Last weekend, I had already picked up four beautiful salmon steaks but I was stuck with what create. This time last year I was in a similar place and opted for the fresh dill I had sprouting in my garden (see Salmon Steaks with Lemon and Dill). This year, the dill didn’t come back and, not one to concede defeat, I looked for a different direction.
I wasn’t three feet inside the doors of my local green grocer before inspiration and the answer hit me: cherries.
As the progeny of the Okanagan Valley, I’m perennially in a struggle between which fruit I love more: apples or cherries. Thank god they don’t produce at that same time. So when I saw the cherries, I knew I had to use them: the question was whether I could really pair cherries with salmon. If I’d had duck, the answer would have been clearer, but would the salmon stand up to the cherries? I wasn’t sure.
How about a cherry glaze, I thought? I was intrigued, but there was still an ingredient missing — something that to bring an earthiness to the sauce and marry the cherries with the fish. Port? No — too easy. Red wine? Perhaps; perhaps even a nice pinot; but no, something else. I saw a wooden barrel in the store and the recipe was complete in my head. I remembered my contributions to the Canadian Food Experience Project and one ingredient in particular that I played with 6 months ago: Forty Creek Whisky. Why? Because of this description in that post I quoted from the LCBO customer service rep who sold me on this:
This is one of my favourites,” he said, “It’s handcrafted, made in a traditional copper ‘pot,’ and aged for 10 years in American white oak before being finished in sherry barrels. It’s sweet, has hints of vanilla and toffee, some cinnamon and spice.
If that doesn’t scream cherries, what else would?
The salmon steaks would be a breeze and would be ready in 10 minutes or less: the only trick to them is high heat and don’t over cook … and be careful when turning them that you do not break the steaks. So I set out to creating the glaze first … and I’ll admit, I made it up as I went along. My goal was to cook down the cherries into a mash and create a syrupy glaze around them that would cling to the steaks and taste of the early summer sweetness called “cherries.” Mmm.
Note: You’ll want a cherry pitter which is synonymously sold as an “olive pitter.” If you don’t have one in your drawer, it’s a worthwhile purchase for less the $20 … because, you guessed it, it comes in vary handy with whole olives as well.
Did the glaze work? If a picture is worth a thousand words, the answer is an emphatic yes. I also suspect this sauce would be highly adaptive to other grilled and roasted meat like duck, turkey, or even ham. But yes, the glaze had just the right amount of richness to pair with the natural oiliness of the Atlantic salmon and its rustic sweetness accentuated both the grill and the salmon itself. And if that isn’t great already, this is a dish that is ready from start to finish in less than 30 minutes. Perfect for a dinner party to make people go “ooh” or even a rushed dinner after work. Now that’s what I call a keeper.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Sauce Time: 20 minutes
Salmon time: 9 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4-8 (split the cooked steaks along the centre-bone to share among those with a moderate appetite)
Salmon with Whisky Cherry Glaze
- 4 small/medium sized salmon steaks 1″ thick
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- grating of fresh pepper
- Koser salt
Whisky Cherry Glaze:
- 1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and cut into quarters (15-18 cherries)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/3 cup Whisky
- Pinch of salt (to taste)
- Clean salmon steaks under cold water and thoroughly pat them dry with paper towels. Rub steaks with olive oil and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Zest lemon over top and let stand while you prepare the glaze.
- Preheat the grill to 400ºF (200ºC). Make sure you wipe the grates clean with an oiled paper towel. This will reduce any sticking and tearing of the fish.
- Prepare the sauce by pitting enough cherries to lightly fill a 1-cup (250mL) measuring cup.
- Over medium heat, melt butter and brown sugar in a small sauce pan.
Add the sliced cherries to the butter and stir in …
Bring to light boil and simmer for about 7 minutes.
Add the whisky and lower heat to medium-low while the cherries continue to “cook down,” roughly another 5-7 minutes.
Lightly mash the cherries with a potato masher, squeezing the juice into the glaze but still leaving the cherries mostly ‘whole’ and with shape.
Set the sauce to lightly simmer on low for another 5 minutes while you start your salmon steaks.
- Place steaks on grill for 2½ minutes then, optionally, give them a quarter turn — be careful that they don’t stick to the grates and grill for 2 minutes more (4½ minutes total).
Turn the steaks with a long spatula …
… and apply a couple tablespoons of glaze plus some cherry pieces to each steak, being careful the glaze doesn’t run off into the grill and create flare ups: remember, most of the sauce is composed of flammable alcohol and butter.
And cook for another 4½ minutes before removing from grill.
- Serve with your favourite side, like a simple jasmine rice with olive oil and fresh chives.
Wine Pairing: A light, young, Pinot Noir or a more jammy wine like a big Zinfandel.