- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2007

PORTLAND, Ore. — Saturday mornings in summer find me early at the Portland farmers market, a caffe latte in one hand and my woven-straw shopping basket in the other. I delight in buying fresh, locally grown produce; in anticipating the fresh-picked corn, the heirloom tomatoes at the peak of season, sweet and hot peppers and garden cucumbers, along with all the berries, peaches and plums I can carry.

We think of vegetables and fruits as having their season, but salmon has a season, too. Early summer through mid-September is the best time to buy wild salmon, not only for the quality of the fish but also for the best price. With our global marketplace and overnight air freight, wild salmon caught one day off the Pacific coast or farther north in Alaska can be in fish markets all over the United States the next day.

My palate changes as the days grow hotter, and so does my cooking style. I want lighter, healthier fare and simpler cooking methods. I grill nearly every day in the summer, and I also make main-course salads and cold soups. I turn on the blender instead of the burners and light the grill instead of the stove. Because of its versatility and its health benefits, salmon is my protein of choice.

Considered a “super food” by doctors and nutritionists, salmon is packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. A French study has found that people who eat salmon at least once a week are less likely to develop dementia. Eating foods high in omega-3s helps control inflammatory processes, has mood-lifting powers and has also been reported to help fight wrinkles, making the skin look and feel younger.

To save money, I often buy a whole salmon and ask the fishmonger to scale it and then fillet it or cut it into steaks, depending on what I plan to cook.



Look for salmon that is moist and glistening, the skin should be silvery and bright, the eyes protruding bright and clear and the fish should smell sweet like the sea, with no discernable fishy odor. Look at the gills, too. They should be bright red or pink; pale or brownish gills means the fish is old. If purchasing fillets or steaks, look at the flesh and make sure that it is moist yet firm and that the edges look freshly cut rather than flat and browned. Excess liquid in the pan or package means either that the fish is deteriorating from improper handling or that it isn’t as fresh as it should be.

I grill the succulent and thick center cuts, grind the tail end for salmon burgers or chunk it for chowder. Alternatively, a fillet can be cubed for salmon skewers or left whole and placed in a long, hinged, fish-shaped grill basket or on a wood plank for grilling. The technique for blackening salmon in a cast-iron skillet is so quick there is no time to heat up the kitchen, and I pair it with summer’s best tomatoes for a cooling gazpacho garnished with peppers and cucumbers.

In my cooking classes, I tell novice chefs to rub salmon (either fillets or steaks work fine) with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne, and slow roast it on a rimmed baking sheet in a 250-degree oven for 20 minutes. It’s absolutely foolproof. A little basil pesto mixed with mayonnaise makes a perfect sauce.

I always prepare extra salmon for terrific leftovers: think salmon hash, salmon tacos, salmon frittata or even salmon pot pie. Serve these as terrific light suppers or as brunch options for summer entertaining. I even flake some into an omelet with cream cheese and chives for breakfast.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. So stay in tune with the season and get hooked all summer long on this nutrient-packed fish.

The recipes that follow are from my book “Salmon: A Cookbook” by Diane Morgan (Chronicle).

Grilled salmon brochettes with mango-orange-habanero mojo

One look and one taste of this entree and you know you’ve made a winner. This mojo is big, bright and spiced. If you and your friends can take the heat, use a whole habanero. (Half is plenty for me.) This recipe could easily be doubled or tripled for a big backyard party. Serve the skewers accompanied with rice, a citrus-infused couscous or on a bed of noodles.

Skewers

Water

MARINADE:

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil

1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger root

1 center-cut salmon fillet (about 2 pounds), skin and pin bones removed, cut in 11/4-inch cubes

MANGO-ORANGE-HABANERO MOJO:

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and cut in large chunks

1/3 cup fresh orange juice

1/2 habanero or Scotch bonnet chili (or more to taste), cored, seeded and coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut in 1-inch squares (32 pieces)

4 scallions, including green tops, cut in 1-inch lengths (about 32 pieces)

Kosher or sea salt

Vegetable oil for brushing

Soak 8 10-inch bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes. Drain before using.

