In my former life as a privileged food editor, I once got to taste salmon fresh off the boat, line-caught and served by a fisherman in Oregon. He laid four huge sides of briefly cooked salmon on a table. No seasonings, no sauces. As my cohorts and I tasted, he explained the differences in taste and texture between king (chinook), sockeye, coho and pink (and between line-caught and net dredged, wild and farm-raised). So when I say I prefer wild sockeye salmon, you can bet I have thought a lot about it.
Not that my opinion is the last word; many salmon lovers prefer king, which usually is the most expensive because of its high oil content and silken texture. But I prefer the meatiness and mild but distinctive flavor of sockeye. With its brilliant reddish-pink flesh, it looks great on a plate, too.
I was thrilled when I saw wild sockeye fillets in Sam’s recently. I bought an 18-incher, ate it, and went back a few days later for another. I was so happy I turned each salmon into an occasion. The first salmon was charcoal-grilled, drizzled with basil vinaigrette and served atop a Nicoise-like salad. The second was also grilled and served with a few lashings of horseradish mayonnaise and some ratatouille.
Grilling may be the ultimate way to cook salmon. The smoke contributes to the flavor, and the bottom heat cooks the fish beautifully. You don’t need a fish basket or foil or anything else to cook salmon. Don’t worry about flipping it — that step is completely unnecessary. Just place the fish skin-side down over the coals, cover the grill and cook for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Most fillets will be under an inch thick, so subtract time accordingly.
When the fish is done — to check, insert the pointed tip of a sharp knife vertically into the fish, pull aside some flesh, and see if the interior is opaque — simply slide a big spatula between the fish and the skin and lift it off the grill, leaving the skin behind. You may need two spatulas, working from each end, if the fillet is large and your spatulas small.
I like salmon slightly underdone. I think the texture and flavor are best when it is not quite cooked through. Suit your own taste, but don’t overcook salmon or it will be dry and tasteless.
Use sockeye if you can find it for the following recipe, or if not, any large salmon fillet that weighs about 1 pound. A piece of fish that size, with the accompanying vegetables, will be enough to serve four.
GRILLED SALMON NICOISE
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
- 12 large basil leaves
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. pine nuts
- 3/4 cup olive oil
Drop the garlic cloves through the feed tube of a food processor while the motor runs. When finely chopped, remove lid and add vinegar, basil, salt and pine nuts. Cover and process, slowly adding oil through the feed tube, until dressing is smooth and creamy. Transfer to a lidded jar and set aside.
- 6 oz. green beans, trimmed
- 1 lb. tiny new potatoes
- 1/2 cup Nicoise olives (small, black, wrinkled)
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
In a medium saucepan, bring about 2 quarts of water to a rapid boil. Add beans and cook about 5 minutes, until just tender. With a slotted spoon or long-handled strainer, transfer beans to a strainer and refresh under cold water. Drain well.
Add the potatoes to the same boiling water and cook until tender. Drain. Cut in half and add to the bowl with the beans. Add olives and tomatoes. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the basil dressing. Set aside.
- 1 large (1 lb.) salmon fillet, preferably sockeye
- Olive oil
- Coarse sea salt
Build a charcoal fire in a grill. Pat salmon dry with paper towels. Place on a baking sheet, skin side down, and lightly oil top of fish with the olive oil.
Season well with sea salt. When the coals have ashed over, spread them n a swath the size of the fish. Place fish, skin side down, over coals, adding soaked wood chips if desired.
Cover grill, leaving vents open. Grill until salmon is barely cooked through, about 7 to 10 minutes depending on the heat of the coals and the thickness of the fish.
While the salmon cooks, transfer the salad to a platter. With a large spatula (or two), transfer fish to the platter, placing it on top of the salad. Drizzle 2 or 3 tablespoons of the basil dressing over the fish.
Makes 4 servings.
Sloppy Joes, potato salad, corn on the cob; avocado toast with two eggs over hard and hot sauce; pesto; grilled sockeye salmon with pesto ratatouille; high-protein chocolate ice cream; mojo-criollo pan-grilled shrimp in shells, gazpacho; warm leftover ratatouille with a poached egg on top; tomato and pesto sandwich; hamburgers on toasted, buttered ciabatta buns with Swiss cheese and sliced tomatoes.
What I ate in restaurants last week:
A chicken taco and a Vietnamese meatball taco (yuk) at Bomba Tacos & Rum in Montrose; fajita salad with beef at Tres Potrillos in Medina; Southwest chile-lime salad with smoked chicken at Panera; prosciutto and melon salad, mussels in a spicy tomato-caper sauce with grilled bread at Wolf Creek Tavern in Norton.
The Saturday morning Seville Farm Market is one of my favorites. It doesn’t have the selection of a Countryside Farmers Market or Medina Farmers Market, but it is still worth the drive. It is small but mighty.
The 10 or so booths set up in Maria Stanhope Park on Main Street last Saturday had so many treasures I came home loaded down. The purveyors, from either proclivity or necessity, are generalists. They each offer an array of items — say, a bag of three red-skin potatoes dug the day before, several heads of hard-stem garlic and a few baskets of peaches. Or a half-dozen turkey eggs, homemade tortillas, baggies of pizza dough, a couple of coffee cakes and an array of jams.
The women purveyors are artisans. The jams I bought were brandied sour cherry and sugar plum with ice wine. I bought fresh homemade tagliatelle pasta, homemade English muffins, a homemade bagel and crusty bread. The women (there were no men) are mostly backyard farmers, and bring ripe produce picked or dug just before going to the market. I spotted an almond-shaped greyhound cabbage, and the two big heirloom tomatoes I bought were summer-sandwich worthy. Also, the prices are relatively low.
If you have a great recipe for zucchini, the Aug. 12market is the one to visit. That’s when the annual Zucchini Smackdown will be held. For details about the contest and the market ( 9 a.m. to noonSaturdays), see sevillefarmmarket.blogspot.com.
Thank heavens I didn’t have to take the citizenship test along with Tony. The U.S. Constitution was not written in 1837, as I wrote last week. It was written in 1787, a little more than a decade after we declared our independence from Great Britain. Thank you to Chris Myers for pointing that out, and a big thanks to everyone who sent congratulations to Tony for passing the test and becoming an American citizen.
Thank you for the link to the list of authentic olive oils (not adulterated with seed oils or masquerading as extra virgin). Nice to see that the Carlini brand from Aldi is good!
Dear Judy: Thanks for pointing that out. Now I know where to buy reasonably priced, authenticated olive oil.
After looking at the NAOOA link you published in your last newsletter, it got me thinking about the olive oil I buy, a California-based EVOO from California Olive Ranch. The label on the bottle has a seal on it from the COOC, or the California Olive Oil Council. On the surface, it would appear to be a similar certification body, but for California oils. The organization’s site has information on the seal and the certification process, and a list of brands that sport the seal is athttp://www.cooc.com/seal-certified-oils/.
Dear Tom: Yes, that is a certification offered just for California oils. I mistakenly omitted it when I wrote the item last week. Thanks for correcting my oversight.
From Debbie C.:
Darren B., how about spreading the Jo Jos word, too? It seems that Northeast Ohio is the only place you can find these little pieces of heaven.
Dear Debbie: Hey, we have to keep some things all to ourselves.
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