THE RETURN OF THE KINGS OF SUMMER:
GRILLED SALMON WITH PINEAPPLE AND ROSEMARY
SEARED SESAME CATFISH WITH BABY BOK CHOY
The return of summer for the West and the South is defined by two fish, for the West it is salmon and for the South it is catfish. Today we pay our culinary respects to the mighty King Salmon, the Chinook, the Coho, the Pink, the Silver bright (chum), and the fatty, deep red Sockeye. It will be grilled with rosemary and pineapple. This traveler of the oceans who knows two homes, the river bed of their birth and the oceans they explore and live before returning to spawn and die in the smooth rocks from which they were raised. I can imagine no life so determined and so beneficial to all life as the salmon. They swim UP waterfalls! Imagine how they swim upstream. They manage every possible roadblock in the water world. As fingerlings they feed a great amount of other fish, as kings of the sea they devour tons of krill and shrimp. After a few years they return from their mystery tour of the seas to the mouths of the rivers of their birth. They then stop feeding. After crossing our dams and our intrusions, our overheated overflows, our pollution, they pass waterfall and rapids, they pass bears and other mammals, they pass our nets and lures, and then they spawn and die. At the end of this journey they nurture the soil and they enrichen the fresh water with their decaying bones. Parts of our Northwest are alive and green, the rivers themselves are alive, all by the presence of the powerful and life giving salmon.
I feel a kinship to this fish. Much of my life has been enjoyed on the rocks and sands of the magnificent coasts of Northern California and the Carolinas. I am a native Georgian, and by native I mean going back into the 1700’s where my relatives settled into what is known as Tucker, Georgia. There is a lot of Irish and English in my DNA. The wandering nature of my life I attribute to the ancient line of world roaming Celts, and of course of personal love of our beautiful nation. How did I come to enjoy working with the flavors of America and of the far Pacific? By traveling in both life and thought through the vast network of poetry, food and philosophy that this land has to offer. My love of salmon is not just culinary; it is also a philosophic and poetic love. Watching the salmon run on a river is beyond description. Understanding the life of the salmon is to understand how Life interacts in our world where all things really are connected and that all life is sacred. As with all life on this earth we must work to protect and properly harvest salmon so that we can enjoy the flavor and health benefits, and so that the ecosystem can flourish through the life of this unmatched species of life. Wild salmon is filled with all things good for our health. Also, fresh wild salmon is just about one of the best tasting things I have ever eaten. In June I will be hosting a sustainable seafood dinner at the restaurant for those of you interested in the benefits of our streams and oceans.
Now on to the good stuff of why we are here: the fish and the grill! Everything will be cooked on the grill. And I trust you are eating outside, close to the source. Also, if you are buying your fish at Publix or Earthfare, remember that their seafood delivery days are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Ask ahead for special fish so that they can have it in for you. Except for my Hawaiian fish we use the same purveyor, Inland Seafood, so I can vouch for the superb quality.
We will be using wild Chinook salmon for this recipe. If you cannot find the wild Chinook (King), then use sockeye, chum or Coho. If at all possible avoid the Pacific Ocean farmed Atlantic salmon as the harm outweighs the benefits of this particular fish. The first run of Chinook is a treasure. This fish is fatty, healthy, strong, large, and full of wide flaked meat. If you buy the whole fish you can use the head and backbones for fish stock for a rich and hearty chowder. When buying the steak cut go for the one that still has the backbone in it as this has more flavor and is more amenable to the grill. After it has grilled just lift the center bone out of the fish, all the other bones will come along with it.
What better way to celebrate Summer than with the best of both coasts? Catfish and Salmon! We will have catfish for the appetizer and salmon for the entrée. I recommend frozen green grapes, blueberries and raspberries sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar for a cooling dessert.
The history of Southern cuisine is lush with odes to catfish. From the catch to the table this slick fellow is the South. Can you imagine the writings of Mark Twain, or even our own late, beloved Lewis Grizzard without catfish? As a boy I learned to fish by catching bream, crappie and catfish. Later in life I developed a love of fly-fishing for trout and steelhead. A s my Uncle Allen Driscoll tells me I will end up at the end of a boat spinning for the three great bass species. Any way it goes, I am happy just to be near the water. This is pretty much how it is for most of us who grow up in a fishing boat, on the edge of a stream, or in the cold surf.
Farmed catfish is a stellar example of environmentally friendly and delicious fish cultivation. Catfish, trout and tilapia farming are what fish farming is all about. Everything is used, and nothing is poisonous to the earth or to us, the consumer. And besides, each one is delicious and easy to prepare.
For our grill we use an equal portion of two different charcoal briquettes, coconut and hickory. Coconut charcoal for intense heat, and hickory for the flavor.
It has to be blazing hot for the catfish appetizer so don’t fear the red glow from the base of your grill when the coconut charcoals are primed. By the time you get to cooking the salmon (20 minutes) the coals will have calmed down a bit and the hickory smoke will be dominate in the mix. This meal is for 4 people.
Four hours before it’s time to eat you will do all of the preparations. This way when the grill is ready all you do is cook and eat. Oh yes!
1 pound catfish cut into two inch cubes
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
2 ounces cilantro, fresh, chopped
4 tablespoons poblano pepper, diced
1 cup beer (yeah beer, any non-light kind)
1 teaspoon Tabasco Sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 teaspoons sesame oil
8 bamboo skewers
Mix all together in bowl and marinade in refrigerator for three hours. This removes the pond taste and gives them an extra punch of flavor. Four pieces of catfish per skewer.
