Are you aware of the chemical aspects of the culinary world? I am not referring to the molecular gastronomy that is all is the rage, but rather the actual chemistry of cuisine. Chemistry is essential to the molecular style of gastronomic palaces, such as Spain’s El Bulli, WD-50 in NYC, or Alinea in Chicago, but we can all benefit from learning which foods (and wines, too) pair well together, based on their chemical composition.
I was listening to a radio program on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for you non-Canucks out there), featuring a sommelier from Québec, François Chartier. M. Chartier has written a book called, Papilles et Molécules, which has come out now in English, Tastebuds and Molecules (http://www.francoischartier.ca/english). The show was on molecular structures, which makes certain foods natural companions, based on their chemical composition.
One example M. Chartier gave was the pair of soy sauce and maple syrup. As a Canadian, I hope you know that I mean only the pure stuff, and never would dare to consider the gloppy kind in a plastic squeeze bottle, such as the corn-syrup-artificially-flavoured-Mrs.-You-Probably-Know-Who brand. Apparently, maple and soy sauce are chemical cosmic twins! Who knew?
The molecular twinning, of course, works for food with wine (mint and sauvignon blanc, for instance) as much as it does for expected food pairings (lamb and thyme) in addition to more unusual combinations (raspberries are chemically counterparts of nori, or seaweed, which surprised me). It is a fascinating chemical explanation why certain foods do go well together naturally, even those from places of origin, e.g., maple syrup tends to be from areas which did not traditionally grow soy beans and make soy sauce. So the locavore argument does not get much of boost from this dish.
For the recipe…
The discussion of soy and maple syrup made me want to do my favourite salmon marinade, as sockeye is now in season here. This marinade - which then roasts into a tantalizingly tangy umami-a-go-go glaze – combines very simple ingredients, complementing the others well. I developed this particular variation after many years of experimentation, including the original suggestion for soy-ginger-brown-sugar-garlic from a former staff of mine, who hails from a very remote island off the northernmost tip of big Vancouver Island. My variation includes lime juice and red pepper flakes to make it more complex yet balanced (copacetic in a molecular way, as a nod to the west coast origins of this dish).
I served the salmon with a simple mixed green salad with tomatoes, medium-firm tofu cubes, sesame seeds, and a super quick and amazingly flavourful dressing from Krissy and Daniel at The Food Addicts (one part ponzu to one part vegetable oil, such as Canola, which I combined in a mini-food processor). This dressing would complement many an Asian-themed meal, including this one.
I suspect salmon must be the molecular twin of maple, soy, ginger, garlic, and lime, too. If not, the ingredients are very friendly relatives, at the very least.
Salmon in Soy-Maple-Ginger-Garlic Glaze, adapted from many sources and personal fine-tuning
Serves two (or multiply, as needed)
- One fillet of salmon (Pacific sockeye works great) of 200 grams, or, eight ounces
- ¼ cup of soy sauce, preferably tamari
- 3 tablespoons of pure maple syrup (the darker, the better here – save the more expensive light syrup for pancakes)
- ½ lime, juiced
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon of finely minced ginger (use a microplane, if you have one!)
- ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes
- a few grindings of black pepper
- Mix all ingredients for marinade.
- Place salmon flesh side down, in marinade, refrigerate for one-half hour.
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
- After the marinading has finished, flip over the fish, and place the salmon, skin side down, in a non-stick pan (for easier clean up, believe me), and pour marinade over fish; I like to poke the salmon in many places, with the tip of a pairing knife, so the marinade will get into the flesh better.
- Roast for 15 minutes or so, at which time it is good to check the salmon’s progress. Depending on the salmon’s thickness; it is finished when the fish flakes easily but is still slightly translucent.
- Spoon remaining thickened glaze over salmon and serve with wedges of lemon or lime.