphia Roll Stacks (with smoked salmon and avocado)

This dish is SO light and refreshing. I added a sauce to the whole thing, partially because I knew I had to incorporate soy sauce to give it a genuine sushi taste and feel, and partially because I wanted to add a little spice (a Philadelphia roll doesn’t typically have a spicy sauce in it, but this is the advantage of making my own rules in my own kitchen). I went to the trouble of making the presentation really nice, but it’s worth noting that my husband’s second and third servings (yes, he had three servings) consisted of all the ingredients piled on to a plate unceremoniously, and the taste was just as fantastic.

Philadelphia Roll Stacks
serves 4 as a light dinner, or starter course

4 oz cream cheese (I use the light version)
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 medium avocados, diced small
4 oz smoked salmon, 1/2″ dice
1 T sesame seeds
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 T sriracha
1 T mirin (or 2 t brown sugar, if you don’t have mirin)
1 T rice wine vinegar
1/4 tsp garlic powder
kosher salt and pepper

Philadelphia Roll Stacks (with smoked salmon and avocado)

*To make these neat and pretty stacks, I used a 3″ biscuit cutter to layer my ingredients into. You can certainly use a cleaned tuna can with both the top and bottom taken off, or another shape of cookie cutter, or just stack everything together all willy-nilly. Your taste buds won’t know the difference, I swear.

1.) Start by cooking your rice; I always use the 90-second microwave bags of rice, because they’re quick, easy, and I don’t end up ruining an enameled cast iron pot by burning the rice (not that I’ve ever done that… RIP Martha Stewart dutch oven). While the rice cooks, whisk together the ingredients for the sauce: soy sauce, sriracha, mirin, rice wine vinegar, garlic powder, and a small pinch each of salt and pepper. Feel free to add more sriracha to taste. While the rice is still warm, pour about 2/3 of the sauce over it, and stir to combine. The warm rice will absorb the sauce as it sits.

2.) Toss the sesame seeds into a dry pan over medium low heat, and toast them until they’re lightly golden brown and fragrant. Set aside.

3.) For each serving, spread one ounce of cream cheese as the base. Top with half a cup of the brown rice mixture, then half a diced avocado. Once you’ve added the avocado, sprinkle that layer with some kosher salt – don’t be shy, the avocado really needs the salt for optimal flavor! Finish with an ounce of diced smoked salmon, and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. Feel free to add more sauce, if you’d like. Serve immediately.

Philadelphia Roll Stacks (with smoked salmon and avocado)

Yeah, so, we’ve already agreed to put this one on a regular rotation. It’s just so good – and so EASY! It really took about 10 minutes to make, and that’s because I was insistent on making it into a neat, fancy stack. It’s super filling (one stack made a great dinner for me, though I’d add a simple green salad on the side next time), and also really healthy – good fats, lots of protein, whole grains. I mean, what’s better than a dinner that makes you look like some kind of fancy rock star chef, because the presentation is so pretty, but also allows you to feel SUPER SMUG about how health-conscious and virtuous you are?? Win-win, my friends.

“Oh, this? I just whipped it up real quick, it was NO BIG DEAL!”
Tina

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Goat Cheese

In my continuing quest to not hate fish, I try to find ways to dress the fish up a bit – and mask any potential fishy flavors. This particular idea hit me like a bolt of lightning as I was staring into the Trader Joe’s fish case (some people get struck with ideas for the next Great American Novel… I get struck with the next Great American Dinner)… and lucky for me, it worked out pretty fantastically. I’ve actually been craving it since I made it, so I’m pretty sure that’s a good sign in regards to my war on boring and fishy fish.

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Goat Cheese

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Goat Cheese
serves 2

2 tilapia fillets
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 eggs
4oz shelled pistachios, ground until coarse
1 tsp butter
2 tsp olive oil
2 oz goat cheese
juice and zest of half a lemon

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Goat Cheese

1.) In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together the flour, kosher salt, garlic powder, and black pepper. Crack the eggs into a second bowl, and whisk well. Add the ground pistachios to a third bowl.

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Goat Cheese

2.) Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the butter and olive oil to the pan. While the pan heats, bread the tilapia fillets – first with the seasoned flour, then the eggs, and finally the pistachios, pressing the pistachios into the fish gently to make sure they stick well.

3.) Cook the fillets for about 3-4 minutes per side, flipping once, until the fish is cooked through. Be very gentle when you flip the fish, as the pistachio crust is relatively delicate, and will come off the fish if you’re not careful!

4.) While the fish cooks, make your lemon goat cheese. In a small bowl, combine the cheese, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Set aside.

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Goat Cheese

5.) Remove the fish from the pan; top with the goat cheese, and serve!

If you like pistachios, you will LOVE this fish. The pistachios get all roasty and brown in the pan, and they add a beautiful crunch to the delicate, flaky tilapia. The tart lemon goat cheese cuts the richness of the nuts, and adds a fresh, light note. You could definitely use this crush on a chicken breast, or a pork tenderloin – or you could switch it up and use something like pecans, instead. Best of all, the whole thing came together in less than 15 minutes… amen for quick-cooking fish! (I am imagining this crust used on a piece of chicken – sliced and added to the top of a salad filled with goat cheese and dried cranberries and a lemon vinaigrette, and now I’m starving. Dammit.)

Pistachio Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Goat Cheese

I wouldn’t say I’m a FAN of fish these days, but I’m not NOT a fan…
Tina