Beer Cooler Sous Vide Salmon with Fennel Salad
I saw this video of Nathan Myhrvold and Melissa Clark making sous vide salmon, and I knew what I was making for dinner. Beer Cooler Salmon, here I come!
*Someday I’ll get my own copy of Modernist Cuisine…someday…
In the original, Mr. Myhrvold didn’t even bother with a beer cooler. He uses a regular pot and adds hot water to keep the temperature at 116*F as necessary. I went with my beer cooler because (1) I’m used to it, and (2) my wife told me she was going to be late getting home, and I had to hold the salmon for an hour and a half instead of the suggested 30 minutes. The cooler’s insulation kept the water exactly where I needed it.
Grilling cooked salmon is delicate work – it wants to flake apart. Be gentle, and assume at least one filet will have a big wedge of salmon slide loose.
Another key to this recipe is a diligently cleaned grill. Brush the grates until all the carbonized remains are gone, and all that is left is the grill grates. Wipe the grates with a paper towel dipped in oil, to season them. Oil the top of the salmon as well. When you’re taking the filets off the grill, use tongs in one hand and a spatula in the other. Use the tongs to wiggle the salmon until it comes loose, then slide the spatula underneath, gently working any sticking salmon off the grill grate. Lift the filet to your serving plate, breathe a sigh of relief, then go to work on the next piece of fish.
Is it worth all this work? Absolutely – this is buttery salmon at its best.
Recipe: Sous Vide Salmon with Fennel Salad
Cook time: 30 minute water bath, 3 minutes on the grill
- Grill (I used my Weber Summit. Here is the current version of my grill.)
- Large cooler (At least 2 gallons capacity; more is better)
- Quart sized zip-top bags
- 4 (6 oz) salmon filets
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon orange zest (zest from 1 orange)
- 1 tablespoon minced fennel fronds
Orange Dijon Dressing:
- 2 tablespoons orange juice (juice of 1/2 an orange)
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon minced fennel fronds
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 bulb fennel, trimmed and sliced thin
- 4 ounces mesclun salad mix (or spring mix)
1. Sous Vide the Salmon:
Fill the beer cooler with hot water. For rare salmon (my favorite), use 116*F water; for medium rare use 126*F, and for medium use 140*F. Season the salmon filets evenly with the salt and pepper and put two in each zip top bag. One at a time, slowly lower the bags into the water, letting the water push the air out of the bag and seal itself around the steak. When the bag is submerged to the level of the zip, seal the bag, then let it sink into the water. Close up the cooler and cook the steak in the hot water bath for at least an hour.
*If you are cooking in the cooler for more than two hours, check the water temperature and add boiling water occasionally to keep the temperature between 125*F and 130*F.
2. Prepare the grill:
Set the grill up for cooking at high heat. For my Weber Summit, I turn all the burners to high and let the grill preheat for 15 minutes. I brush the grate clean with my grill brush, and wipe it with a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil.
3. Prepare the salad:
While the grill preheats: Whisk the dressing ingredients in a large salad bowl until completely emulsified. Add the sliced fennel and toss to coat. Dump the mesclun mix on top, but do not toss yet – the lettuce should be tossed at the last second, but the fennel should soak in the dressing.
4. Prepare the salmon sprinkle:
Also while the grill preheats: stir the orange zest and remaining 1 tablespoon of fennel fronds together.
3. Sear the salmon:
Gently remove the salmon from the zip-top bags, set it skin side down on a plate, and pat completely dry with paper towels. Brush the top of the salmon with a thin coat of vegetable oil. Lay the salmon, skin side facing up, over the highest heat part of the grill. Cook until grill marks form on the bottom and the salmon (mostly) releases from the grill, about three minutes. Transfer the filets to a serving platter, turning them so the browned side is facing up.
Toss the salad. Put some salad on each serving plate, add a salmon filet, and sprinkle the salmon with a pinch of the orange zest and fennel fronds.
- I cut my salmon into smaller filets, about 4 ounces each, 2 inches wide – and they were too small. I think wider filets, about three inches, will hold together better.
- I also left the skin on the salmon to hold it together on the grill. Without the skin, grilling would leave a pile of salmon hash instead of whole filets.
- The water from my faucet was even cooler than usual – it was only 105 *F. I need to check the water heater; I think the kids were playing with the knob again. I added boiling water to get it up to 116*F. (Or 117.9*F – I overshot a little. 116, 117, whatever it takes.)
- This is the perfect way to cook great salmon. And by great salmon, I mean Alaskan wild salmon – please buy sustainable seafood!
What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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