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Bourbon Pecan Salmon

There are times when I really struggle with living in the Pacific Northwest. There are times when everywhere I turn I am reminded of another place, another stage of life, and I want to be there. Especially, as Derby Day rolls around and Mother's Day approaches, I think of the beautiful bluegrass country I grew up in and I get homesick all over again.

At this time last year we went to Kentucky to try and fill the void. It was everything we could have hoped it might be. We had a great week, perfect weather, got reacquainted with our past selves and with a feeling of fullness and accomplishment we flew home. Soon I felt worse than ever.

Shades of Gray
Late winter really dragged on in the Pacific Northwest last year, right into June, and I felt mired in its lightless wake. I tried writing poetry about the beauty of gray. I came up with a long list of pretty words to describe the shades of gray I could find in the sky: steel, coin, silver, gunmetal, obsidian, flint, shale. I pictured smooth gray streaks in the nacre that coats the inside of an oyster's shell where a pearl might be found. Still I struggled.

In June, just as the weather broke out with a burst of glorious summer we took a road trip that stopped off at a few of the Pacific Northwest's most notable destinations. We drove under blue skies in one perfectly clear shade that is like no other. We enjoyed the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, the rustic history and natural pristine beauty of Crater Lake under the stars and the sunrise and even a full blown thunder storm. In a flood of gratitude I remembered that it is incredibly gorgeous here and I am blessed to have the opportunity to call the Pacific Northwest my home. Yet still I am homesick for another home, far away, that really doesn’t exist anymore.

So I write. And I remember and I try to bring it all together into a meaningful whole. Sometimes the kitchen is just the place to do that. Rifling through my kitchen files I found a recipe I had torn from a magazine several years ago that made my mouth water remembering the distinctive flavors of those places I am from.

This is a recipe for Bourbon Pecan Salmon. Being a Kentucky girl, and enchanted with the unique Kentucky-ness of bourbon, I am one to cut out every unusual bourbon recipe I come across. This one, however, sounded strange. I just couldn’t get my mind around a salmon/sugar/bourbon flavor meld. Add to that a big handful of Texas pecans and the whole thing hardly makes any sense.

Kitchen Chemistry

All the same, homesick and bored, I tried it and, unexpectedly, it was wonderfully delicious! The boubon adds a smoky depth and the apple cider and brown sugar a little balancing sweetness and the salmon flavor just mellows into this inspired infusion and yields, giving way to the nutty texture of the pecans.

It was quite a satifying realization that these distinctly regional ingredient, representing more than a decade each and telling the story of my life, could settle down together, each remaining true to it’s heritage and distinct in its flavor, and yet blend to complement each other so well. It gave me hope.

"Cooking is more than a skill or even an art. Cooking is about nurturing the future with roots that dig deeply into the past. Cooking is a channel for transmitting love, faith, understanding, pleasure, history, geography, culture, chemistry, art and adventure. The kitchen arts encompass metaphors for, and lessons that apply to, every aspect of life."
It’s true! The lessons learned keep evolving and take time to become a part of who I am but the journey is so worthwhile.

This recipe is one I am sure to repeat often as I keep reaching out to share the unique qualities of my life’s journey with the world I find myself a part of now.

Bourbon Pecan Salmon
from the December 21, 2004 issue of Family Circle Magazine

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup Kentucky bourbon
1/2 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 1/2 pounds salmon
1 cup chopped pecans
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

Combine the brown sugar, bourbon, apple cider and black pepper in a large Ziplock bag. Place the salmon fillet in the mixture and seal the bag, distributing the bourbon mixture to cover the salmon. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours turning the bag every hour or so to redistribute the marinade.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for approximately 5 minutes, or until they start to brown. Remove from oven and toss the pecans with the melted butter and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt.

Coat the top of a broiler pan with nonstick cooking spray. Gently remove the salmon from the Ziplock bag reserving the marinade. P lace the salmon on the broiler pan, skin-side down, and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Gently press the pecan mixture over the top of the salmon.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Meanwhile, bring the reserved marinade to a boil in a small saucepan. Continue to boil for 3 minutes. Spoon over salmon as desired.

Serves 8.


Alanna Kellogg said...

And Virginia?

Mary Bergfeld said...

It will get easier. Life is what you make of it. Your recipe is lovely.

Minta said...

You know, with bourbon and cider, I just may be able to like salmon... I'm going to give this recipe a try. Thanks! It does seem fitting for derby week.

noble pig said...

It's interesting that your first thought was to think the ingredients wouldn't meld. When I saw the title I instantly thought what a great combo. I would love to try this.

And those brownies were to die for.

Ivy said...

Great idea! Salmon is so good for you and I love having different and delicious ways to prepapre the fishie. Have a lovely day!

Lisa said...

Alanna - I loved Virginia but it left less of a culinary mark on my life, maybe because I lived there for less than three years (and was pregnant for a third of that time) or maybe because it is much like Kentucky in its regional influences.

Mary - Hi! Thanks for the vote of confidence!

Minta - Glad you stopped by! If you try it I think you'll like it.

Nobel Pig - I think it was the sugar in the recipe that I was skeptical of, forgetting that, as in the Mint Julep Brownies, the bourbon and the sugar balance each other and leave a depth of flavor without the more prominent qualities of either on its own.

Ivy - Thanks. Your comments always make me smile!

Bunny said...

Maybe you had a case of the winter blues along with living in a new place and new climate. The salmon recipe and your picture of it are awe inspiring!

MaryBeth said...

Your salmon looks so light and tender. The flavors must be simply mouthwatering, I would love to try this salmon dish!

grace said...

i've said it before, and i'm sure i'll say it again, but you have a wonderful way with words. your posts are lovely, and this dish makes me think that one day i might actually be able to enjoy salmon. :)

Anonymous said...

Okay, first of all the picture of the salmon made me salivate this morning. Second and most importantly your story line is very telling and quite heart wrenching. As you know, I totally know where you are coming from. Excellent recipe and article.

pam said...

I think the combination sounds delicious! I think there is certain beauty in all parts of our country.

Kim said...

Thanks for a lovely heart felt post. I have been thinking of making a Bourbon salmon, so I am thrilled that I can try your recipe. I rode horses when I was younger, so have been to Kentucky....yes it is beautiful!

Donna-FFW said...

Lisa.. that sounds fantastic, bourbon pecan, delicious, nice choice!

ryanb said...

this looks really good, any suggestions on what to serve it with?

Lisa said...

Ryanb - I'd serve it with Lemon Pasta with Snow Peas and maybe crisp-tender petite whole green beans or Southern Style Green Beans. I think corn would also be a great side, plain with butter or maybe Pan Roasted Corn and Tomato Salad. For dessert I'd recommend Lemon Meringue Pie, Aunt Hen's Brownie Pie, or Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce.

I hope that helps. Thanks for stopping by!