Tuesday, January 15, 2008

3-Peppers Salmon: A sudden creation

When my friend Alex returned to Atlanta Sunday for the start of the Spring semester at Emory, his parents drove with him from Charleston. I had invited the three of them for a simple supper to relax with after their lengthy road trip and to sample the fine New Zealand white wine Alex' father had previously brought. I promised sautéed shrimp over jalapeño-wine grits. I chilled the wine, got the slowly simmered stone-ground grits going, and went to buy final ingredients. Uncharacteristically there were no raw shrimp available, so I picked up the next best thing to go with grits and white wine, salmon.

Having only the ingredients I had bought for my shrimp and grits, I suddenly had to create. What resulted was, fortunately, remarkably good. But more important, it was stimulating and fresh to the taste. The four of us ate over three pounds of salmon, along with the grits, salad, crusty Italian bread, and two remarkably good white wines, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and an Italian Pinot Grigio. With a rich meal like this, appetizers were kept simple: pistachios salted in their shells. And dessert was equally simple, fresh strawberries with a dusting of powdered sugar.

So here's the recipe. A "trick" with the salmon that I learned from one of our cooks at Donderos' Kitchen is to trim away the dark band of flesh that runs down the outside of the fillet. This is the only "fishy" part of salmon, and eliminating it leaves just the luscious pink flesh that lends itself to many sauces or treatments. We had jalapeño-cheese-white wine grits (stone ground from North Georgia), but whipped mashed potatoes with lots of butter and a little nutmeg and garlic in them would work as well. The whole platter was sprinkled with finely sliced onion greens. The recipe should serve six generously.

Roasted Salmon with Three Peppers Tim

The Fish:
3 pounds skinless salmon fillet, as fresh as possible
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, and olive oil for roasting

The Sauce:
1/4 stick celery
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 medium green bell pepper
1 small jalapeño pepper
4 green onions (scallions)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, unsalted preferred
2 tablespoons vinegar, unseasoned white wine vinegar preferred
1/4 teaspoon salt plus more to taste

Cut the salmon into large serving sized pieces. With a sharp knife, thinly slice down on both sides of the dark band on the outside of the fillet, and lift out the triangular ribbon of dark meat. With paper towel, dry both sides of the fish pieces. Sprinkle both sides moderately with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place a little olive oil on a large metal cookie sheet and turn the salmon pieces on it to coat both sides lightly with oil. Let sit on the pan, trimmed side up, until 15 minutes before serving.

Prepare the sauce ingredients. Split celery lengthwise into four or five pieces, then holding the pieces together slice them very thinly to mince the celery. Grind black pepper onto the celery. Cut bell pepper into very thin strips, hold them together and slice them thinly to mince the pepper. Split jalapeño and remove the seeds (use plastic gloves to avoid the skin burn), and mince the flesh. Add it to the bell pepper. Trim the roots off the scallions, hold the scallions together and slice them very thinly, including the green parts. Set aside a few tablespoons of the greens for garnish.

Heat oven to 450 degrees and temporarily disconnect the smoke alarm. Roast the salmon on the top shelf for 9 minutes. Test for doneness, sticking a sharp knife tip into the fattest part of the fish and twisting. There should be no dark uncooked color apparent inside. If there is a little, return the fish to the oven and roast 1 to 2 more minutes. Remove from the oven.

While the salmon is roasting, make the sauce. Heat a small pan with the oil to medium heat. Gently fry the celery for several minutes, then add the butter and the bell and jalapeño peppers. Fry them, stirring, until they have darkened and become somewhat tender. Add the sliced scallions and fry gently for one-half minute. Add the vinegar and salt, stir and remove from the heat. Taste the sauce and add a little salt as needed.

When ready to serve, with two spatulas carefully transfer the salmon pieces to a large platter. If using mashed potatoes or grits, spoon piles of it between the salmon pieces. (Or for individual servings, the salmon could be placed on a bed of grits or potato.) Spoon the sauce and its vegetables over the salmon pieces. Sprinkle the whole thing with the reserved green onion slices.

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