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earth, wind, fire, and rain

Recipe: blackened salmon sandwich

My head bobbled about fighting sleep as the car raced through the desert night. I jolted awake with each giant bug that appeared as a flash in the headlights before smearing across the windshield with a loud thwack. It had been a long day of driving (western states are big), then waiting, then shooting the eclipse, then driving some more. Jeremy was equally tired, but he knew the road to Socorro like the back of his hand. I remembered what Jeremy had asked me when we first started dating back in the day, “Are you a mountain goat or a desert rat?” I was a mountain goat. I didn’t actually know because I had spent little, if any, time in either. But I liked goats more than I liked rats. Turns out, I *am* a mountain goat – a happy happy mountain goat. Desert rat, I am not. I’m reminded of that every time I go to the desert.

cactus in bloom

In the morning, Jeremy left for his meeting and asked me to please be careful. I’m always careful. I’m a firm believer in self-preservation. I wear my big girl pants all the time. All of my visits to New Mexico have been spent hanging out with Jeremy’s family, my aunt’s family, and noodling about the northern part of the state. We have visited Carlsbad Caverns (caves and bats – AWESOME!!) and the Bosque del Apache (birds like you wouldn’t believe), but that was pretty much it for the southern half. The desert is not a destination of choice for me, but since I was practically there, I thought it was high time I went to see White Sands National Monument.

sprawling thunderheads on the drive south

White Sands is nestled in the Tularosa Basin of southern New Mexico, at the northern tip of the sprawling Chihuahuan Desert. It is the largest white sand dunefield in the world – white because the sand is derived from gypsum. This is the first park I’ve ever visited where I had to check for missile testing schedules (which close certain roads). It was stifling hot (mid 90s), humid, and windy when I arrived. Afternoon thunderheads boomed above me and sunshowers rained down periodically. I thought it best to retreat from the dunes. Sitting in the shade of a small picnic shelter, I watched half of my lunch (salad) blow away before it could reach my mouth. The clouds had made way for the blazing sun and sand pelted me from the southwest. I walked the dunes, scoping out the best places to shoot, hoping the winds would go away by sundown.

dark skies

the winds let up a little

heavy haze in the basin

A half hour before sunset, the character of the place changed. A no longer oppressive sun bathed the white dunes in soft gold light and blue shadows. It was still windy (that makes photography hard due to the blowing sand – if you care at all about your gear), but less ferocious. In the distance, I could see a handful of other visitors dotting the crests of high dunes, all witnessing the same magic.

the haze in the basin began to glow

crepuscular rays

I debated whether or not to shoot in the morning at all since the park doesn’t allow entry until an hour after sunrise. But this wasn’t vacation, this was work. I watched the sun rise in my rear view mirror on my drive over, spectacularly red and glowing as it rose above the Sacramento Mountains. Even an hour or more after sunrise, the sand felt nice and cool. The winds had not yet picked up and erased the tracks of the resident wildlife. It didn’t last long, but it was appreciated.

scamper scamper

you could pretend that it is snow

a sea of white

Time spent in the desert always brings a new level of respect for this harsh environment, for the massive views, for the weather, the light, and how they play. I’m still a mountain goat. Imagine the delight when I woke up at home this morning to see our valley dusted in snow – a good half inch on my deck.

As promised, there is a recipe – a good and easy recipe for summer! When I received that comped shipment of wild Alaskan seafood from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, there were some lovely frozen sockeye salmon filets in the box. My typical lazy way to grill salmon is with olive oil, lemon slices, fresh dill, and salt and pepper. I wanted another recipe that was equally delicious and equally lazy.

salmon, butter, paprika, thyme, creole seasoning

arugula, aioli, sandwich bread

Blackened anything is a winner in my book: spicy, juicy, grilled… By spicy, I don’t mean hot and spicy, I mean full of spice. Can you tell I’m moving in the direction of grilling everything lately? Summer is coming. I started with the intent of just having the grilled blackened salmon, then I thought I’d put it on a bed of arugula. Then my brain took the salmon on the bed of arugula and set it between bread, with aioli. I didn’t know how to blacken food, so I consulted the interwebs and discovered it was stupid easy. And it used butter.

mix the paprika, thyme, creole seasoning, and a dash of pepper

pat the filets dry

coat in melted butter

dredge in precious seasonings

See all that? Took me a minute at best, it smells fantastic, AND it turned my fingertips orange. Make sure you coat the entire piece of fish. We want to maximize the spice delivery and cover any exposed bit of salmon. And it doesn’t have to be salmon, it can be almost anything as long as you grill it accordingly for doneness.

nice and spiced

grilling (flip halfway through grilling time)

When you assemble the sandwich, do it quickly. I find the whole thing is best when the salmon is hot and juicy. If you don’t have aioli or don’t want to make it yourself, use whatever suits your fancy (mayonnaise, tartar sauce, remoulade sauce). It’s a sandwich, there are no rules other than to put what you like on it and then eat it.

top with aioli

and arugula

finish with the bread

Quick, simple, easy. We love it for the taste and the fact that it allows us more time for summer fun.

sweet sweet sandwiches…

Blackened Salmon Sandwich
[print recipe]
based on this Grilled Blackened Salmon

3 tbsps cajun or creole seasoning
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp paprika
dash of ground pepper
4 tbsps melted butter
4 pieces of salmon (about 3-4 ounces each)
sandwich buns (something soft)

Prepare your grill on high heat. Combine the cajun or creole seasoning with the thyme, paprika, and ground pepper in a shallow bowl. Place the butter in another shallow bowl. Pat the salmon dry with a paper towel and dip each piece in the melted butter to coat completely. Then dredge each piece through the spices, making sure to press the spices to any bare spots. Grill the salmon for 6-8 minutes over high flame, flipping once half-way through the cooking time (nominally around 3 minutes). Remove from heat. Set one piece of salmon on the bottom of a sandwich bun. Top with aioli, arugula, and the top of the sandwich bun. Serves 4.

