Friday, August 7, 2009
True Story: I received this side of salmon as a random gift from my landlady, Marlene, exactly two days after I posted my Huffington Post column, entitled, Real Food Rehab: The Recession Issue. In it, I confessed my recent poverty due to the recession and how it'd affected my eating habits. She gave it to me without any hint she'd read my column, but I knew better. Giving me that salmon was a gesture I'll never forget; it mentally snapped me out of a place of lack and into a place of abundance; I suddenly felt rich and in a way, I was.
This pristine side of wild sockeye salmon was caught by Marlene's husband Bob, on a fishing trip to Alaska's Kenai River. It was boned, flash frozen, shipped back and resided in my freezer until last week when I finally decided how I wanted to prepare it and also, to give it the honor it was due.
As is my way, I'm constantly going to the library and checking out cookbooks - I enjoy experiencing the books before I choose to buy them. I've been reading and loving Martha Stewart's Cooking School, which is her version of Larousse Gastronomique or La Varenne Pratique, both classic cooking volumes with well-documented photos of technique which, I would guess, might be a little intimidating to a new cook. I highly recommend Martha's book to anyone - especially a newbie - who wants to learn techniques such as braising, sauteing and frying; who wants to know the proper way to make all the basic essentials from scratch such as mayonnaise, tomato sauce, pasta, biscuits, pie crusts, etc.
Anyway, on page 175 is a recipe for Grilled Side of Salmon. It's salmon sitting on a bed of citrus slices and herbs directly over the grill. You don't get crispy skin this way, (which I love) but you do get subtlety and depth from the aromatics.
In the event you haven't been gifted a large side of salmon, I implore you to go to a proper fish-monger (I love Dirk's Fish in Chicago) and purchase wild, not farm-raised salmon. The taste is superior, and again - here comes my mantra - it's better for you and the environment. I also understand that a piece of seafood such as this is a dear and precious commodity in today's world and you should not expect to come by it cheaply, but if you love salmon, it is a worthwhile splurge.
I served this with many bottles of Rose wine, a simple salad and plums poached in red wine, cinnamon and star anise for dessert. In hindsight, I think a big fat loaf of crusty bread with olive oil would've been great, too.
Grilled Side of Salmon
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes For the Home Cook
grapeseed or canola oil to coat grill grate
4 lemons & 2 oranges sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1 bunch basil & 1/2 bunch oregano or marjoram*
1 piece wild salmon - 2.5 to 3 pounds
coarse sea salt (I love Maldon) and fresh ground black pepper
Prepare the grill by using a chimney starter and hardwood charcoal to prepare a medium hot fire. To gauge a medium fire, hold your hand 4 inches from the heat and you should be able to hold it there for 4 to 5 seconds. Scrub grate with a grill brush and quickly wipe down with olive oil using paper towel, a pastry brush or sauce mop.
Lay the citrus slices on the grill followed by the herbs. Make sure it's big enough to comfortably and evenly bed the fish. Lay the salmon, skin side down over the herbs and season with sea salt and fresh pepper. Cover with the lid holes open and cook for 20 minutes (check the salmon at 15 minutes to make sure it doesn't over-cook.)
Using two large spatulas, carefully transfer the fish to a serving platter - garnish with citrus and toss some fresh herbs to make it gorgeous. Serve hot, room temp or cold. You can also prepare it up to 24 hours in advance and cover with plastic wrap in the fridge.
*If you're in Chicago, Smit's Farm sells herbs inexpensively for $2 a bunch at farmers' markets all over the city, four days a week, so be sure to check them out.