4 heads baby bok choy (find this at Fooks Market on Baxter St)
1 medium red onion (or Vidalia if they are any good this year)
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut in long thin strips
2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut in long thin strips
1/2 cup sweet rice vinegar
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (raw sugar)
Cut the baby bok choy (a.k.a. Shanghai cabbage) in half. Slice the red onion in rings. Mix all together in large mixing bowl and marinade two to three hours. After it marinades, drain the liquid before cooking it. Roll the Shanghai cabbage in aluminum foil.
4 –8 ounce salmon steaks
1 cup pineapple juice
2 tablespoons coarse pink sea salt, or any other coarse salt
1 tablespoon coarse black pepper
1/2 cup oyster sauce (Asian section of store or at Fooks store)
1/3 cup corn oil
4 stalks rosemary, fresh of course
1 pineapple, check to see that it is a sweet one
When it comes to the oyster sauce, as with all things culinary the better the brand the better the flavor. Mix the pineapple juice, salt, black pepper, and oyster sauce together. Core and cut the pineapple into one-inch thick triangles. Cut the rosemary stalks into 8 two-inch pieces. Pierce each salmon with two rosemary fronds. Rub the salmon steaks with the oyster sauce mixture and let them set in this for about thirty minutes. Save the juices for brushing the steaks while they grill. Save the corn oil for grilling time. You can buy rosemary bushes at Home Depot.
IF you have a rosemary bush all you gotta do is reach over and pinch a bunch off of the bush and throw it on the grill for extra flavor. Two years ago I presented a salmon recipe with rosemary, so as an anniversary memoir I am using the two together again, in a different way, but still together. Fresh rosemary is an incredibly versatile herb that I think is not used enough in the home kitchen from appetizers to desserts. It must be fresh. I’ve used it in crème brulee, ice creams, savory dishes, with fruits, with roasts, on the grill, and as a garnish. Fresh rosemary is without bounds and in many ways has more uses than even the most popular of all, basil.
HONEY WASABI SAUCE FOR THE SALMON
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
1/2 cup honey (check for different kinds of flower honey)
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
Whisk all together and refrigerate until time for supper.
Do you ever feel as if you were a slave to the will and whim of the grocery stores here in the Athens area? FOOKS on Baxter in Athens is a great choice for a concise selection of Pan Asian ingredients.
That no matter what you plan they will not have the best produce that you need? If that is the case then make the drive to the International Farmers Market, or to the market at 99 Ranch, and best of the best is Super H on Pleasantdale Road. What you save in groceries far exceeds the cost of gas in driving there and back. If you have no idea what it is that you are looking at when you examine the produce, the seafood or the prepared foods and ingredients then just ask anyone close by. In my experiences most of the time people are more than happy and ready to not only tell you what a food is but also how best to prepare it the same way they did in their native lands.
If you are afraid to try the too culturally different, then stick to the tried and true of grilling our own sweet corn and zucchini, yellow squash, or green tomatoes. After all, Southern cuisine is a true and valued food all it’s own just the same as any other international cuisine like French, Chinese or Italian. True Southern, for many of us, is really the first and foremost food of life. Thing is, you really must follow the rules of fresh and take your time. Fresh is the only way to cook. There is no excuse today to cook any other way. Some will eat to live, and others happily live to eat. I prefer to live to eat. When you live to eat there is no obstacle too great to stand between yourself and a cherished meal or ingredient.
So, if you can’t make the drive and the yellow squash is looking good then go with the squash. It’s the same for sweet corn as either is perfect on the grill with salmon and pineapple. The plate will be sort of yellow looking but that’s ok. Sometimes our foods can’t be as colorful as we would like.
The first stage is ready. The grill is fire hot from the coconut or cherry wood coals. Place the roll of Shanghai cabbage on the backside of the grill. After five minutes brush the grill with peanut oil and place the catfish skewers on the grill. Cover the grill. Turn them after five minutes. Turn again and cook for another five minutes. So, that’s fifteen minutes cook time for the first course.
Unroll the baby bock choy and divide between four plates. Place two catfish skewers on each plate. Pour the juice from the boy choy over the food. Garnish with lemon and cilantro.
For the salmon brush the grill with corn oil. The heat should be a bit calmer by this time. You will grill the fish five minutes per side, turning three times. Be careful when you turn the fish over as they may stick, so use a flat metal spatula to loosen them off of the grill rails. Place pineapple on the grill at the same time as the salmon, but only turn the pineapple triangles two times. This is also fifteen minutes cook time for the second course of your meal. The squash only needs about ten minutes. Corn will need about fifteen minutes. The hickory flavor of the smoke should be plenty enough seasoning for the vegetables. If that is not enough then sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little bit of chopped fresh garlic.
When they have cooked remove the salmon from the grill and pull out the backbone. Then pull out the rosemary sticks. Brush the fish with the honey wasabi mayonnaise and set on plates. Arrange pineapple and vegetable around your centerpiece of salmon. Sprinkle chopped macadamia nuts or cashews mixed with chopped parsley and rosemary over it all. Garnish with lime and red bell pepper.
1 pint blueberries
1 pint raspberries
1 bunch green seedless grapes
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Pick the grapes off the stems. Arrange the fruits on a freezer proof plate. Sprinkle with the sugar. Freeze. When it’s time to eat just place the plate on the table and munch along as the sun goes down on your perfect Georgia day with friends by the grill. And that, all together, is the way to live to eat.
GRILLING MY LIFE AWAY
Sometimes a warm summer night is all we need
To see how beloved this Southern life can be,
For me it’s how I cherish, how I care and prepare,
For others it’s just the way the day crawls by,
How we sit and chat and watch the flowers in the breeze,
And any way you slice it there’s no other way to live
Than passing the time on a porch in Georgia in late August.