September 1, 2008

Chipotle-Lime Glazed Salmon

I've done this twice now and it's the best-tasting fish I've ever made.

Chipotle peppers can be found in the Mexican or Latino food section of most supermarkets (except, apparently, in Italy). Chipotles are jalapeño peppers that have been smoke-cured and destemmed, but not de-seeded. They come packed in a savory, smoky tomato-based sauce called adobo. Do not fear the jalapeño pepper. If you can handle Nacho Cheese Doritos or General Liu's Chicken from your local Chinese take-out, you have nothing at all to fear from the heat in these flavorful peppers. The glaze itself is very simple -- for two salmon steaks or 6-oz fillets:

2 chipotle peppers, canned, packed in adobo sauce
2 tbsp. butter
1 oz. lime juice
1 oz. honey
dash of Grand Mariner liqueur (triple sec is not an equivalent; for a substitue, use orange zest)
black pepper to taste (you won't need to add any salt)

Melt butter until it turns liquid. Finely dice peppers (remove seeds if you want to to reduce the spiciness of the dish). Use the adobo sauce the peppers come packed in. Combine all ingredients, except Grand Mariner, over very low heat or at 50% power for brief periods of time in microwave. Do not allow mixture to boil or brown the butter. Add liqueur last. Stir well. Mixture should be a pale maroon color.

To grill salmon fillets, use very high heat and fish that is freshly thawed. I've found that those fish grilling racks that some places sell are worse than useless. Instead, I've had better experience with a large, inflexible barbeque spatula. If the spatula is larger than the piece of fish you're grilling, a fast movement under the meat will lift the whole thing under the spatula and allow you to turn it. The technique takes just a touch of practice, so maybe try it out on some burgers first.

Like all glazes that incorporate sugar, brush on the glaze only after the meat has begun to cook, so as to avoid carmelizing the sugars and ruining the sweet part of the flavor. This glaze is particularly flammable, between the liqueur and the butter. And fish cooks faster than beef or chicken. So you're going to go about 90 to 120 seconds, show-side down, then lift and re-set at an angle to make your diamond pattern. Wait another 90 to 120 seconds, then flip the fish. Now glaze the show side. Let the bottom side of the fish cook for 120 seconds tops, and then flip the fish a second time to glaze the base and flip back to show-side up immediately. Let the base-side expose itself to the flame for only long enough to burn off the alcohol in the glaze.

The result should combine a moderate to mild level of spice, a savory smokiness, and a citrus-sweet undertone. I love it, but I love the flavor of chipotle on nearly any kind of meat.

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