I have a culinary confession: I actually like overcooked seafood. “Chewy” shrimp? “Tough” scallops? “Dry” salmon? Count me in! When I’m just cooking for me and Gustavo, I’ll actually pull his seafood off the heat at the right time when it’s done correctly, and keep cooking mine for a few extra minutes. But this salmon poached in coconut milk is one of the few exceptions.
The salmon is so tender it melts in your mouth, and it would feel like sacrilege to overcook it. (Honestly, I’m not sure you even could really overcook it without putting in some serious effort. Should I try next time, for the sake of science?)
This recipe was inspired by flavors we encountered in Costa Rica. One of my favorite meals there was fish (although not salmon) served with coconut milk and thyme sauce. It was so delicious that I kept going back for it! And while everything else about my recipe is different, the combination of coconut milk, thyme, and fish is as rich and flavorful as I remember.
Notes on This Recipe:
Salmon cooking time: the cooking time for your salmon depends on how thick it is (vertically) at its tallest point. My rule of thumb is about 3 minutes per ½” of thickness. The nice, fat salmon pieces you see in these pictures were about 1 ½” tall, and were cooked to perfection in exactly 10 minutes. Adjust accordingly if your salmon pieces are taller or shorter.
Adding water: if your coconut milk doesn’t come at least halfway up your salmon pieces, you’ll need to add some water to compensate. However, add as little as possible to cover it halfway. The more you add, the longer your sauce will take to reduce. One key to doing this is to use a pan that just comfortably holds your salmon. (Mine in the pictures is too large and needed more water than it should have, but here in our “quarantine kitchen,” I don’t have many options!)
I’ll be honest: when we’re feeling lazy, we eat this salmon on its own without bothering to make any sides. If you want them, though, I would recommend either saffron rice with raisins and pine nuts, or a nice homemade Caesar salad.
The rich fragrance of the saffron rice enhances the richness of the salmon, while the raisins and pine nuts echo the sweetness of the coconut milk and the nuttiness of the fish. And the rice, of course, is perfect to soak up all the delicious extra sauce!
A Caesar salad adds freshness to the plate without taking away from the main course. It’s bold and rich enough to stand up to the salmon poached in coconut milk, but
Take Your Salmon Poached in Coconut Milk to the Next Level:
Roasted tomatoes: adding some oven-roasted tomatoes makes this dish even more amazing than it already is. I haven’t included them in the recipe only because you need to use good-quality fresh tomatoes for maximum flavor, and those are hard to get out of season. If you can get your hands on fresh and flavorful small tomatoes, though, use them! Cut them in half, roast them up until very soft and beginning to caramelize, then stir them gently into the reduced coconut milk sauce just before serving it
Salmon Poached in Coconut Milk with Lime Cilantro Drizzle
For the lime cilantro drizzle:
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- ½ teaspoon lime zest
- 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon minced cilantro
- pinch of sea salt
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
For the poached salmon:
- 2 8-ounce salmon fillets
- 1 yellow onion sliced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 can of coconut milk
- 3 to 5 thyme sprigs
- Make the lime cilantro drizzle: mix together all of the ingredients for the drizzle and set aside to let the flavors merge.
- Heat the olive oil for the poached salmon in a deep pan just large enough to fit your salmon. Add the sliced onion and salt, and cook over medium-high heat until soft and beginning to get brown on a few edges, 5-7 minutes. Add the honey and coconut milk to the pan, stir to dissolve the honey.
- Add the salmon (skin side down) and thyme sprigs to the pan. The coconut milk should at least halfway cover the salmon. If it doesn’t, add more water as necessary. Bring to a simmer, and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer as the salmon cooks.
- After 4 to 5 minutes, gently turn the salmon over and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes. Turn it right side up again, then scoop it out of the coconut milk and set aside.
- Turn the heat up to high and reduce the coconut milk sauce until it’s thick and rich, about 10 minutes. In the final couple of minutes, carefully return the salmon to the pan to make sure it’s heated through again.
- Transfer the salmon to plates, and pull the thyme sprigs out of the sauce (it’s fine if some leaves remain!). Spoon the reduced coconut sauce on top, and drizzle with the lime cilantro mixture. Enjoy!
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