Harissa for the win

OK so yet again, it’s been a minute since I showed my face around these parts. I take only partial responsibility.

I’ve had the ingredients for harissa salmon stocked for FOUR WEEKS STRAIGHT, and Picky Boyfriend managed to weasel his way out of this dinner for FOUR WEEKS STRAIGHT.

If there’s one thing I learned this fall, it’s that I need to front-load the iffy dinners at the beginning of the week before Picky Boyfriend has time to fantasize about pizzas, burritos, and wings—oh my!

So this week, I (finally) made harissa salmon on a MONDAY to avoid all weaseling potential.

I went with Food52’s Tangy Baked Salmon with Calabrian Chile, with a few modifications. For one, I used harissa instead of Calabrian chile paste. This was partly because I’ve already tried (and enjoyed many times since!) Calabrian chiles but mostly because I had been looking for a way to try harissa.

I also realized at the last minute that I ran out of garlic, so I had to sub that with some garlic powder. Plus I used apple cider vinegar instead of white wine vinegar because how many vinegars does one girl need? So my dinner was more inspired by Food52’s recipe than anything else.

If you’re unfamiliar, harissa is a Tunisian chili paste. The one that I bought listed red chili peppers, roasted red peppers, garlic, and cider vinegar as its major ingredients. So no major red flags yet!

The verdict

Overall, I still prefer my salmon topped with basil pesto, but it was going to be very hard for something new to waltz in and overshadow pesto in my eyes—no hard feelings, harissa. Despite its slight inferiority to a completely different condiment, I still enjoyed this a lot!

Besides expecting it to be spicy, I didn’t really know what the other flavors in harissa would be like and how it would compare to other chili pastes I like (see Calabrian chiles, gochujang, and chipotles en adobo).

The flavor was ultimately both spicy and acidic—pretty much everything the recipe promised it to be, and a mix that worked great for me.

One thing I’ve learned in the past year-plus of more adventurous cooking is that I’m actually not as opposed to bold flavors as I used to think (yep, I always just assumed I didn’t like anything with too strong of a flavor—I blame blueberries). It turns out that I just appreciate balancing those bold flavors so that no one flavor is too overpowering (unless that flavor is “sweet”, in which case I will unapologetically layer chocolate on butterscotch on Splenda).

My point is that I found the harissa to be a perfect balance between spicy and acidic and will definitely make this salmon dish again! But next time, I’ll make more of that harissa topping to really up the flavor.

I also served this meal with smashed potatoes, which I only topped with salt, pepper, and parmesan just in case I hated the salmon and needed a familiar favorite to turn to. But I bet a harissa ketchup would’ve gone great on these potatoes!

I have a pretty hefty jar of harissa in my fridge, so I’m definitely on the hunt for more ways to use it! I also recently came across some recipes for homemade harissa, which I bet is even better. I may need to report back on that!

If you’ve got a favorite way to use harissa, please let me know in the comments below or on Instagram @thepickyeaterchronicles!

Side note: can we just talk about the fact that I casually eat salmon now? How far I’ve come since my first Picky Eater post!

Published by Bethy St. John

Lifelong picky eater with a love for all things cooking. I'm a complicated woman.

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