…so guess what I made?
“It is part of the novelist’s convention not to mention soup and salmon and ducklings, as if soup and salmon and ducklings were of no importance whatsoever, as if nobody ever smoked a cigar or drank a glass of wine. Here, however, I shall take the liberty to defy that convention…”Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
She apparently had lots and lots to say about many things, and I’ve recently become smitten by her wit and mildly-tempered rebellion. In all honesty, this is not a scholarly pursuit for me, but rather a happy little side trip into a shared interest – writing about food. This particular lamentation acknowledges that convention often dictates what we should and should not discuss, or in her case, write about. It would seem that salmon, representing a host of very decadent but seemingly mundane pursuits, was not acceptable fodder for serious novelists. Good thing I’m not a novelist. Or conventional.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”V.W.
In spite of “the rules,” Virginia’s fascination with food and its role in daily Victorian life flourished in her novels and essays well into her more Modernist period. I read that sadly, she failed to truly enjoy food and often refused to eat during her common bouts of turmoil and anxiety – she did not “dine well.” While I can report that a hunger strike is not in my arsenal of coping mechanisms, I totally appreciate her obsession with food as an underappreciated window into culture. And since I too just LOVE being told what to do or think, you can see my attraction to her writing. So naturally I’m going to talk all about the salmon I made in her honor.
It happens that I had been working on a blackened salmon and grits recipe for a year or so, collecting tips, techniques and ingredients from hither and yon. The challenge was developing an authentic and crispy blackened fish fillet that wasn’t dry, but rather bathed in decadent juices. I didn’t want a structured sauce per se because it might compete with sharp, creamy grits I planned as the undercarriage. After a final test run last week, I’m ready to share:
Blackened Salmon and White Cheddar Grits
ingredients for the blackened salmon
- a couple of salmon fillets, I used skin off
- 1 tsp kosher salt, Diamond Crystal for me
- 1 tsp dark brown sugar
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp dried thyme leaves
- 1 Tbs paprika, could used smoked
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- pinch of cayenne pepper, to taste
- 4 oz. uncooked bacon
- 6 scallions, green & white parts chopped
- ½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- juice of 1 lemon plus wedges for serving
method for the salmon
Pat fillets dry and bring to room temp.
Combine salt with next 7 ingredients and rub on the tops and bottoms of each fillet. Let sit about 15 minutes for the seasoning to really to set in.
Chop raw bacon into ½” pieces and fry them on medium heat until crispy and brown in a large cast iron, carbon steel or heavy skillet. Remove bacon bits to a paper towel to drain.
To the hot bacon grease, add the prepared salmon fillets and cook for 3-ish minutes on medium, untouched. Gently loosen, flip and cook another 2-3 minutes. You should have a crispy, “blackened” but not burned crust.
Add bacon, scallions, parsley, lemon juice and gently move the ingredients around the pan to incorporate. Simmer another 2 minutes then cover and remove from the heat while you work on the grits:
ingredients for the cheddar grits
- 4 cups water, or half water & half milk
- generous ½ tsp of salt
- 1 cup stone-ground yellow grits
- 3 Tbs unsalted butter
- 2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
method for the grits
Bring salted water to boil, slowly add the grits and whisk for about a minutes to discourage instant and irrevocable clumping. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until grits absorb most of the liquid, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add butter and shredded cheese, and mix to creamy perfection.
Ladle a cup of grits into an entrée bowl. Nestle a salmon fillet with a generous helping of bacon/scallions/parsley on top and serve with lemon quarters.
This one makes the rounds every fall, but it wasn’t until this year that I read it with ease, as if I were already one step ahead:
“I will cut adrift—I will sit on pavements and drink coffee—I will dream; I will take my mind out of its iron cage and let it swim—this fine October.”V.W.
With it I was reminded that Foodishness was a test kitchen project which morphed into a year-long challenge to document my cooking misadventures and personal musings. And here it is already October. The transition from sports to food photography was an easy call, but I’m neither a trained chef nor an accomplished writer. Getting this thing up and running and then committing to weekly-ish contributions was a feat. Ten months in, I have grown quite comfy in this strange bloggy realm where mistakes and failures in one arena are safely masked by another.
It’s also helpful to connect what happens in my kitchen to the world around me, past and present. Admittedly, I could Google any author (chef, artist, scientist, philanthropist, politician, etc.) and match a quote with any sentiment I wanted to blab about. That kind of narrative device can become dangerously shallow and reflexive if the sole purpose is to over-inflate a simple gesture like cooking. Food doesn’t have to mean everything, but it can’t mean nothing.
“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”V.W.
Perhaps making random connections to famous quotes is a sort of lingering affirmation habit we acquired dealing with isolation and loss. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and in fact, I’d like to think it’s more about growth than justification or excuses. As for Virginia Woolf, I couldn’t help but notice that her arguments can be circuitous and contradictory. Sounds awfully familiar. But her collection of quotes played right into my hands. All about timing.
Notable works by Virginia Woolf:
- “A Room of One’s Own”
- “Mrs. Dalloway”
- “The Waves”
- “Between the Acts”
- “To the Lighthouse”