Monday, June 23, 2008

Fun Playing With Copper River King Salmon

This spring arrived with a slight sadness. I had become totally spoiled, over the past few years, by the exquisite Copper River King Salmon served by Chef Dominic Cerino at Carrie Cerino's. This fish came to Dominic via FedEx right off of the fisherman's boat. If you follow this link, you can see photos from the amazing Slow Food Dinner he did at the restaurant last year, featuring myraid preparations using this special salmon. Dominic even journeyed to Alaska one year, to participate in the harvest process. So, when I learned in February 2008 that Dominic was retiring from the restaurant, I started my Copper River Salmon withdrawal right then and there. Withdrawal became worse when the 2008 Copper River fishing season got off to a very slow start, and stayed slow, making the product rarer than usual and much more expensive.

Happily, the one and only Mister Brisket (Sanford Herskovitz) came to the rescue! Actually, it was his partner in great eats, Hank, who emailed me about Friday's haul of jet-fresh Copper River King at a palatable price.

So, I got to play with Copper River King filets for both dinners this weekend. I'd never cooked this before (and I don't get to cook much fish, because its so danged hard to get fresh fish in Cleveland!), but I wanted to get as close as I could to Chef Dominic's preparation. Which is to say - simple yet delicious.

This photo, from a dinner at Carrie Cerino's last year, doesn't show the whole presentation, but it gives you the idea. Dominic grilled the fish with salt and pepper, and served it with with caramelized red onions, dill, a wedge of lime, capers and tarter sauce (two different kinds).

My first plan was to grill the fish on my Weber. The rain/storm gods had other ideas about that (and after I went to all that work to clean it, too!). So, I went to plan B - a good sear on each side in the cast iron, then into the oven at 475 degrees for about 7 minutes.

Inspired by a recent post on Michael Ruhlman's blog, I decided to try making my own mayonnaise for the first time. I took no photos (too busy whisking), which is a shame. I followed Michael's directions, and had a beautiful, perfect emulsion going - a little too salty, but otherwise light and fluffy and delicious. I added the last couple of squirts of oil and . . . it broke. Badly. By this time, I'd been whisking for what seemed like an hour (and it might have been), and I was too tired to start again. Besides, I had other fish to fry.

I had no idea how to caramelize the onions, so I reached for Linda and Fred Griffith's Onions Onions Onions, and put in an email request to Linda. Her response gave me the inspiration I needed. I melted some Ghee in a small heavy skillet, added the onions, added some salt, pepper and dill, let it brown a bit, then added a lid.

I rinsed and dried the filets, sprinkled with Kosher Salt and Black Pepper, and put the cast iron pan on the stove to heat. I added a little oil to the hot pan, and when it was smoking, added the filets skin side up. After the "cooked" line got a few millimeters up the fish, I flipped them over. But I didn't wait long enough before popping the skillet into the oven, so the skin didn't get as crispy as I'd hoped it would. I got that part right on Sunday!

Here is how the plated dish looked:

Vermicelli with Pesto

Earlier in the week, I'd put together a variation on a wonderful recipe from Linda and Fred Griffith's Garlic Garlic Garlic book, for a Walnut Pesto. Since I had ground almonds in the house, I used them instead of walnut, combining them with basil, garden mint, garden oregano, olives, sundried tomato, Parmesan Reggiano and EVOO to make a wonderful pesto. To complete our salmon experience, I remembered that I often chose the pasta with pesto as my side at Carrie Cerino's, and so that was our side this weekend. No photos of the salads we started with.

And thus, we enjoyed two simply amazing dinners. I hope that Mister Brisket will get more of this fabulous fish before the season is gone!

And yes, dear reader, I did play with emulsion again on Sunday - it was almost like a challenge now. My first attempt broke immediately - but the second came out ok (and I worked in the failed first attempt so it didn't go to waste). Not as perfect as Saturday's mayo had been before it broke - but certainly acceptable for a first try! I'll have photos of that, and Mister Brisket's yummy turkey breast, tomorrow.

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