cajun salmon & parsley garlic mashed potatoes ::

If you had stepped into our kitchen at around 4 p.m. a few Wednesday afternoons ago, you would have seen our side door, the one that exits to the driveway and our upstairs neighbor’s black iron stairs, flung wide open. You would have seen smoke wafting from the stove through that door, intermingling with the 50-some-degree weather and bright blue skies of Nashville February. And you would have smelled the sea, not the dreamy, refreshing scent of ocean tides, but the pungent, unfortunate odor of smelly, gamey raw fish. Tim and I were testing a recipe.

cajun salmon ::

The idea of fish for dinner is nothing new in my family. My parents eat it once a week, at least. When we take my dad to restaurants, he looks for fish on the menu and asks the waiter, looking the guy in the eye and flashing a smile, if the chef might be able to blacken the salmon? And if you really could do that, boy, that would be great. While it’s true I didn’t grow up sharing my parents’ love of fish—nor their ability to treat perfect strangers as confidantes—thanks to their influence, blackened fish entered my palate early in adolescent life. Turns out, I learned as a teenager, cover something with enough powerful spice and cook it until it forms a crust, and even the fishiest fish tastes halfway okay. Now, as an adult, I freely admit I delight in a blackened, crusted tilapia and the way it sits light in my gut (not to mention, now also, the way that my dad values every waitress, businessperson or child he meets). And as far as how I feel now about fish, I think I like it best of all the meats—and yet, strangely, it is the kind I buy and cook least.

cajun salmon ::

Standing over our smoky, steaming skillet, Tim and I wondered where we’d gone wrong. We’d followed a recipe I’d found on Pinterest, brushing Dover sole filets in lemon juice and coating them in a paprika-heavy spice mixture before sautéing them in oil. The resulting filets were fine, edible even. They were spicy, for sure, practically Cajun and the kind of food to leave you reaching for a water glass. But they weren’t fun to eat. I disliked them as much as I disliked the way our kitchen smelled for hours afterwards.

So that night, discouraged, I emailed my mom.

“Could you send me your recipe for blackened fish?” I typed and clicked send. That was all I said. Our correspondence, which, since I’ve lived in Nashville, relies more on emails than phone calls, typically plays out this way.

“Use whatever spices you like,” she responded. “Cayenne, Old Bay… there’s no real formula.”

“But what about technique?” I shot back. “Any tips?”

Her eventual response wasn’t lengthy—four sentences of instruction at most—but it gave me hope:

Put EVOO and butter in a pan and let it get hot, but not smoking. Place fish in pan and sprinkle on your seasonings. Let the fish get good and cooked, and flip it to the other side. It only taks a short time. Enjoy!

Directions like that imply that even a child could cook salmon well, so two weeks later, Mom’s email open on my laptop, her instructions are exactly what Tim and I followed, and here is the result:

cajun salmon and parsley garlic mashed potatoes ::
cajun salmon ::

While our dinner wasn’t exactly like my mom’s blackened salmon—less crispy on the outsides—it was light years better than our first attempt, and within 10 minutes, perfectly cooked, ready to be plated atop our garlic parsley mashed potatoes.

Life lesson, Shanna Mallon, age 30: When you can’t figure something out, check with your parents. They were right about being friendly; they are right about fish.

Cajun Salmon for Two (or Three)
Serves two hungry or three more-like-us people

We cooked our entire almost-one-pound $8 salmon filet from Trader Joe’s in one night, thinking we would need the whole thing, but, alongside the mashed potatoes, we and our small stomachs split half and were full. I would guess, however, that most typical couples would be able to finish the entire thing together.

1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 wild salmon filet (ours was just under a pound), cut in half
1/8 cup Cajun seasoning blend (*recipe below)

Warm butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat on the stove (we used a cast iron skillet). Heat until the pan is hot, but not smoking.

Place first half of salmon filet bottom-side down in the pan (of course, if your pan is large enough to accommodate the entire filet at once, you may skip cutting it in half and cook it in one batch). Cover the top side with half of the Cajun seasoning blend (assuming you’re working in two batches). Cook for about two to three minutes, until you can see the outer pink of the salmon turn white at the bottom and slowly creep up, almost halfway, through the filet. Flip salmon to other side; cook another two minutes or so more. When ready, salmon will be cooked through but still beautifully pink inside. Repeat process with other half.

