Food and Drink

‘Horror writer indeed’: Is Stephen King’s microwaved salmon as repulsive as it sounds?

On Tuesday evening, horror author Stephen King shared his dinner plans with his 6.6 million Twitter followers.

“Dinner: Get a nice salmon filet at the supermarket, not too big. Put some olive oil and lemon juice on it. Wrap it in damp paper towels. Nuke it in the microwave for 3 minutes or so. Eat it. Maybe add a salad.”

His use of a microwave to cook raw salmon drew quick and forceful condemnation in the Twitterverse, with many users insinuating that the recipe was such a nightmare, it could only be conceived by the master of horror himself.

“Horror writer indeed,” responded NPR Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal.

Some Alaskans were floored with disgust. Dozens more people shared their own recipes, involving everything from broiling methods to parchment paper wraps and sautées.

But are there any redeeming culinary benefits to a microwaved salmon dish? Is it a viable method for Alaskans to cook those last few fillets before starting the annual process of restocking on the state’s favorite fish?

Drew Johnson, chef/owner of Kincaid Grill in Anchorage, said the microwave and paper towel method of cooking salmon that King described isn’t completely ridiculous. He compared it to en papillote, a French method meaning to cook “in paper.” Most applications call for a bit of moisture to essentially steam the fish, which Johnson said moist paper towels would reasonably imitate. He said as long as the fillet was fairly uniform, for instance from a red salmon, and the cooking time and temperature were dialed in, microwaving could produce a reasonable final product.

“My thought is the microwave is a tool to cook with, just like any other tool,” Johnson said. “Done properly, there’s certain ways you can use a microwave. Cooking is science, you know, it’s chemistry. The technique he describes in my mind is very similar to papillote. He’s adding olive oil, so that’s fat and lemon, that’s an aromatic. It’s almost the same idea.”

But not everyone in the Alaska culinary world agreed.

“Oh my goodness,” gasped Amy O’Neill Houck when she heard the contents of the tweet.

Houck, the co-editor and co-publisher of Edible Alaska, said salmon is such a cook-friendly food that there’s no need to nuke it.

“Salmon is really easy and fast to cook,” she said. “You don’t need the microwave. My go-to is always to bake it, because it’s easier to not overcook it.”

She recommended a honey-soy glaze with a burst of acid and a hot oven at 400 degrees.

“Putting the damp towel will wipe off any flavoring,” Houck said. “It loses some opportunity to get some high heat to get some caramelization to boost flavor.”

Responding to King on Twitter, actress Patricia Arquette warned against the use of paper towels that may contain chemicals.

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, the state’s official seafood marketing arm, said the process might not be ideal but was potentially manageable.

“According to ASMI’s seafood technical director, John Burrows, Mr. King’s proposed cooking method (as written and assuming standard microwaving practices) may not be the ideal cooking method for salmon as it exposes the fish to high heat in a small chamber, which can break down fatty acids and dry out the fish,” ASMI spokesperson Ashley Heimbigner wrote in an email. “However, there are ways to essentially steam salmon in the microwave with an enjoyable result by using a fillet with higher oil content and dampening or submerging and covering the fish to retain moisture.”

Johnson, at Kincaid Grill, said it’s all about the desired outcome when it comes to someone’s preferred cooking method.

“There are applications for everything,” he said. “If you want a char or a sear (you wouldn’t do that). If you don’t want that and want a lighter touch, you would poach it or steam it or cook it in a microwave like Stephen King did.”

[10 salmon recipes you can make right now, plus fillet and grill basics]

[Still have frozen catch from last season? Cousin Tanya’s saltine salmon has dinner covered.]

There are dozens of microwaved salmon recipes on the internet, and even some popular chefs are advocating more microwave use.

Celebrity chef David Chang is a longtime microwave advocate and last year partnered with Anyday on a line of microwave-specific cookware. On the Anyday YouTube page, Chang showcased the dish he “makes the most,” a one-pot king salmon and rice meal. But Chang’s dish calls for chunks of salmon and not fillets.

King, a notable Maine resident, was in all likelihood dining on some Atlantic salmon, or perhaps a farm-raised variety.

“You have to wonder if he’d be treating wild Alaskan salmon like this or is it farm stuff that doesn’t deserve better,” Houck said.

Heimbigner also put an the emphasis on the ingredients over the cooking method.

“While many of us may prefer the tried and true methods — grilling, searing, poaching, frying, etc. — we applaud Mr. King for finding a method for preparing salmon that he enjoys, and hope that he looks for Alaska origin when purchasing his seafood,” she said.

Despite the blowback from his initial tweet, King jumped back into the fray, warning followers they couldn’t judge the dish as a true culinary crime unless they’d tried it.

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.