29 nibbles at “earth, wind, fire, and rain”

  1. Kat says:

    Love this post! That salmon looks incredible. xo

  2. Monsterscircus says:

    What a sandwich, that’s Real eye candy, and perfect for summer lunch!

  3. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) says:

    I’ve never visited White Sands, but I can’t imagine it looking any better in real life than it does in your magnificent photos. Thanks for sharing the park through your lens.

  4. Magda says:

    What an amazing sandwich. I love salmon cooked in every way possible so I’m looking forward to giving this a try.
    Your photos of the White Sands are beautiful. It really does look like snow!

  5. Manisha says:

    Too bad you couldn’t get any sunrise shots! Your sunset shots more than make up for it though!

    I think I could eat that salmon by itself. I’m going to have to make it!

  6. Kaylia says:

    Your sand dunes pictures look just like snow! You visit the coolest places.

  7. Lisa Mai says:

    Wow that makes me not want to be vegetarian right now. Your pictures are always so amazing =) great post!

  8. Apple says:

    Wow your salmon looks amazing! So fresh and brightly coloured.

  9. Vanessa says:

    This salmon looks amazing! Thanks for the link/recipe for cajun seasoning too. I am pretty pumped that it also led to your old bay seasoning copy recipe because I can’t find that stuff ever!

  10. Rayna says:

    I love the animal track photo. The sandwich looks delicious!

  11. Kristin says:

    Glorious shots! And I’m always up for a good grilled salmon recipe!

  12. laura h says:

    Thanks for taking those shots!

  13. Melanie says:

    LOVE your photos as always. Thanks for the vicarious trip to the Sand Dunes. What a great and easy salmon recipe…..awesome!

  14. Jill says:

    Oh my goodness….beautiful sands! Don’t you get skerred out there alone? Even with your big girl pants on? And it’s nice to know the real word for those rays….crepuscular….I always thought it was heaven.

  15. Brighteyedbaker says:

    Holy moly that’s a thick slab of salmon in that sandwich. Looks amazing! I’m a die hard salmon fan and have long loved it blackened. Put it in a sandwich with good bread and yummy aioli? Soooo good. Almost
    forgot: beautiful photos! That white sand looks like snow.

  16. Tara says:

    Excellent! Thanks for a tantalizing, EASY recipe idea for this pescatarian!

  17. megan says:

    YUM! looks delicious. i love your photography! (both of the food and nature)
    I also clicked on the aioli link, and now I really want to make those fried lemon slices…
    the salmon looks soooo nice!

    how do you have time to shoot all these nice photos, make the food, AND write posts?

  18. Olive says:

    Can I have your life, please? :)

  19. Eileen Thai says:

    Your pictures are incredible, as usual. I made blackened salmon last night. Since I discovered Zatarain’s Blackened seasoning (I found it in New Orleans, bu saw it in Walmart recently), I stopped mixing the spices myself. I even skip the butter, and simply use olive oil. The trick is to sear it on a HOT pan. It is so easy and so delicious. I serve my salmon on rice with a side of veggies.

  20. Debbie says:

    I love salmon and this looks so delicious….but your pictures are breathtaking. I love your site!!!!!

  21. Melanie says:

    Love the photos and recipes! Had me fooled though on the desert …thought it was snow. My husband thought it was the Lake District in winter here in the UK!

  22. Justin says:

    That sandwich really looks kick ass, and nothing beat crepuscular rays.

  23. Monica says:

    Your blog fills me with such joy. Nature, whole foods. Peace! Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful photos and epicurean journey.

  24. Molly says:

    An advantage of being from Salt Lake is that one can be both a mountain goat and a desert rat and the same time!

  25. Kevin (Closet Cooking) says:

    Those are some really nice looking salmon sandwiches!

  26. Reni says:

    Those salmon fillets are really gorgeous. And you got me fooled to think that it was snow in your photo on twitter. Hehe…

  27. caralyn @ glutenfreehappytummy says:

    wow what gorgeous photography! i love the one where you can see the rain cell! and that sandwich — my oh my does it look incredible! i love salmon! thanks for sharing!

  28. jenyu says:

    Kat – thanks, hon!!

    Monsterscircus – :)

    Lydia – it’s a lovely place, although quite hot. Thanks!! xo

    Magda – thank you. I love salmon too – this recipe keeps it juicy and nice!

    Manisha – I think I have a work around for it next time I’m there :)

    Kaylia – thank you!

    Lisa Mai – ha ha ;)

    Apple – thanks!

    Vanessa – I know, that’s something I try to get when I’m back home in Virginia!

    Rayna – thank you.

    Kristin – :)

    laura h – absolutely!

    Melanie – you’re very welcome.

    Jill – nope, I feel much safer alone than around lots of people :)

    Brighteyedbaker – thanks!

    Tara – yay!

    megan – you’re very sweet – thanks! Maybe that’s my excuse for not have a clean house?? ;)

    Olive – well, I don’t generally blog about the bad stuff.

    Eileen – thanks.

    Debbie – awww, you guys are the best readers.

    Melanie – Our snow usually looks a leeeetle different :)

    Justin – :)

    Monica – that’s so kind of you, thank you!

    Molly – it’s not what you CAN do, it’s what you love most that defines the mountain goat or desert rat ;)

    Kevin – thanks!

    Reni – hee hee!

    caralyn – you’re welcome.

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