Life

We Attempted Stephen King’s Bizarre Recipe For Microwaved Salmon

One of my favorite phenomena of being extremely online is when a celebrity or politician gets dragged for a bad food share. Sometimes it’s a gross picture, other times it’s merely giving voice to an odd habit. This week’s main character was, of all people, the master of pulp horror novels, Stephen King.

King, who does have a charmingly idiosyncratic Twitter persona, shared this extremely weird recipe for salmon unprompted:

And they said he couldn’t do endings!

Obviously, it was mostly, if not solely the microwave part that made it weird. Reading the recipe, I was thinking “sure… sure… yep, classic… uh-huh… wait, what?”

Everyone who sent this to me or who I shared it with had basically the same reaction — a physical recoiling at the mere idea of cooking salmon in a microwave. And I get it. Someone once exploded a fish in our suite microwave in college as a prank and it stunk like hell for weeks (sidenote: good prank).

Then again, I also saw this guy cook a brisket in a microwave a while back and it weirdly didn’t look half bad. Maybe microwaves get a bad rap? Maybe they’re useful for something other than reheating leftovers and lukewarm tea?

After plenty of roasting, Stephen King jumped back on the TL to tell people not to knock his recipe until they’ve tried it, so I set out to do just that.

Stephen King Salmon Ingredients
Vince Mancini

Olive oil, lemon, and some nice-lookin’ salmon, just like he said. One thing I’ll always remember about choosing fish is what a professional fish buyer told me at a fish auction in Hawaii: “Just use your eyes and your intuition. We were built for this.” Which is to say: if it looks fresh and bright, buy it. If it doesn’t, don’t.

Stephen King Salmon Ingredients
Vince Mancini

Call it about a tablespoon of olive oil. I have some more expensive olive oil than this, but why waste it on microwave salmon? Anyway, this stuff is fine.

In between these two pics, I seasoned the fish. Stephen King didn’t strictly say that, and I realize that he’s a 74-year-old writer from Maine, but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt here and assume seasoning the meat was implied. Anyway, I’m a grown-ass man, I don’t need to eat unseasoned meat to know it tastes bad.

I used a basic store-bought rub, Alpine Spice (Pappy’s, Slap Ya Mama, Old Bay, or basic salt and pepper all work here, imo).

Stephen King Salmon Ingredients
Vince Mancini

Basically half a lemon. Is that going to wash some of the seasoning off? Yes. I thought about dampening the paper towels with the lemon juice but I needed to stay true to what Stephen King described.

STephen King Salmon
Vince Mancini
STephen King Salmon
Vince Mancini

I’m not very crafty, but it’s sort of like a ghetto papillote? It’s not the worst idea.

Now, I know my microwave, and three minutes seemed like a LONG time for that size of salmon. “Big but not too big” is pretty vague. Maybe my supermarket’s portions are smaller than what Stephen gets in Maine. Once again I gave him the benefit of the doubt here and started with 90 seconds.

Stephen King Salmon
Vince Mancini
Stephen King Salmon
Vince Mancini
Stephen King Salmon
Vince Mancini

It looks… not terrible, but maybe a little sad. I’m willing to bet you’ve had worse salmon than this at a restaurant before. Now, it’s already at 156 degrees and climbing. That is, in my opinion, way overcooked for salmon. I sampled a little bit.

Stephen King Salmon
Vince Mancini

Again, not terrible. It’s seasoned, so mostly you taste that. The skin is the worst part, basically throw away, but we knew that going in. And a lot of people, including my wife, who was the first person to get me to enjoy salmon (my parents used to cook it all the time, and it stunk up the whole house. I was well into adulthood before I enjoyed cooked salmon), doesn’t eat the skin anyway. I’m going to assume that’s the case with Stephen King as well. The meat part alone is… slightly overcooked but fine.

Was King cooking a bigger filet than I was? Three minutes seems insane. But hey, it’s his recipe. And he’s about the same age as my parents, who always cooked their salmon beyond all recognition. After I took a bite I popped it back in the microwave for another minute (2.5 min total, still short of King’s suggested 3) just for the sake of thoroughness.

Stephen King Salmon
Vince Mancini

202 degrees and climbing. The salmon is now hammered to shit.

Stephen King Salmon
Vince Mancini

Most of the previous description still applies, though it’s a little mushier now. It’s… edible. I ate the whole thing, but it didn’t make me want to throw up, it was just… kind of sad. The weirdest part to me is the beads of fat that have collected on the plate. The fat isn’t supposed to bead like that? My wife walked in the kitchen and says “Ugh, it reeks in here.”

This is, again, the person who got me to enjoy salmon. We make salmon all the time. Non-microwaved salmon that isn’t hammered to shit doesn’t make the kitchen smell like this.

Stephen King’s microwaved salmon isn’t that gross, at least it probably not gross enough to warrant a physical recoil upon just hearing about it. The bigger question is… why? Is it a time saver? What are we getting out of the microwave here?

I had another salmon portion, so I decided to do it my way. All the same steps — rub with olive oil, rub with seasoning, some lemon juice — and then stick it under the broiler instead. I turned on the broiler. I got out my broiling rack. I put the salmon on the rack, skin side up. I even used some of the flabby skin from the microwaved salmon underneath to protect the meat from sticking to the rack (you can also just oil or butter it).

Vince Salmon
Vince Mancini
Broiler Salmon
Vince Mancini

I tried to get it a decent distance from the coils, so that it would crisp the skin by the time the rest of the meat was only just cooked through.

I pulled it after just under seven minutes.

Vince Salmon
Vince Mancini

It’s definitely got a little more char than I intended, especially for photographing purposes. But you can get a little char on skin and fat, it still tastes fine. If I had it to do over again, I’d put it one rack lower, lower the broiler a smidge, or wrap it in parchment paper and cook like four minutes, then unwrap and let the skin char for four or five more.

The meat read about 111 when I pulled it. It got all the way up to 128 before I took a bite.

Vince Salmon
Vince Mancini

In my version, which admittedly has some flaws, the skin is now edible. The meat has retained some color, and it’s flakier and actually has some juice. I wouldn’t say it tastes miles better, but it’s distinctly improved and doesn’t look like it was cooked by a sad divorced man. And what did it cost me? Three more minutes? Having to clean a broiler pan (which took maaaybe 45 seconds longer than throwing away some paper towels)?

And yes, you could improve it more than this pretty easily. Maybe you want a sauce (I’ve been reading Bill Buford’s book about training in France, so from time to time an imaginary Frenchman shows up in my brain to berate me any time I serve anything without a sauce — No sows? Putain de merde!). Not strictly necessary, imo, but simple enough.

Here’s Zach’s cheffed-up version (trusting the Native American who grew up in the Pacific Northwest to know salmon better than me seems like safe bet):

Salmon A La Zach
Zach Johnston

He cooks it skin-side down, like my wife does, with some lemon and onion slices. So much prettier! And that took… what, five minutes? The point is, a simple salmon cooked with olive oil and lemon is already really easy. There’s no need to get the microwave involved, unless you desperately need to save five minutes to write a few hundred more pages. And leaving the microwave off won’t stink up your house/mansion/dank horror hovel.

Read our Top Chef Power Rankings here. Vince Mancini is on Twitter.

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