When it comes to food, there aren't too many candidates in the "pretty in pink" category. Two come immediately to mind: salmon and cotton candy. Of this short list, one should never be eaten by anyone over age 6.
That leaves salmon.
With its rich distinctive flavor, firm flesh, and moderate fat content, salmon is sometimes referred to as the perfect fish. And the fact that it contains very little of that nasty trimethylamine oxide (which gives fish that noxious odor) makes salmon a better house guest than most fish seafood - at least for a day or two.
No matter how this beautiful and versatile fish is prepared, it's sure to make a splash. It can be cooked in an endless variety of ways: gently poached in a court boullion then bathed in a pale beurre blanc sauce, or it can really take the heat on a barbecue grill. It can be creamed and served with the season's first fresh peas, in traditional New England Fourth of July holiday fashion.
It can also be smoked, baked, planked, whipped up in a mousse, and even eaten "raw" as in the classic Swedish smorgasbord method described below. (Before you turn the page, I should explain that the salmon is actually cured, or "cooked" in sugar, spices, and dill.)
Because of its fat content and relatively firm flesh, salmon ranks as one of the premier fish for grilling, along with its cousins the mackerel, bluefish, swordfish, and tuna.
Wild salmon once teemed in northern America's rivers and streams - that was before water pollution, acid rain, and the building of dams all but depleted this staple of the American Indian.
Today, most salmon is farm-raised. King, or chum and chinook; Atlantic (silver); and pink and sockeye are among the most common.
Salmon trout is popular as well, and may be substituted in any salmon receipt. The following recipe is for grilled salmon, but with an updated, minty, somewhat spicy pesto sauce. It is based on a recipe from "Fusion Food Cookbook," by Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sandison (Artison, $35).
Grilled Salmon In New World Pesto
8 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs, packed
1/2 cup roasted cashews
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Asian chile sauce
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Drop garlic and shallots down the feed tube of a food processor while blade is running. Add basil, mint, cilantro, and cashews. Process until finely minced. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. Add chile sauce and process for 10 seconds. Shut motor off. Add cheese and process briefly to combine. Scrape pesto into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate. The pesto can be made up to a week in advance. Set aside 1/2 cup, or so, for this recipe.
FOR THE SALMON:
2 pounds fresh whole salmon fillet, skin on
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup bottled clam juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Combine lemon juice, olive oil, 1/4-cup of clam juice, and black pepper. Pour over salmon and marinate for up to 2 hours. Combine cream and remaining clam juice.
If using a gas barbecue, preheat to medium (350 degrees F). If using charcoal, wait until the coals are ash-covered. Lay salmon on the grill, skin side down. Cover and cook until salmon flakes when prodded with a fork - about 12 minutes. Transfer salmon to a warm serving platter.
Bring the cream and remaining clam juice to a rapid boil in a skillet. Add 1/2 cup pesto, taste, and adjust seasonings. Spoon sauce over salmon. Serve at once, accompanied by the Parmesan cheese.
Gravlax is to Scandinavians what herring is to seals - they attack it ravenously.
You don't have to let on how embarrassingly easy gravlax is to prepare. The slow action of the seasonings and dill, pressed under a heavy weight is what gives this salmon its firm texture and delicate taste that are nothing less than sublime. The salmon and dill must be absolutely fresh. Previously frozen fish, or dried dill, and the salmon is doomed to die a second time.
Gravlax is usually served as an appetizer but may be a main course served with boiled new potatoes tossed with butter and chives, or cucumber salad.
2 1-1/2 pound salmon fillets with skin on
3 tablespoons peppercorns, crushed
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice, crushed (optional)
4 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons coarse (Kosher) salt
2 bunches fresh dill (reserve some for garnish and the mustard sauce)
Gently rinse and pat dry the salmon fillets.
Mix all dry ingredients and rub liberally into fillets. Lay a few sprigs of dill on a large sheet of plastic wrap and place one fillet of salmon, skin side down, on top of the dill; top with a generous amount of dill. Place second fillet on top of first, skin side up, and top with a more dill. (Leftover peppercorn mix may be used to flavor the mustard sauce).
Wrap salmon in plastic wrap and place it in a shallow dish. Put a heavy weight (a brick or two works well) on salmon and refrigerate. Keep refrigerated for 36 to 48 hours, turning occasionally. To serve, unwrap the salmon, scrape away dill and seasonings, and slice very thinly on the bias away from the skin. Serve on hard Scandinavian crackers or thin dark toast. Top with mustard sauce (below) and a small sprig of dill. Gravlax will keep a week to 10 days in the refrigerator.
Serves 12 to 16 as an appetizer, or 6 to 8 as a main course.
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons corn or vegetable oil
1 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons chopped dill
Salt and ground pepper to taste
Whisk mustard, oil, vinegar, and sugar together until smooth. Stir in dill.and serve with gravlax. (Leftover gravlax seasonings may be added as well for extra flavor).