To make the marinade, in a medium bowl, combine olive oil, sesame oil, cilantro, garlic and ginger root. Stir well to blend. Add salmon cubes and toss gently to coat on all sides with marinade. Cover and set aside at room temperature for up to 45 minutes. (Salmon can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 hours. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling.)

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.

To make the mojo, combine rice vinegar, cumin and salt in a measuring cup and stir to dissolve salt. In a blender, combine mango, orange juice and chili; blend until pureed. Blend in rice vinegar mixture. Taste and add more habanero, if desired. Add cilantro and blend, with a quick on and off, just until mixed. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

To assemble the skewers, thread a cube of salmon, followed by a piece of bell red pepper and scallion on a skewer. Repeat process 3 more times. Repeat with the remaining 7 skewers. Season each skewer with a little salt, rotating to season evenly.

When ready to grill, brush grill grate with vegetable oil. Place skewers directly over medium-hot fire. Cover grill and cook on one side, about 4 minutes. Turn and cover again. Cook about 4 minutes longer, or until salmon is almost opaque throughout, but still very moist.

To serve, have ready 4 warmed dinner plates. If serving skewers over rice, arrange some rice in center of each plate and place 2 skewers on top. Drizzle some mojo over the top and around the perimeter of each plate. Serve immediately. Pass extra mojo at the table. Makes 4 servings.

Bell pepper and tomato gazpacho with blackened salmon

Wait until tomatoes are at their peak in late summer to make this. Lots of garlic, sherry vinegar and, preferably, a fruity Spanish extra-virgin olive oil give this soup its full-bodied flavor. Serve it in large, shallow soup bowls or wide-rimmed pasta bowls. The cucumber and bell pepper garnishes add a flourish of color.

1 (4-inch-long) piece baguette, crust removed, cut in 1/2-inch dice

Water

2 large cloves garlic

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, or more

2 teaspoons sugar

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar, or more

3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and cut in eighths

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 salmon fillet (12 ounces), skin and pin bones removed, cut in 6 equal portions, each about 2 inches square

2 to 3 tablespoons blackening spice (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

GARNISH:

1/2 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut in 1/4-inch dice

1/2 green bell pepper, seeded, cored and cut in 1/4-inch dice

1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded, cored and cut in 1/4-inch dice

Put bread in a small bowl and cover with water. Soak bread for 1 minute and then drain water. Squeeze bread dry and set aside.

In a food processor fitted with metal blade, process garlic, cumin, 2 teaspoons salt and sugar until finely chopped. Add bread and process until finely chopped, scraping down sides once. Add 3 tablespoons vinegar and pulse to combine. Add half of tomatoes and process until finely chopped. Add remaining tomatoes and process until pureed. (Process in two batches, if necessary.) With machine running, gradually add oil in a thin, steady stream until soup is completely pureed, about 1 minute.

Set a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl large enough to hold soup. Working in batches, force soup through sieve using back of a large spoon, pressing firmly on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard solids. Taste soup and add more salt and vinegar, if desired. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours. (At this point, soup can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

One hour before serving, coat both sides of salmon fillets with some of the blackening spice. Set aside at room temperature. Twenty minutes before serving, heat a large, heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over high heat until a bead of water sprinkled in pan sizzles and evaporates immediately.

Turn your exhaust fan on high. Add oil, swirl to coat bottom of the pan and carefully place salmon fillets in pan without crowding. (Blacken salmon fillets in 2 batches, if necessary.) Cook salmon undisturbed until it blackens on the first side, 2 to 3 minutes. Adjust heat if the salmon is blackening too quickly.

Turn salmon and cook other side until blackened and almost opaque throughout, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer salmon to a plate and set aside at room temperature for 10 minutes to cool slightly.

To serve gazpacho, ladle a little less than 1 cup into each of 6 large shallow soup or pasta bowls. Carefully place a piece of salmon in center of each bowl. Scatter some of cucumber and green and yellow pepper over soup. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings as a first course.

BLACKENING SPICE:

This recipe makes more than you’ll need for the above dish. Use it on other seafood, such as red snapper, swordfish, catfish, shrimp and scallops. It is also good rubbed into burgers, flank steak and pork tenderloin. In addition to the blackening method described above, use this rub when grilling.

