Salmon's mild but insistent flavor provides a constant spur to the creativity of cooks. Although it stands on its own with minimal seasoning, salmon can be even better when enhanced by carefully selected additions. One of those optional extras is a flavorful glaze. As with beef short ribs, pork roast and other rich meats, salmon is robust enough to stand up to a sweet, sticky glaze such as honey. You have several ways to apply the glaze, depending how you wish to cook your fillets.
One of the difficulties of baking salmon with a honey glaze is that honey becomes very thin and runny when it's heated. If you brush or drizzle honey over the salmon before it's cooked -- as specified in many recipes -- it will simply run off the fillet, often forming a puddle of scorched, bitter honey under the fish. Instead, season the fillet normally and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake the portions at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 to 8 minutes, then slide the pan partway from your oven. Brush or drizzle the portions with honey, then slide the salmon back to the middle of the rack and close the oven door. Finish baking the salmon for another 6 to 7 minutes, until done.
Salmon's rich, fatty flesh stands up beautifully to the intense heat of grilling or broiling, but that heat creates an additional complication for cooks wishing to glaze with honey. The high-sugar glaze will frequently scorch if it's exposed to the heat for too long, lending the salmon a bitter and acrid flavor. One option is simply to grill or broil the salmon, and then brush or drizzle it with the honey glaze after it's cooked. Alternatively, start by grilling or broiling the salmon portions for 3 to 5 minutes before brushing on the glaze. This gives it time enough to caramelize pleasantly, but without burning, before the salmon is done.
Pan-seared salmon presents a similar difficulty, because any honey applied before cooking will simply burn onto the hot surface of the skillet within the first few minutes of cooking. Instead, start the salmon with its skin side up and the attractive side of the filet cooking on the skillet. As you sear the salmon, keep an eye on the line of cooked flesh as it rises on the side of each portion. When it's approximately 60 percent cooked, on that first side, turn the fillets. They'll usually need another 2 to 3 minutes' cooking time. If you glaze them with honey after they're turned, it will melt nicely and flow to the edges, where it will caramelize slightly. Alternatively, again, cook the salmon completely and brush it with glaze before serving.
Honey makes a fine glaze for salmon all on its own, but also works well as a foil for other flavors. For example, the aromatic acidity of citrus fruit enhances and counters both the honey's sweetness and the salmon 's richness, so the zest or juice of oranges or lemons is a good addition. So is fresh ginger, with its pungent heat and citrusy notes. Simmer the honey with fresh or dried chilies, to pair its sweetness with heat, and then strain them out to leave the glaze behind. For a different note, add savory elements such as soy sauce, sesame oil, balsamic vinegar and onions or garlic to the honey. Each deftly provides a bridge between the flavors of the sweet honey and the rich salmon.