Cajun Seasoning Blend
Makes about 1/8 cup of spices

You don’t need to make this seasoning blend to make the fish; any combination of spices you like would work. This is just an idea to get you started; feel free to improvise and tweak.

1 tablespoon garlic n’ herb blend (or some combination of garlic and onion powders)
3/4 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 tablespoon ground thyme
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend (or some combination of basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Blend spices together and set aside to use with fish.

Garlic Parsley Mashed Potatoes
Serves two

9 to 10 small organic gold potatoes, the kind with thin skins
2 tablespoons butter
A few splashes of milk (maybe ¼ cup)
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced finely or grated
7 or 8 sprigs of parsley, chopped finely
Salt, to taste

Place potatoes in a large pot on the stove and cover them with water and a dash of salt. Bring mixture to a boil and keep on strong simmer until potatoes are fork tender. Once potatoes are very soft, drain the water. Mash potatoes with a large fork or potato masher and add butter and enough milk to make mixture smooth. Add chopped parsley and garlic, and combine, salting to taste. Optional: puree mixture in the pot with an immersion blender to make it even smoother.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Jacqui

    Salmon is all my all-time favorite fish — it’s what I always order at restaurants because I never eat it at home (Murdo hates fish). And I love “Mom” recipes. I have quite a few emails like that from my mom, too. Oh and hey, it’s Friday! Have a good weekend!

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Honestly, I think it’s my all-time favorite, too. And loaded with Omega-3s! : ) And moms are the funniest.

  2. Erin

    This looks so lovely. I love salmon so very much.
    And good life lesson. I am constantly calling my mom for things like that. 😉

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Haha, I’m glad it’s not just me! : )

  3. Little Kitchie

    Moms are the best. My mom is an awesome home cook, and I call or text her with questions or for advice about whatever I’m making very often!

    We eat salmon probably once a week, and I agree that getting that crust is not easy! I usually just roast it, but when I’ve tried searing it I use a method from Ina Garten where you sear it quickly and then finish it in the oven. (Here’s the recipe with the method: Yours looks fabulous! Not to mention those mashed potatoes… those are SPEAKING to me at the end of a long week!!

    1. Shanna Mallon

      I love that you eat salmon once a week, and I love that you linked to an Ina Garten recipe! I’ll admit I’m a little gunshy about using high heat.. ever since our smoky kitchen episode.. but Ina’s method is lodged in the back of my mind now. : )

  4. Felicia @ Dish by Dish

    Hey Shanna! It’s been a long time since I commented, but needless to say, I still read your posts a couple of times a week.

    This post had me hooked with the very first paragraph – I could see the smoke rising into the deep blue Nashville sky and literally smelt the fishiness one can only associate with being by the sea, a pungent, sticky but oh-so-beautiful sensation.

    Your mum is absolutely adorable. I have that kind of convos with my mum too, but most of it is usually via whatsapp now that smartphones have overtaken the world!

    Hope you and Tim have the most wonderful weekend ever. and please keep on writing; not many people have this gift – and yours is definitely constantly inspiring readers like me and thousands others (who read but may not always comment).

    love loads from Buenos Aires,

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Thank you, as always, Felicia, for your kind words!

  5. Harriet

    Not a day goes by that I don’t check in with my mum about something food related… The other day it was spanakopita, today a banana cake.. Possibly a reflection on my cooking abilities but really I just love having this connection with her.. Salmon looks delicious & I like the sound of the mashed potatoes too :)

    1. Shanna Mallon

      The thing is, moms just know! Spanakopita and banana cake… mmmm. You’ve got my mouth watering.

  6. Alice @ Hip Foodie Mom

    Love this! and yes! A mother’s recipe is always the best! :) and I love that you and Tim cook together! I love salmon and mashed potatoes so am definitely going to give this one a try! Love the new blog look too!

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Thanks so much, Alice! We’re having a lot of fun with the changing headers each month… feeds my addiction to changing things around. : )

  7. Kathryn

    I spent so much time trying to recreate the meals my mother cooked (and still cooks) but somehow, they never quite taste the same. A mother’s love is that extra-special ingredient I think.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      It’s so true. Also, I always get follow-up missing information on the recipes the second and third times, haha…

  8. sarah kate branine

    This post had me smiling from start to finish. And I don’t even like fish : )

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Ha! I didn’t used to either…. : )



    1. Shanna Mallon

      Good catch, Jack. Thanks! We’ve updated the post.

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