Sesame Salmon Skewers with Cucumber Watermelon Salad / by Chelsea Zwieg

So can we all agree that food tastes better on a stick? There must be some scientific, culinary explanation behind that. Or I just really like eating chunks of meat off a skewer. It might just be that simple/barbaric. Wisconsin has a state fair every August and along with lots of cheese curds, cream puffs and farm animals, the fair is notorious for serving every single food on a stick. Deep fried butter on a stick, guys. I can't make this up. But based on the hoards of people that flock to the fair every year, I would say my everything-tastes-better-on-a-stick theory is pretty solid. 

So it should come as no surprise that salmon also makes for some amazing stick food. Why am I calling it stick food? Skewers. Salmon skewers. All of this meat on a stick business has turned me into a caveman. 

The salmon gets coated in a spicy/sweet glaze of sesame oil, soy sauce, chili paste and honey. The honey causes the glaze to caramelize while the salmon cooks resulting in a perfectly charred, slightly sticky and completely addicting piece of fish. To go alongside, I made the world's fastest cucumber and watermelon salad. It gets tossed with a tangy lime and sesame dressing that gets all soaked up into the watermelon for a bizarrely savory but still fruity salad. It's super refreshing and goes perfectly with the spiciness of the salmon. 

And in case, like me, you are now ready to put everything on a stick and grill it, this marinade would work well with pretty much any other meat as well. Chicken, steak, shrimp, whatever you're skewering. Just be sure to save some for state-fair approved skewering (butter, candy bars, pickles, the usual). 

Sesame Salmon Skewers with Cucumber Watermelon Salad

Note: Sambal Oelek is an asian chili sauce that can be found in the ethnic section of any grocery store. It's unbelievable and you won't regret buying it for a second. If you are unable to find it, Sriracha would be the closest substitute, but it will taste a little different. 

Serves 4

| Ingredients

For the salmon: 

  • 1 1/2 lbs. skinless salmon fillet, cut into 1" cubes
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp. Sambal Oelek (see note) 
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • sesame seeds, for serving
  • 8 bamboo skewers (soaked in water if you are grilling)

For the salad: 

  • 1 small cucumber, diced
  • 2 cups watermelon, diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. lime zest
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil

| Instructions

  • In a small bowl, whisk soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, sambal and honey to combine. Pour 1/3 cup into a separate container and set aside. Add salmon to the remaining marinade and let sit 15-20 minutes. 
  • Meanwhile, prepare the salad. Place cucumber, watermelon, red onion and lime zest in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk lime juice, vinegar and sesame oil. Add to the salad and toss gently to coat. Let sit for 20 minutes. 
  • Thread salmon onto skewers and discard the marinade. 
  • If you are grilling the skewers, prepare grill for medium-high heat. Brush the grill grate with oil and add the skewers. Cook, turning occasionally, until the salmon is cooked through, 5-7 minutes. As the salmon cooks, brush the reserved marinade over the skewers, coating both sides. 
  • To prepare on the stovetop, heat a drizzle of oil in a large skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat. Add skewers and cook until salmon is cooked through, about 1-2 minutes per side. Before flipping, brush the salmon with half of the reserved marinade. Flip and brush the other side with the remaining marinade. 
  • Before serving, drain the salad and discard any excess liquid. Divide between 4 plates and top with the skewers. Sprinkle the salmon with sesame seeds and serve.