A New Friday Feature: Random Recipes

Since the friday pathological programming died out, I've been looking for something else to
do for special friday posts. A while back, I posted a bunch of recipes for a mutant meme, and
it seemed a lot of people really liked it. So I've decided to do an off-topic friday thing: friday random recipes.

For today, a special chinese dish: braised salmon in meat sauce. This dish would traditionally
be done using pork for the meat in the sauce, but since I don't eat pork, I use ground chicken thighs. Whatever meet you use, you need to make sure it's not too lean - the sauce does need a bit of fat in it; not a huge amount, but in needs some. Ground chicken breasts are too dry. I like to do this with wild alaskan salmon. If you don't like or can't get salmon, it would work with other strong-flavored firm fish - this would probably be very good using swordfish, or mahi-mahi.


  • About a pound of fish. I like to use wild Salmon filets, skin-on. You can use other fish,
    but it should be something firm and with a strong flavor.
  • 1/4 pound ground meat.
  • 1/2 large onion, finely diced.
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped.
  • 1/2 teaspoon or so finely minced fresh ginger.
  • Green parts of several scallions, finely minced.
  • 1 teaspoon fermented black beans, soaked in warm water, then minced.
  • Soy sauce
  • Sake/Vodka
  • Chicken stock
  • Corn starch
  • Bunch of green vegetable - bok choi, chinese broccoli, or something similar.
  • Sesame oil.


  • Put a tablespoon or so of oil into a hot pan, and brown both sides of the fish. You
    do not want to cook the fish through now - just get in brown and crisp on the outside.
    Remove the fish from the pan, and reduce the heat to medium.
  • Add the onions, garlic, and ginger to the pan, and stir fry quickly until the onion just starts
    to brown.
  • Add the minced beans and the ground meat, and stir-fry until browned.
  • Add about 1/2 cup of sake or vodka, and cook until it's mostly reduced away.
  • Put the fish back into the pan, and then add chicken stock until the fish is just covered.
  • Add soy sauce until the sauce tastes salty enough.
  • Cook for about 5 minutes, covered, on medium heat.
  • Add the green veggies, and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  • Remove the fish, and put it in a serving dish.
  • Add the scallions to the sauce, and then add corn-starch dissolved in water until the sauce thickens.
  • Add about 1/4 teaspoon of sesame oil, and pour the sauce over the fish.

Serve it with rice. I like to use jasmine rice rather than the traditional chinese rice; the fragrance of the jasmine rice is a nice complement to the fish.


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I don't mean to sound like an ungrateful swine (in fact my guess is that the swine are grateful for not being eaten), but maybe Friday's Random Cool Algorithm or something along those lines would be better than a recipe.

It's your blog of course, and there is no way I would stop reading it because of the recipe thing. I just thought it might be more in keeping with the general topic of the blog.

I'm not complaining though.

Of course, a proper 'random recipe' would involve the use of a random number generator to determine the quantities of the ingredients, and the cooking temperature and time.

Interesting. But what exactly does the vodka do? I presume that the finished product does not contain alcohol, and that's about the only flavour vodka has. What of white wine?

Have you considered adding a dash of chili?
Also, might I suggest adding the garlic at a later stage, preserving its flavours.

Don't listen to the complaints. This is awesome, I hope you keep it up. Thanks. I'll have to give this a shot.

Okay, so is the initial oil used to brown the fish sesame oil or some unspecified cooking oil? I'm putting this recipe in my recipe software.

Also, how many servings do you normally get out of it?

Inquiring minds want to know. ;)

If you continue this on a regular basis, I would suggest that you keep a post with a list of all the recipes for our perusal. Perhaps even with a link back to the list with each new recipe.

I vaguely recall from materials science class that ethanol is miscible with hydrocarbons, so adding it to food helps dissolve fatty substances and release their flavor.

Scotty B:

I'm not sure if you know about this or not, but most people on ScienceBlogs are pretty good about categorizing their posts (MarkCC included). Under the title of the post, there is text "Category: Chatter > Recipes." If you click on Recipes, you'll be taken to a page showing all of Mark's pages in that category.

You can also scroll down to the "Categories" sidebar on the left side of the page for a complete listing.

Hope that helps :)

No doubt, Friday's Random Cool Algorithm or something would be way better than a recipe.

If I wan't recipes, I subscribe to another feed.


If you read the posts in a feed reader (like most people do), you don't see the category.

Post math stuff, please. No recipes.

Bah. Mix it up. Recipes are good. Here's some math. Measure the amount unspecified ingredients and then add them with the others to find the total volume used. BINGO. Math.

Nice recipe Mark. I'll be sure to give this a shot.

Given the comparison invoked in every introductory programming class or book between an algorithm and a recipe, I figure this post has to count as computer science!

Re: why vodka?

Alchohol has an effect on how things cook. You can taste the difference between a dish cooked with the vodka versus without.

According to Suzannah Foo, a truly great chinese chef, some kind of high-alchohol wine is necessary for chinese cooking. The best is chinese rice wine - but getting a decent chinese rice wine is next to impossible in the US. She recommends either a *very* dry, high alchohol sake, or a good vodka as the best substitutes.

Re: cooking oil.

Never cook with sesame oil. It's got such a strong flavor, it's guaranteed to ruin the dish. It's also got a very low smoke point. It's just a flavoring agent.

For cooking, you want basically any clear, mild oil with a high smoke point. The less flavor the cooking oil has, the better. Canola oil, soybean oil, and grapeseed oil are all OK. Some people like corn oil; I'm not a fan of it.

You could write all your recipes in some interesting/crazy programming language to satisfy the complainers! =P
e.g. remove(fish); place(fish, dish); ... er, or something like that...

Re: chilean salmon

I've never tasted chilean salmon, so I can't say for sure. But in general, all salmon, even the farmed stuff, has a nice firm texture, and a pretty strong flavor. As long as the chilean
is similar to the other salmons in that, it should work fine.

Re: adding chile

You could add a bit of chile, but I don't. The trick to chinese fish recipes is to try to focus on the freshness of the fish. In this recipe, with the ground meat and the fermented beans in the sauce, there's already so much going on that adding anything else will detract from the flavor of the fish. There are other fish dishes that are great with chili paste - I'll get to some eventually. But for this, I'd leave it out.

If you really want spicy, what you could do is drop the fermented beans, and in its place, use about a tablespoon of a good-quality fermented bean sauce with chilis. You'll need to significantly drop the amount of soy sauce that you add later.

I like it! Although a few random math-y facts thrown into the mix wouldn't hurt. :)

Would fresh tuna be a good substitute for salmon or is it too strong a flavour?
I never much liked salmon.

It sounds very nice and I'll have to use chicken out here and a recipe on friday seems a good match as it combines practical maths (numbers/weights) and chemistry in one delicious form.

By Chris' Wills (not verified) on 22 Sep 2007 #permalink


I don't think tuna would work very well. Not that it's too
strong, just that the flavor doesn't match very well. Swordfish, mahi-mahi, and chilean sea bass would all be good
if you don't like salmon.