How I finally managed not to set off my smoke alarm while searing (but the kitchen smelled like fish regardless)

My house, while a lot of things (devalued, for one, comes to mind) is actually fairly decently built, once we had the builders iron out a few wrinkles.  (Of course, as soon as I post this, our roof will probably cave in – please knock on wood for me now).  However, one thing that boggles my mind to this day is why my stove has a large stainless steel vent fan that leads to…nowhere.  That’s right, my exhaust fan sucks up smoke from the stove and circulates it around the ceiling of my kitchen and living room.  Which, as I’m sure you can guess, totally awesome.  I’m not a bad cook, I don’t burn things.  But searing at high temps sometimes leads to smoking.  Which sucks when there’s no decent ventilation and we have to open the windows in the middle of winter (although the cats seem to enjoy it, city cats that they are.  They do get lots of fresh air when we’re in North Georgia, however, least you think they’re being overly sheltered.  We kick them out onto the screen porch where they sniff the outdoor air and chase lizards, almost like they were real cats and not the pampered bratty butterballs they are.  But I digress).

So, you see, sometimes my cooking becomes a problem.  I’ve managed to alleviate it partially by cooking with clarified butter at high temps.  It definitely helps cut down on the smoking when cooking on the stovetop at high temps because clarified butter, minus the milk solids, has a higher smoking point than regular butter or olive oil (apparently, olive oil isn’t really meant for sautéing).  Last night while driving home from N. Georgia with the radio turned up really obnoxiously loud to drown out feline protests at being so tortured as enduring 1.5 hours in their crates, I was contemplated what I need at the store and what to do for dinner, since we were coming off a meatball and spaghetti fest (which was awesome) lovingly prepared by my husband.  We eat a lot of salads during the week (green salads, chopped salads, grain based salads, all sorts of salads) and I started by thinking about salmon, seared and finished off in the oven on a plate of spinach.  I was at the store and picked up some unethical asparagus (I’ve mentioned my weakness for non-local asparagus before but cut me some slack, it’s almost March!) that was on sale and plenty of spinach (I got J hooked on green monsters).

At home I found a fennel bulb that needed to be used, ¼ of a red bell pepper, a bit of red onion and a crate of Clementines patiently waiting to be useful.  I chopped the asparagus into pieces and blanched it quickly.  I sliced the fennel and sautéed it in clarified butter and then seared the salmon in the same pan.  I thinly sliced the red onion and bell pepper and section the Clementines (J kept snatching Clementine sections from my work area.  Whenever I buy a box of Clementines, he never eats them; I presumed he didn’t like them.  Turns out he doesn’t like peeling them and while my husband is not a lazy person, I found this odd.  It also reminded my of my long suffering mother, complaining no one ate the fruit she bought unless she peeled/chopped/prepared it).   Once the salmon had gotten a nice crust, I put the pan with the fennel and fish into a 450 degree oven to finish cooking (make sure to use an oven safe pan!).

I piled out plates with washed spinach (I always wash the “pre-washed” bagged spinach, I won’t go into detail why but you should too) and artfully arranged the Clementine slices, onion, blanched asparagus and bell pepper.  I sprinkled a few chopped fennel leaves on as well and then topped it with the roasted fennel bulb and salmon.  I made my standard vinaigrette based on David Lebovitz’s technique (I used 1 tablespoon vinegar to 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tsp. Dijion mustard – I like the Maille he mentioned in the article; probably a little more than a tsp of shallots (I just eyeball it) and plenty of sea salt and pepper.  I also juice a Clementine section into the dressing and added a touch of honey for balance).  Poured the dressing over the salad and et voila – salmon salad.  I know, I know, nothing special and certainly nothing that someone else couldn’t have (and already has) come up with but tasty nonetheless.  The bell pepper was unnecessary and probably threw the balance off a little bit but since I needed to use it up oh well.  But, all in all, it was one of my favorite salads recently (and we eat a LOT of salads) so I figured I’d throw it out there so you can make your own variations.

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