Have you ever tried poaching salmon in a coconut based curry sauce? It’s absolutely fabulous and involves little more than grating a few aromatics over a hot skillet. Now that the nights are hot, I look forward to more stove-top cooking like this and especially love the lightness of fresh fish and exotic flavors.
Speaking of exotic, this sauce kind of transports me to Thailand and a simpler way of eating. Starting with hand-picked lemongrass and kaffir leaves, I had dinner ready in under 30 minutes. While I’m fortunate to have these ingredients in my garden, I realize you might not.
Fortunately, lemongrass is widely available. Kaffir leaves, not so much. To capture the spirit of this dish, consider adding fresh grated lime in its place.
Star Ingredient: salmon
Flavor Affinities: KAFFIR LIME LEAVES + COCONUT MILK + LEMONGRASS + GINGER
Tastes: sweet, salty, savory, spicy (aromatic)
Textures: silky, saucy
Wisdom: When poaching salmon in a curry sauce, remove the skin because the sauce will prevent it from getting crispy.
Watch How to Remove Skin from Fish
A while back, I recorded a video of myself removing the skin from bluefish (at 1 minute in). The technique is the same for salmon, so I’m including it in order to show you the safest, best way to de-skin your fillet.
Creating the Curry Sauce for the Salmon
After you’ve pan-seared the salmon, there will be bits and pieces of fish leftover in the pan, called fond. This is what makes for a really tasty sauce, so working with the same pan is both practical and smart.
Step 1: Aromatics
Gather the aromatics (lemongrass, kaffir leaves, ginger, garlic). You can chop them, but I recommend grating them into the pan instead using a microplane. Grating over the pan releases more of the essence of the aromatics (juice and all) into fine pieces that create a base layer for a flavorful sauce.
Step 2: Caramelization
After about 30 seconds of cooking the aromatics, it’s time to add some sweetness. Coconut sugar is very Thai and has a rich caramel flavor. Regardless of the sugar you use, the point is to melt it just a bit in the pan so that it cooks; caramelization at it’s finest.
Step 3: Working the Flavors into the Coconut Milk
You can add the chili sauce (sriracha), coconut milk, and kaffir leaves after steps 1 and 2. Heat forces the flavors to infuse into the coconut so that the salmon has something tasty to cook in.
After a few minutes of simmering, you can add the salmon in order to cook it fully and impart it with the lovely sauce. Getting hungry yet?
Did you watch the video on how to remove fish skin? It’s definitely a worthwhile skill to have, and it’s actually kind of fun once you figure out how to leverage the skin against a sharp knife. Let me know how it goes!
By the way, if you want to serve this dish with rice or vegetables, you can start the rice first and have it ready by the time the salmon is done. I recommend adding chopped vegetables to the sauce at the end so that they have 2 minutes to cook.
Salmon Curry with Kaffir Lime
- 1 pound salmon, de-boned, skinned, and cut into 4 equal portions
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil, extra virgin
- 2 cloves garlic, finely grated
- 2 tsp fresh ginger root, finely grated
- 1 stalk lemongrass, peeled, finely grated
- 1 tbsp coconut sugar, or brown sugar
- 1 tbsp sriracha, or sambal chili
- 1 14-oz can coconut milk, full fat
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 kaffir lime leaves, or zest of 1 lime
- 1 oz cilantro, for garnish
- 1 thai bird chili, chopped (highly recommend garnish if you like heat)
- Feel the flesh of the salmon for bones and remove with tweezers. You can leave the skin on if you wish, but I recommend removing it. To remove the skin, grab the smallest section of skin firmly and use your dominant hand to cut (away from your hand) with the blade as close to the skin as possible.
- Cut the salmon into 4 equal portions (4-oz each) and season with salt and pepper.
- Heat a non-stick skillet over medium high. Add the oil and sear the salmon for 1-2 minutes each side to develop some color. This step also creates fond in the pan (bits of crispy, delicousness) for the curry.
- Remove the salmon and use the same pan to cook the aromatics. Grate the garlic, ginger, and lemongrass into the skillet and scrape everything around to release the flavors (1 minute). Sprinkle with sugar but don't stir. Wait 30 seconds, then stir in the sriracha/chili paste.
- Pour the canned coconut milk and fish sauce into the pan and raise the heat to high. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low-medium. Return the salmon to the curry along with the kaffir leaves – I like to fold them a bit to release the oils. Simmer gently for 4 minutes, or until just cooked.
- Taste and adjust seasoning. Most likely you will need to add a large pinch of salt or extra fish sauce. Serve with steamed rice. If serving with fresh chopped veggies, you can poach these with the fish at the last moment (1-2 minutes).
- Garnish with cilantro. If you love spicy food – I highly recommend adding some minced Thai bird chili.
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