Posted by: CJW | August 21, 2009

Salmon, Cantelope, Basil

Living in the Pacific Northwest has so many benefits: mostly moderate summer weather, a plethora of microbreweries, the inability to throw a coin out on the street without hitting a coffee shop, and of course, plenty of fresh salmon.

Salmon was probably the first fish that I can remember willingly eating, probably because it has a firm but flaky texture and is rich in flavor without being fishy. I love cooking it, not just because it’s an impressive but relatively cheap fish to serve for dinner out here, but also because it’s coral pink color brightens any plate. The one problem is that whenever I get a piece of salmon, I always feel challenged to find a new way to cook it and don’t feel satisfied unless that goal is met.

So over the years, I’ve tried roasting it in the oven with Asian style marinades, cooking on a cedar plank with a yogurt and mustard sauce, and poaching in olive oil, but I think my favorite basic way of cooking it is pan roasting, especially in the way that Tom Colicchio teaches in Think Like a Chef. If you don’t have that book, I highly recommend it and admit that his method of teaching you basic skills so you can have an arsenal of methods on which to begin improvising recipes is a huge influence on this blog. Anyway, I like this method for it’s simplicity and how it imparts a crusty outside, soft and flaky inside without being overcooked, and takes no time at all.

But having found a favorite way to cook salmon only increases that self-imposed challenge of finding different ways to serve it. This time, I arose to the challenge by using up some leftover cantaloupe that had been sitting in my fridge. I’m no melon fan, and of the melon family, cantaloupe is my very least favorite. So in the spirit of want not, but waste not, I thought I’d try making a fresh salsa of sorts as a topping for the salmon. Eying some basil from the CSA, I thought about the pairing of prosciutto and melon and how I could maybe play off of that: the salmon could provide the meaty texture and buttery but salty flavors in place of the prosciutto and the anise flavor of the basil would be a good bridge between those flavors and the sweetness of the melon. A slight drizzle of grapefruit infused olive oil added a citrusy zing that really made the basil flavor pop.

This turned out to be a really lovely, summery meal as the cool chill of the melon salsa contrasted with the warm, crispy on the outside salmon. Plus, the deep pink of the salmon, light orange of the melon spiked with green basil was total eye candy on the plate.

1/4 of a cantaloupe melon, small dice
1.5 tbsp fresh basil, chiffonade
1 lb salmon fillet
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp grapefruit olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Set the salmon out between two pieces of paper towel to dry off the surfaces. This helps to ensure a nice crusty sear in a hot pan. In the meantime, dice your cantaloupe and mix with the basil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside in a small bowl in the fridge to chill while you cook the salmon.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Salt and pepper both sides of the salmon fillet. When the oil is rippling and slightly smokey. Set the salmon fillet skin side down and let cook for 2-3 minutes. Using a spatula, gently lift the salmon and flip it over to cook on the flesh side for another 3 minutes. The skin should have a nice brown color to it and look pretty crisp. If you had any resistance when trying to flip it, let it cook a little longer before cooking as the skin was not yet crisp enough. (If I used the true Think Like a Chef method, I would have also added butter and thyme sprigs, but I didn’t want the butter flavor here.) Flip it again and cook skin side down for another 1-1.5 minutes, then flip it one more time to cook on the flesh side for another 1-1.5 minutes. Remove from pan and plate by topping with the melon basil salsa. Drizzle with grapefruit infused olive oil if you want.

CSA Count: 1
Fresh basil

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