- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Our son, his wife and their children live in Boston, a 11/2-hour drive away from us, so I often invite them to come for the weekend. I make them an offer that’s hard to refuse: free baby-sitting and home-cooked food.

However, the menus I prepare for this family that includes two very active youngsters under age 5 are always limited. They have to be uncomplicated and certainly not very time consuming.

My son and his crew adore seafood, so when I recently saw a recipe in a French cookbook for pan-grilled fish topped with a quick caper vinaigrette, I knew it would make a perfect entree to serve on their next visit.

The original recipe called for swordfish garnished with a mache salad, but I used salmon fillets and replaced the mache (a tender lettuce sometimes hard to find on this side of the Atlantic) with baby arugula.

The vinaigrette dressing, prepared with capers, red wine vinegar and olive oil plus a generous seasoning of sea salt, takes only minutes to whip up, and the salmon cooks atop the stove, in either a grill pan or a skillet, in about 10 minutes.

For the salad, which is also dressed in the caper vinaigrette, I bought greens that were prewashed to save time, and combined them with grape tomatoes and sliced fennel.

The salty, tart caper vinaigrette makes a fine counterpoint to the rich taste of the fish and works beautifully, too, as a dressing for the arugula. The following recipe serves four but can be increased easily if you’re planning on entertaining a larger group.

On several occasions, I’ve served the salmon with buttered penne (bought already cooked and seasoned at a local deli), but saffron-scented couscous or rice would make colorful and delectable sides.

For dessert, I’m planning on making coffee sundaes drizzled with warm chocolate sauce — easy and almost effortless, just like the rest of the menu.

Pan-grilled salmon with caper vinaigrette

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup capers packed in vinegar, drained

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for sauteing the salmon

12 grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise

1 cup thinly sliced fennel (about 1 medium fennel bulb — see note)

5 cups baby arugula

4 salmon fillets, each about 6 to 7 ounces

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, capers, ½ teaspoon salt, several grinds of pepper, and the olive oil. Place the tomatoes, fennel and arugula in a large mixing bowl, and toss to mix but don’t add vinaigrette dressing. Set salad and vinaigrette aside while you cook the salmon.

Coat a stove top grill pan (or a medium, heavy skillet) with olive oil, and place pan over medium high heat. When hot, add the salmon, flesh side down, and cook until underside is golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Turn and cook until salmon is cooked all the way through and flesh flakes when pierced with a knife, 4 to 5 minutes more depending on the thickness of the fish.

Remove and season fillets generously with sea salt and several grinds of pepper. Whisk the caper vinaigrette a few seconds, then pour 1/4 cup of it (with some of the capers) over the arugula, fennel and tomatoes. Toss to coat lightly with the dressing. Taste and season salad with more sea salt or pepper, if needed.

To serve, arrange a salmon fillet on each of four dinner plates and garnish each serving with a mound of salad. Spoon the remaining caper vinaigrette over the salmon fillets. Makes 4 servings.

Note: To slice fennel, remove and discard the stalk from the bulb, then halve the bulb lengthwise and cut out and discard the tough triangular cores. Slice the fennel thinly crosswise to yield 1 cup. You may have some fennel left over.




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