Friday, June 15, 2012
Here's an idea...
...for an extremely delicious, simple, seasonal weekend supper, even if it ain't all local: grilled or pan-roasted Copper River sockeye salmon on a bed of (grilled or roasted) greens (here daikon flowers, yeah, who knew...?), roasted baby beets, green garlic-tarragon mayo.
I went fishing this week and last and encountered amazing, complex mayfly hatches, and fish churning up the water in their bug-eating fervor, just a stunning phenomenon to behold. As far as the catching went, I got schooled by the fishes. The trout can become incredibly selective in the midst of hatches like this, and therefore difficult to fool. I caught a few fish, but brought nothing home. Oh, well.
The upside of this is that if I had brown trout in the creel I probably wouldn't have gone shopping for salmon, and the wild Copper River sockeye that's in the markets now is some of the best fish I have ever tasted. It's particularly rich and succulent for sockeye, which, while always flavorful, can be dry, and easily turns tacky if the least bit overcooked. These fat fillets could have passed for king salmon. I got mine at Seward Co-op, and they get it from Coastal Seafood.
I've done it on the grill, and it was fantastic; in the wake of yesterday's deluge we cooked indoors, pan-roasting the fish, oven roasting some baby beets and daikon flowers from the market. Oh, and the plate was garnished with salted milkweed flower buds that toasted up for a couple minutes in the pan the salmon was cooked in.
Daikon flowers were a discovery at last week's Menomonie farmers market--never seen them before. They look a bit like broccoli rabe at first glance, and the flavor and texture are somewhat comparable, with a bit more radishy pungency. I have tossed them with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and put them on the grill. Yesterday, oven roasted with a bit of sunflower oil, coarse salt, and sliced green garlic, at 425 for about 10 minutes. Wonderful, fun to eat, and if you can get your hands on some I imagine you will impress even the most up-to-the-minute of your trendy foodie friends. Use whatever flavorful cooking greens you find at your market or in the garden--you know, pea tips would have been really good.
Beets, the beets, oh my god the beets! So sweet and tender and with a caramel spice fragrance that was incredibly appetizing. Roasted in a covered baking dish at 425 for 35 to 40 minutes until they pierce easily with a paring knife. Beets this tiny do not need to be peeled. The little whiskery tails were a delicacy, intensely sweet, a bit burnt, a tad licoricey tasting. They were great with the mayo flavored with lots of very finely minced green garlic and just a little tarragon, which will take over. Show it who's boss--I used the chopped leaves of a four-inch sprig for about 2/3 cup of mayo. (My basic mayo method here; in this case I did a two-yolk batch, and the oil was 1 1/4 cups canola and 1/4 cup olive. I've taken to making mayo in our 8-quart stainless steel mixing bowls, which may seem like overkill, but keeps me and the kitchen a lot cleaner.)
We find that six ounces of salmon per person is an ample serving of this rich fish. We cooked it in a cast iron skillet, and (secret ingredient) I used a bit of rendered fat from our home-smoked bacon. Cook it skin-side down 75 percent of the cooking time to get the skin nicely crisp--the skin didn't brown as evenly as I would have liked, but was still delicious. I blame the crappy electric range that came with the new old house. I cooked the salmon on the stovetop for perhaps six minutes on medium-high, then flipped it and put the pan in a 275 oven for a couple of minutes to finish.
For these last couple of minutes I also added the milkweed flower buds which had been rinsed, drained, patted dry, and salted generously, to make a quick caper ersatz. A nice wild and seasonal touch, tasty and pretty.
There's this thing I like to say, sums up my foraging philosophy: 90 percent of good cooking is good shopping. Case in point. Bon appétit.
Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw