My stepmother, Kaye Wolverton, passed away recently. Her memorial service was on Sept. 19, the same day as Queen Elizabeth II’s, but with a bit less pomp. Like the royal funeral, there was a dog present, although my father’s rat terrier is markedly less well-behaved than the former queen’s corgis. As is often the case with funerals, the occasion was both somber and joyous as we shared stories about Kaye’s kindness, sense of humor and love of a raucous good time.
She spent the last weeks of her life in a tranquil Battle Ground adult care home in a room that was high-ceilinged and bright, surrounded by fragrant cedar trees and flanked by golden fields. I am so grateful for the remarkably attentive and compassionate care that was lavished on Kaye. I am equally grateful for the attentive and compassionate care that was extended toward my father, who was by her bedside every day. The facility’s owners made sure he was as comfortable as possible and often shared portions of their own family meals with him. One day they even sent him home with several pounds of freshly caught salmon.
Dad gave me three hefty filets of this salmon, which waited patiently in our freezer until I decided to make a dish in honor of Kaye. She heartily enjoyed good food, good drink and lively conversation. She was known for her generous hospitality and no one ever left her house without an encouraging word and something to eat or drink, usually Kaye’s hair-raisingly strong coffee. I wanted to make something that was like Kaye: a little salty, a little sweet and more than a little piquant. I found a recipe for salmon glazed with honey and garlic and gave it a little flair of my own. The results are delicious enough to share, which is exactly the way Kaye would have wanted it.
Use fresh, deboned salmon filets or thaw your filets from frozen. It’s not necessary to take the skin off. I tried deboning and skinning my filets and fairly mangled them in the process. I removed the pinbones with tweezers and pulled out several chunks of meat, which stayed stubbornly attached to the bones. I just shoved the meat chunks back into the filet and hoped it would hold together as it cooked. Separating the skin from the flesh required a sharp knife, but unfortunately our knives haven’t been sharpened in a while, so I ended up doing a real hatchet job. Let’s just say the salmon was extra-dead when I was done with it.
Because this recipe braises as well as broils the filets, it’s better to use thick filets. (Although I’ll admit to liking the chewy, thin part of a slightly overdone filet. I also enjoy crunching on a bit of chicken gristle, which is decidedly icky to most folks, so there’s no accounting for taste.)
Combine ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon lemon pepper, ½ teaspoon mushroom umami seasoning (available in the spice section of most grocery stores) and ½ teaspoon garlic powder. Some cooks shy away from garlic powder because it can taste bitter if too much is added, but when used in small amounts and with other salty or sweet elements, especially as part of a spice rub, the powder adds an earthy note that I find pleasing. Rub the spices onto both sides of each salmon filet and set aside. Turn the oven on to a high broil.
Peel and mince roughly eight cloves of garlic. If your cloves are huge, you can adjust down; if they’re tiny, adjust up. If you have a garlic press, now is a great time to use it because otherwise you’ll be doing a lot of mincing and your fingers might cramp up and prevent you from completing the recipe. In a large, ovenproof skillet, combine 4 tablespoons butter (half a stick), the minced garlic, ½ cup honey, ¼ cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon brown sugar and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Stir everything around on medium heat until it starts to bubble and froth; then add the four filets, skin side down, along with 1 tablespoon each chopped scallions and chopped fresh basil. Spoon plenty of sauce over each filet and cook for no more than three minutes, continuing to baste the filets the whole time.
Remove the salmon filets from the heat and stir in a squirt or two of lime juice. You want to wait until this stage to add the juice because citrus can become bitter if cooked too long — especially lime juice, which is a little bitter to start with. Spoon up plenty of sauce and make sure each filet is thoroughly slathered. Put the whole skillet in the oven and broil the filets for five minutes or until the salmon is tender and flaky but not dry. Garnish with the remaining scallions and basil.
Serve the filets with a side of sauteed green beans and steamed rice, rice pilaf or couscous. Mashed potatoes or polenta would also be lovely with this salmon, drizzled with extra sauce. The sauce is absolutely stupendous — so yummy you’ll be tempted to lick the plate like I did, good manners be dashed. Gather your friends and family around the table and raise a glass to Kaye. Wherever she is, she’s raising a glass, too.