Recipe: Garlic Butter Salmon, Inspired By Hawaiian Shrimp Trucks

Garlic Butter Salmon

If you’ve been to Hawaii, you may have had the pleasure of indulging at one of the popular garlic butter shrimp trucks. First popping up along the North Shore on Oahu and subsequently spreading to other islands as the concept gained popularity, these food trucks dish out Hawaiian plate lunches showcasing the super fresh shrimp that the area has to offer, but drenched in glorious butter and heaps of fried garlic which pools around the shrimp in the bottom of the take-out container or gets absorbed by the side of plain steamed rice. With the tails still on, these famous garlic butter shrimp are a total joy and hot mess at the same time, for you to eat with your hands while enjoying the island life.

Back in the reality of my home kitchen, though, I sometimes find myself craving that garlicky, buttery treat without wanting to deal with the hassle of tail-on shrimp. (I’ve met some folks who feel comfortable crunching shrimp with the shell on, though—Do you like to eat your shrimp this way?). I also always felt that the downside of Hawaiian shrimp truck shrimp was that even when peeled, cooked shrimp have a rather slick exterior…and maybe the absorbency rate of those glorious garlic butter flavors could be improved upon.

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Garlic Butter Salmon

That’s where this salmon recipe comes in. I’ve taken the flavors of those wonderful heaps of garlic fried in butter and found a way to infuse them into a much more porous and still very tasty seafood delivery method to my mouth. This recipe is both efficient to make AND to eat, making it ideal for a quick weeknight dinner or for any night when you want horrible breath, need to ward off some vampires, or just want to treat yourself to something ono. And while salmon is typically presented as a “healthy” seafood option, be warned—that wasn’t the goal here.

Garlic Butter Salmon

(Makes 2 servings)

Garlic Butter Salmon ingredients
  • 3/4–1 lb salmon fillet, cut into strips
  • 1 medium head garlic, peeled
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 2–3 tbsp potato starch (or flour)
  • 1 tsp harissa spice mix
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne powder
  • salt
  • pepper
  • steamed rice, for serving
  • optional garnishes, such as finely chopped cilantro or parsley, lemon, or pineapple

Pat your salmon dry with a clean paper towel and season generously with salt and pepper on all sides. Set aside.

Use a garlic press to finely crush half of your garlic. Separately, coarsely chop the rest. Yes, it is a lot of garlic but to me, that is the joy of the dish. (If you do not have a garlic press, you could chop the entire head of the garlic and I am sure it will still be a garlicky party for your mouth. On the flip side, if you have a fancy Microplane, you could use that too! I feel it is useful to have the finely crushed garlic that is given time to really infuse itself into the butter, plus the textural diversity of the coarsely chopped garlic that gets crisped from frying.)

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Garlic Butter Salmon Prep

On a small plate, thoroughly combine the potato starch (or you could substitute flour), harissa, paprika, and cayenne. (But taking a cue from katsu recipes, I find that I’ve had the most success with potato starch in terms of priming meat for breading or flavor adhesion.) Press each side of the salmon strips into the dry mixture and dust off the excess. All of the surfaces of the salmon should feel dry and thinly coated in the starch and spices, but the coating should not have any clumps.

Use a skillet large enough to fit all your salmon strips in a single layer. Heat your skillet on low heat, then add the butter and crushed garlic. Stir gently and continuously, allowing the garlic to infuse with the butter as it melts. When the butter is all melted and the contents of the skillet start to get foamy and smell amazing, add the chopped garlic. Keep stirring for an additional 30 seconds.

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Then, add the salmon, skin side up, leaving at least a little bit of space in between strips. Cook the salmon for 2–3 minutes, continuously basting it with the garlic and butter from the skillet. (Cooking time will depend on the thickness of your fillets. About 2.5 minutes worked well for the ones you see in the photos.) Carefully use kitchen tongs to turn the strips of salmon over and cook the skin side for 2–3 minutes, continuing to baste with the garlic and butter. Remove from heat and transfer the salmon pieces to plates of steamed rice. Spoon over the remaining fried garlic (and melted butter, if desired) and, if you’d like, sprinkle some chopped cilantro or parsley for a little freshness and color. Garnish with lemon or pineapple.

Garlic Butter Salmon

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