I used to make this dinner all the time, back when I lived in the land of endless winters and needed an arsenal of comforting recipes that went beyond just beef stews and hearty soups. Then I went back to living in a city that characterizes winter as being any temperature colder than 10 degrees Celsius and put aside some of my heavier, wintery recipes, believing momentarily that my days of perpetual cold-weather food were long behind me. Little did I realize that we’re now in an age where climate change always gets the last laugh, and that my days of shoveling the car out of a snow bank were perhaps not as forgotten as I’d hoped. So here I find myself again, needing hearty, warming dishes that will turn me into a furnace from the inside out. I had always earmarked this dish, knowing that when the need for a good salmon recipe rolled around, I had one in the bag. Making it again, I forgot just how satisfying this recipe is. The creaminess of the chowder, with the aroma of the vermouth still lingering in the broth, the salty sear of salmon cooked in bacon fat (I kind of buried the lead on that one). It’s a winner of a recipe, endless winters or not, and we’re starting to lean more that way, even down here on the West Coast, so best build up your cache of comforting dishes now while you can still expend the energy.
Pan-Rushed Salmon w/ Clam Chowder
Generously adapted from Michael Smith (Chef Michael’s Kitchen)
6 thick-cut slices of bacon, chopped into ½-inch pieces
4 salmon filets, ~6 oz each, preferably not smaller
3 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced finely
2 celery stalks, diced finely
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small can/jar (~142 gr) baby clams and their juice
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
¼ cup dry vermouth (dry white wine would do in a pinch)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cornstarch
2 green onions, chopped
2 tbsp flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, chopped
Place the chopped bacon into a wide, deep pan or skillet (unheated). Set the skillet over medium heat and fry the bacon until crispy, but not at all burnt. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the bacon onto a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Turn the heat up to medium-high and use the bacon fat to fry the salmon filets in. You will need to fry in 2 batches to avoid overcrowding (and over-cooling) the pan. Set 2 filets skin-side-down in the hot fat, cooking for 2-3 minutes and lightly seasoning with salt and pepper. Flip the filets gently and cook on the other side for another 2-3 minutes, seasoning this side now. Both sides should have a beautiful crispy sear on them. Place the seared filets on a plate and cook the remaining ones. Set all 4 filets aside once seared.
Discard the oil and quickly wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. Technically you can re-use the bacon fat for doing the chowder, but I always feel like its pretty spent by this point – your call, though. Turn the burner down to medium and heat the olive oil (if using) until shimmering. Toss in the onion, celery, and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes, until translucent and soft. Add the clams, cream, vermouth, and bay leaf. Stir and bring everything to a hearty simmer. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and ¼ cup cold water until blended. Pour into the chowder and stir well. Cook for another 3-5 minutes, or until the soup thickens to a thick, creamy consistency. Stir the reserved bacon into the chowder. Taste and add any necessary salt or pepper.
Nestle the salmon filets back into the pan, this time squeezing in all 4. Set a lid (or foil) on top of the skillet and cook for 3-5 minutes more, until the fish flakes into distinct layers immediately when a finger is pressed over the middle. Carefully transfer the filets into wide, shallow bowls and spoon the chowder over them. Garnish with generous handfuls of green onion and parsley. Give a final grind of black pepper if desired. Sink into your first bite like an old person lowering themselves into a Lazy Boy. Aaaaaaahhhhhhh.