2 tablespoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons paprika

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon dried oregano

Combine salt, sugar, pepper, cayenne, paprika, thyme and oregano in a bowl. Stir well to blend. Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months. Makes about 2/3 cup.

Salmon and grill-roasted sweet corn salad

A perfectly seared fillet of salmon sits atop a mound of lightly dressed salad greens, showered with smoky grilled corn kernels, shavings of fennel and red onion, dots of tiny grape tomatoes and flecks of chopped fresh herbs.

3 ears fresh corn

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 5-ounce salmon fillets, skin on and scaled, pin bones removed

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Vegetable oil for brushing

6 cups (about 41/2 ounces) lightly packed mixed baby greens

1 fennel bulb, trimmed, halved lengthwise, cored and cut in paper-thin wedges

1/3 red onion, cut in paper-thin wedges

1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

DRESSING:

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.

Pull back husk from each ear of corn without removing it from the base. Remove the silk and brush each ear of corn lightly with half of the olive oil. Re-cover corn with the husk, and then twist the husks at the top to close.

Sprinkle salmon fillets with salt and pepper and brush all sides with rest of the olive oil. When grill is hot, brush grill grate with vegetable oil.

Place salmon, skin-side up, directly over medium-hot fire. Arrange corn on grill grate directly over fire. Cover grill and cook salmon and corn for about 5 minutes. Turn both corn and salmon and cover grill again.

Cook salmon about 4 minutes longer, or until almost opaque throughout but still very moist, or an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 125 to 130 degrees. Remove salmon from grill and set aside. Give corn one more turn and continue grilling just until it begins to color, about 2 minutes longer. Remove corn from grill.

When corn is cool enough to handle, remove husks. Working with 1 ear at a time, stand it upright, stem end down, on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut downward along cob, removing kernels and rotating cob a quarter turn after each cut. Discard cobs and scoop kernels into a large bowl.

Place baby greens, fennel, onion, tomatoes, parsley and chives in the bowl with corn. Toss gently to mix.

To make the dressing, in a small bowl, combine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Stir until well combined. Add dressing to salad and toss lightly. Arrange salad on 4 dinner plates. Place a salmon fillet in center, on top of salad, and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Asian salmon burgers with a scallion and soy sauce mayonnaise

This recipe calls for browning the burgers in a pan, but they can also be grilled with terrific results. Prepare a medium-hot grill, oil the grill rack and rub burgers lightly with vegetable oil before placing them on grill. Keep grill covered. Cooking time will be about the same as pan frying, about 3 minutes per side.

1 salmon fillet (1 pound), skin and pin bones removed, cut in 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger root

11/2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 scallions, including 2 inches of green tops, very thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

11/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 cup cracker meal

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 sesame-seed hamburger buns, split and toasted

4 lettuce leaves

Scallion and soy sauce mayonnaise (recipe follows)

In a food processor fitted with metal blade, pulse salmon until coarsely ground, scraping down sides of work bowl once or twice. (Be careful. It’s easy to go from chopped to a mashed paste in seconds.) Transfer salmon to a medium bowl. Add ginger root, garlic, scallion, cilantro, salt, lemon juice and soy sauce. Using a rubber spatula, mix to combine. Mix in cracker meal and then add eggs. Stir to combine.

Dividing salmon mixture evenly, form into four 1-inch-thick patties. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before cooking. (Patties can be prepared up to 8 hours ahead. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate.)

In a large, heavy skillet, preferably cast-iron, heat oil over medium-high heat and swirl to coat pan. (You can also use a grill pan.) Add salmon patties and cook until golden brown on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook until opaque throughout and golden brown on other side, about 3 minutes longer. Serve salmon burgers on toasted buns with lettuce and mayonnaise. Makes 4 servings.

SCALLION AND SOY SAUCE MAYONNAISE:

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 scallion, including green top, very thinly sliced

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons soy sauce

In a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, scallion, lemon juice and soy sauce until well blended. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Makes about 2/3 cup.

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