MARINATE FISH IN BOURBON WHISKEY
Although I have always used salmon in this recipe, you can certainly adapt the marinade for other fish. Some good substitutes for salmon include Arctic Char, Cod, Haddock, Bluefish, Mahi Mahi, Tilefish. Now that I think about it, this whiskey-based sauce would also be good for pork tenderloin, chicken, or beef.
Whenever I have served this, people asked for the recipe. I wish I could find the original source. I know I have been making this for at least 25 years, maybe longer. So I recently researched online and found many sources, but most are dated within the last 8 years or so. I have come to believe that Wild West Salmon probably started with our resourceful Northwestern coastal states, or possibly northwest Canada. Those recipes are most like mine, and don’t have additions like miso paste, pineapple juice, fresh herbs, and more.
There are many kinds of whisky out there, so what should you use? Generally, the only alcohol I drink is wine, and I just do not know a lot about liquor. During my research, I found out more about whiskey than I really care to know. Here are some highlights for those of you out there who might be like me.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHISKEY AND BOURBON
First, bourbon is a type of whiskey, just like champagne is a type of wine. Whiskey is distilled from barley, rye, wheat, or corn. Bourbon is distilled from a mash of at least 51 percent corn. Many bourbon aficionados say that bourbon has flavors of caramel, brown sugar, vanilla, and more. No wonder it tastes good in a marinade. Okay, that’s enough information for me, how about you?
I do remember asking my husband Allen about what kind of whiskey I should use. He thought we should just use what we had on hand. It was a bourbon whiskey. So that is what I always do but have since learned that I probably should buy some less expensive whiskey and save the good sipping bourbon for actual sipping. I probably will not bother, though, because this dish tastes so good with what I use now.
BURN OFF THAT ALCOHOL?
I do think it is important to remember to cook the bourbon long enough to burn off the alcohol content. We all know that when foods are cooked with high heat, such as when they are flambéed, grilled, or broiled, the majority of the alcohol evaporates out. Pure alcohol boils at 173 F – a lower temperature than water.
But wait! More recent research has shown that although this is true, it takes much longer to burn off the alcohol than originally thought. My usual method of broiling or grilling just doesn’t do it. I found recent information that shows 40% of the alcohol is left after 15 minutes of cooking. After 2 and half hours, 5% of the alcohol remains. I guess that means I won’t be serving this dish to grandkids any more.
But for us adults, this is a delicious dish; quick and easy to prepare. Combine the bourbon with brown sugar and molasses and soy sauce to heighten the flavors of the bourbon and help form a nice glaze when cooked. The cooking oil helps prevent sticking on the grill. And of course fresh garlic is always a welcome addition. Mix the marinade ingredients and pour it over the fish. Let it marinate until you are ready to cook.
The biggest concern I always have is over-cooking the salmon. Allen was masterful with this and always presented salmon that melted in your mouth. He never timed it or used a thermometer. He just watched it, prodded it with his finger to test for doneness and knew when to take it off the grill.
If you don’t have that same skill—I certainly don’t—cook the fish for 8-10 minutes for each inch of thickness. The salmon will continue cooking slightly after removed from the heat source, so err on the side of early rather than late. You can always cook it a little longer if needed.
WILD WEST SALMON
- 1/2 Cup Bourbon Whiskey
- 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon molasses (original or mild, not robust)
- 1/4 Cup Canola Oil
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 Cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon Pepper
- 6-8 salmon fillets
Combine marinade ingredients and mix well. Pour over salmon, or other fish, and marinate at least an hour, or up to eight hours. When ready to grill or broil, remove salmon from marinade and place on preheated, oiled grill or foil-covered and oiled broiler pan. Barbecue or broil until fish is opaque and flakes easily, about 8-10 minutes per inch thickness. Serve immediately.