Taste, Time And Health Make Salmon The Fish Of The Moment

Copyright 1994 The Chicago Tribune
From Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services
Selected and Prepared by Tribune Media Services

By William Rice
Chicago Tribune 

Among the qualities that attract contemporary cooks to fish, in addition to its healthful
properties, is how quickly it cooks. Standard practice is to allow 10 minutes per inch of
thickness to prepare the fish, no matter what the manner of cooking.

Chefs sing the praises of cooking a fish whole, or on the bone. They say the meat then is
more moist and succulent. But Americans are violently allergic to seafood attached to
bones, so most fin fish sold in markets (and restaurants) has been cut into
easy-to-handle fillets or steaks. Rarely, except for connoisseur steaks of tuna, swordfish
or halibut, will a piece of fish exceed an inch in thickness.

So fish -- especially scaled, boned and filleted fish -- is a time-saver all by itself.

The problem, in fact, usually arises with what we put on, under or around the fish. The
great fish sauces of classic French cuisine -- among them Hollandaise, Mornay,
remoulade -- are seen less often, in part because of the time it takes to make them and in
part because of their tendency to clog arteries.

In their place have come waves of flavored broths and oils, salsas, marinades and spicy
rubs. So widespread is this cover-up that it would be a shock (you can be virtually
assured of not encountering this in a contemporary restaurant) to see a piece of fish in
the nude, so to speak, on a plate or platter. This trend, in turn, has decreased demand for
delicate white-fleshed fish because they tend to flake and crumble when removed from
the bone and handled too much. (A pricey exception to this generality is the true Dover

All of which brings us to salmon, the fish of the moment in restaurants, at catered
parties and even at family meals.

Salmon is popular for several reasons. Due to the overbuilding of aquatic breeding
farms, it is in abundant supply and its price is stable. (Sadly, the same cannot be said of
wild salmon, which is considered far superior from a taste standpoint.) A farm salmon
has much to recommend it, however. It is well suited to any style of cooking, from
poaching to grilling. It has an appealing color, is only moderately fatty and has a
distinctive taste that stops well short of being strong or fishy. And that taste survives,
even when the fish has been smoked or coated with spice.

The following recipes are examples of the eclectic, quick preparations to which salmon is
so well suited. The salmon in the first dish may be served warm or at room

(Four servings)

4 salmon steaks (6 to 8 ounces each)
1/2 cup pickling spices
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/4 cup grainy Dijon-style mustard
1/4 cup rice-wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds

1. In a large pot, combine 4 quarts of water and the pickling spices. Bring water to a boil.
Add fish and poach at a bare simmer for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove fish from water,
drain and cut away and discard skin.

2. Meanwhile, in a blender or food processor, combine onion, garlic, parsley, mustard
and vinegar. Blend until smooth, then slowly add olive oil. Pour sauce into a bowl and
season with salt and pepper.

3. To serve, spread 1/4 cup sauce on each of 4 plates. Top with a warm or
room-temperature salmon steak and garnish with black mustard seeds. Serve with a
lightly chilled pinot noir such as Ponzi or Van Duzer from Oregon.


(Two servings)

2 salmon steaks, 6 to 8 ounces each
1 teaspoon Cajun spice mix, such as Paul Prudhomme's
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1. Wash steaks and pat dry.

2. In a shallow bowl or soup plate, combine spice mix, soy sauce and oyster sauce. Mix
well. Add salmon steaks and marinate 30 minutes at room temperature, turning at least
twice, or 1 to 2 hours in the refrigerator, covered.

3. Heat broiler or grill. Cook salmon 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Serve with stir-fried
watercress or spinach and an Alsace gewurtztraminer from Schlumberger or Trimbach.

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