Deep frying would make even a fishing pole enjoyable to eat, because deep frying is a gift from the gods. You may not always have time to achieve perfectly deep fried food, but when you do, it’s a special occasion. And this popcorn salmon is the perfect snack food for a special night at home with a great movie. With two dipping sauces vying for the award for best supporting actor these little popcorn bites will be gone before the opening scene.
Preparing this dish requires a few simple steps—skinning, boning, popping, dredging, and frying. All you need is a Dutch oven, some quality oil with a high smoke point (peanut or safflower will work well), and a thermometer that can read up to 450˚F. With a few tricks to layer flavor and the use of your trusty fish spatula, you’ll be in contention for a culinary Oscar. Then you can deep fry that too!
Prep time: 45 min
Cook time: 10 min
Total time: 55 min
- Dutch oven or a deep heavy pot
- Fish spatula, spider strainer, or slotted spoon
- Blender (substitute a sealable plastic bag and a rolling pin)
- Small wire cooling rack
- Three medium mixing bowls
- Two plates and two paper towels
- 1-1½ pounds salmon (coho or keta are best, but sockeye will work)
- 2 tablespoons cake flour (if necessary, substitute with all purpose flour)
- 7 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¾ cup unsweetened coconut flakes, divided
- 5 cups popped popcorn (popcorn recipe below)
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon finely ground salt
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup plain yogurt (the more tang the better)
- ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 2½ tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 1 pinch of coarse salt
- ⅓ cup of mayonnaise (Hellman’s/Best Foods is best)
- 3 teaspoons pickle juice
- 1½ teaspoons Cholula chili lime hot sauce (substitute sriracha w/lime juice)
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
- 1 teaspoon green Tabasco sauce
- 4 teaspoons ketchup
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 2 pinches of coarse salt
- 1 cup white popcorn
Add everything together at the same time in a small bowl and mix together well. Store in the fridge until popcorn salmon is ready.
If using a Whirley Pop add coconut oil, salt, and popcorn to the unheated pan. Place it on the stove and turn the burner to medium-low heat. Stir every few seconds, until you hear the first few pops. Then turn the heat to medium-high and continue to stir the kernels as they begin to pop more frequently, adjusting the heat until the popcorn is done popping. If not using a Whirley Pop, make the popcorn however you prefer to make popcorn. (Just don’t use flavored/buttered microwave popcorn!)
Proceed in this order to save time and achieve perfect mise en place:
- Skin, bone, and cut salmon, then set in fridge
- Make dipping sauce(s)
- Pop popcorn
- Prepare your three dredging bowls
- Salt fish
- Heat oil to 400-415˚F
- Coat and dredge salmon
Thaw fish, then skin and pull out pin bones. (Watch episode #12 of Wild at Home for some tips on how to do this.) Cut into 1½-2-inch pieces and set in the fridge to keep chilled.
Once you have popped your popcorn using your preferred method, let it cool for a few minutes, and then add 5 cups of it to your blender with ½ cup of the coconut flakes and then pulse the blender until you have a fluffy and light crumb. Don't over blend to a state of “popcorn dust.” If you don't have a blender, use a rolling pin to crush the popcorn in a sealable plastic bag. Add ¾ of the popcorn breading to a medium bowl and then add the rest of the coconut flakes and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
Next prepare your cornstarch and flour mixture *see note. The amounts of cornstarch and flour given, yield the perfect crunch, but you can use what you have in your pantry. I prefer the 3-to-1 ratio of cornstarch to cake flour because it gives me the perfect crisp with no added flavor. Add this cornstarch-flour mixture to a mixing bowl and combine with salt, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper. Mix really well so that you get an even spice and salt coating when you dredge the salmon. Set aside.
Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl for 30 seconds. Set aside.
Now add your oil to the cold Dutch oven. Peanut or safflower have the highest smoke points and also a neutral flavor. You only need enough so the salmon pieces will be covered and can easily float. Attach your thermometer to the side of the Dutch oven and begin to heat on medium-high.
While the oil heats, take out your fish from the fridge and season with coarse salt. Set out your three dredging bowls in this order: 1) spiced cornstarch-flour 2) eggs 3) popcorn-coconut breading. Place the two plates lined with paper towels next to the three bowls. Next to the oil place your small cooling rack with a paper towel underneath to catch crumbs. This is your mise en place for deep frying.
Once your oil has reached 350˚F, it’s time to start dredging and staging small batches. Dredging your salmon ahead of time is key, because it literally only takes 50-60 seconds to cook the salmon once it enters the oil. Place 8-10 pieces of the salmon into the spiced cornstarch-flour mixture and coat evenly. Then take them out and place them on a plate with a paper towel. Repeat this step until all pieces are coated in the cornstarch-flour mixture and on the plate. Don't pile them on top of each other though. Keep them separated if you can.
Now with one dedicated dry hand take 2-3 pieces at a time and place them in the egg and coat them thoroughly. Then with your OTHER hand place them in the popcorn breading and roll them around until completely covered. Put these completed pieces on the second plate. Repeat this until you have 8-10 pieces of salmon ready to go. Once oil hits 400˚F, carefully place 2-3 breaded pieces into the oil. Be very careful here! I like to load up my fish spatula with three pieces at a time and lower them into the oil to reduce risk of oil splashing back. Once the fish hits the oil you have 50-60 seconds. I just count in my head instead of setting a timer. While those are frying, prepare your next batch, coating and dredging as before. After 50-60 seconds use a fish spatula, slotted spoon, or spider strainer to remove the salmon from the oil.They should be golden brown and crispy. Let cool on a wire rack. Repeat this whole process until all the salmon pieces are deep fried. Once finished, remove the oil from the heat and let it cool. You can reuse the oil 2-3 times. See tips for oil cleaning and storage.
Now plate those tasty popcorn bites onto a platter around your dipping sauces and head for the couch to watch your favorite movie.