Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Lomi Lomi Salmon, or How Long Can I Get Away with Eating Raw Seafood

"Food + Heat = Cooking"
Alton Brown is great. Chief amongst his greatness is that he's read through all the parts of Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen", the source for all things "how and why" when it comes to what's happening in the pan/pot/oven/marinade/etc, and he's spelled it out in cartoon diagrams and bite-size explanations for lazy food nerds like me. And this little man-crush is the starting point for last night's stunning dinner success:

Lomi Lomi Salmon!

Lomi Lomi salmon is a lightly-cured Hawaiian fish salad, a traditional side for a luau. "Lomi" is Hawaiian for "to massage" and describes the hand-blending that produces this luxurious dish. Fair warning: these Wikipedia references could go *boom* with the whim of the crowd.

How do I get from "Food+Heat" to this practically raw dinner? Let's set the Wayback Machine in my head and recall a journey with salmon, from king of the broiler to barely stopping in the kitchen before being served!

I love seafood. I can go through a raw bar like Sherman's March to the Sea.
*Ba-Dum-dum* Thank you! I'll be here all week! Try the veal!

But for a long time I was a bit intimidated by it. And why wouldn't I be? Undercooked seafood is the bogeyman in every food poisoning tale you've ever heard. Ya can't get through a menu in this country without coming across the dreaded:

“Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.”

So every bit of seafood I cooked got a lot of
HEAT applied to it.

However... your waiter/
ress getting sneezed on while walking to work may increase your risk of foodborne illness. Cows crapping upstream from the scallion patch may increase your risk of foodborne illness. Missing out on the genetic lottery that allows for dairy consumption may increase your risk of foodborne illness.

It's all about the risk.

Ain't fugu with a twinkling of tetrodotoxin (a neurotoxin with no known antidote!) the holy grail of the sushi bar? Only with a licensed chef at the helm. One who has the right information to reduce the risk to acceptable (give or take) levels.

But salmon ain't
pufferfish, and a few years ago Mark Bittman gave me the confidence to make my own gravlax (Pay to play for the original article, or get a free overview.)

It's about the risk, and managing it.

Food + Heat may be Cooking, but Heat is just one kind of chemical process.
What's the difference between a nice (but sort of boring) broiled fillet and a pound of sensuous Scandinavian delight?

Aside from $11.99 a pound, just some research, a little time, and the willingness to quit worrying if you screw things up. Fish is pretty up front with you if it goes bad. When in doubt... toss it out. But you probably can't screw it up. After a while I felt confidant enough to pass on my experience to others.


Fast forward to earlier this month and a number of us are sitting around a table at New World Cooking's 10th Annual Seafood and Wine Dinner and I'm blown away by the absolutely sapphic... er... sybaritic experience of the first course: Koy Pa Snapper, Special White Tuna Sushi, but mostly the Lomi Lomi Salmon
See? I'd get back to it eventually...

Ric Orlando is making his rounds as host, enthusiastically putting up with all my questions about the
Lomi, and then stuns me by giving me his recipe! I'm non-plussed for a second till he clarifies, "this is what *I* did with a traditional dish... see what *you* can do with it."

And it hits me: Open Source Salmon.

I don't know if that's the paradigm Ric would use to describe his generosity, but it fits my nerdic viewpoint.

There are plenty of versions of
Lomi across the interweb, and here's what I improvised:

Note: I made reference to "cooking vs baking" types of people in an earlier post. Briefly, "cooks" tolerate ambiguity well and revel in improvisation. "Bakers" get more gratification in structure and preciseness. Each has its benefits, but I'm clearly a "cook" so keep that in mind when proceeding. "Bakers" may want to refer to other sources.

Lomi Lomi Salmon ala Sandor

  • 1 lb. sockeye salmon fillet
  • 2 cups tomatoes
  • 1 cup onion (a mild or sweet variety... I went with Spanish 'cause that's what was there)
  • 1/2 dozen Thai chiles
  • 2 tbs. parsley
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tbs. lemon or lime juice
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 1 Cucumber
  • Sesame oil
  • Skin the salmon (reserving the skin), crust it in sea salt/kosher salt, let it cure in the fridge from a couple of hours to overnight (I gave it three.)
  • When cured to taste, rinse the fillet well and let it soak for a couple more hours, changing the water every 1/2 hour or so.
Ready to assemble?
  • Dice/Chop (and seed, as appropriate) the salmon, tomatoes, onion, chiles, parsley.
  • Combine everything in a bowl and add 2 tbs olive oil, lemon/lime juice, and black pepper.
    This is where the "lomi lomi" comes in!
  • "Massage" or mix everything thoroughly by hand.
    Get dirty, you naughty piglet!
  • At this point, it's ready to serve, or you can fridge it overnight.
  • Fry up the salmon skin till crisp (alternately, you can bake it) and slice into bite size crisps.
  • Slice up the cucumber and maybe some leftover tomatoes.
  • Arrange on plate.
  • Drizzle with sesame oil (a little goes a long way.)
  • Serve with something bright. I went with a 2005 Selaks Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.
Here's another shot of what I ended up with

I'm not shy about congratulating myself and I think the range of textures on the plate is terrific:

  • the "wet vs dry" crispness of the vegetables and the fried skin.
  • the mild creamy mouth-feel of the salmon compared to the pungent crunch of the skin.
  • the cool vegetables with the occasional bite of fire when the Thai chiles made themselves known.

I enjoyed the "use everything but the squeal" approach to this plate by including the skin. It appealed both to my restless novelty-seeking "gourmand nature" and to my "thrifty" Scottish soul. I've got a 5 lb. haggis in the freezer, which somehow survived the last Burns Supper, and am willing to steam it up if we can get enough hearty eaters to throw down.

I'll even spring for the whisky.