By Christine Burns Rudalevige
My daughter is taking algebra this year, so I have been forced to revisit that whole concept of transitive properties. Shaking out the cob webs, I vaguely can recall that if A=B, and B=C then A=C, right?
So … if fish go with chips (in the English sense of the word). And chips go with salsa. Then it’s only logical that fish goes with salsa, right?
Right! It’s especially spot on if we are talking about getting a flavorful, adaptable fish dish on the table on a weeknight.
If you are grilling a steak (tuna, swordfish, halibut), or pan searing a whole filet (trout, tilapia, barramundi) or broiling a white fish (cod, haddock, pollock), adding a salsa is a great way to liven up a fish dish with a splash of color, a bit of acid and a hint of spice (if you like).
Salsa literally translated just means sauce. So, yes, you can just use your favorite tomato-based one on top of fish, or even branch out to a salsa verde made with tomatillos. But don’t stop there. You can include other fruits, veggies and spices (See chart below for suggested combination.)
|Contrasting Ingredient(1 part)||Acid/Oil||Herbs||Spices|
|Fresh tomatoes||Red onion and jalapeño peppers||Lime juice/Olive oil||Cilantro||Chili powder|
|Mango or Peaches||Vidalia onion and Thai red chili peppers||Lime zest/mustard oil||Cilantro||Honey and cumin|
|Strawberries||Almonds||Balsamic vinegar/olive oil||Basil||Black pepper|
|Watermelon||Scallions||Brined olives/olive oil||Mint||Feta cheese|
|Oranges||Fennel bulb||Orange zest/olive oil||Rosemary and fennel fronds||Crushed fennel seeds and black pepper|
|Beets||Apple and onion||Lemon juice||Parsley||Cumin|
The general rule of thumb is to include two parts main ingredient to one part contrasting element– something that adds crunch (like a red onion would add a crunch to a diced tomato), or heat (like the spice of serrano chilies would add heat to a sweet peach, or color (like a red bell peppers’ color against creamy avocado). Then you add in one part acid (lemon or lime juice, vinegar, wine) and herbs (parsley, cilantro, thyme) and spices/flavorings (salt, pepper, chili powder, crumbled cheeses.)
Finally, finish off the salsa with glug of good oil (like a decent olive oil or a flavored nut oil), which helps round out all the flavors.
There are a few rules when making a salsa specifically for fish.
The first is to use the freshest ingredients possible and cut them in palatable sizes. It’s OK to take a bite of fish with a larger chunk of mango on the fork, but you are going to want the serrano chili to be diced pretty small. If you are using a food processor to help speed the salsa making process up, just use the pulse option so you don’t end up with a smoothie.
The second is to make the salsa before you start cooking the fish to give the ingredients a bit of time to get to know each other before they hit your dinner plate. I like to keep the salsa in the fridge as I like a contract of hot fish and cold salsa, but that is a preference, not a rule!
Finally, don’t stress about having an exact recipe. Salsas are very forgiving; just be creative with what you have in the fridge and adjust to your tastes as you go.