Grilled Salmon with Fennel, two ways
Nothing compares to the wild salmon from Alaska’s Copper River. Deeply red-orange, silky-tender, succulent, somehow smelling as clean as forest air and tasting of the sea – it’s an amazing fish. We’ll have it several times during its fairly short season – and we’re in it now. I’ll be honest – Copper River salmon is one of those things that needs nothing to be a spectacular meal. Sea salt and freshly-cracked pepper, put on the grill, a good squirt of lemon and it will melt in your mouth and lodge itself in your memory. You want to do nothing to disrupt or mask this exquisite taste. We’ll often enjoy it simple, just that way.
That being said, fennel is one of those foods that marries perfectly with the richness of wild salmon. In a recipe posted in late May, I shared a favorite rub that features ground fennel seed with many other spices. Here again salmon is paired with fennel, first with a simple rub of ground fennel and salt, and then served alongside grilled wedges of fennel bulb and red onion. Taken together, it’s smoky, sweet, and simply delicious.
(For this particular recipe you can use a less-expensive and more-readily available salmon – sockeye would be just fine. This time, we couldn’t resist the Copper River.)
For the fennel salt:
- 1 tablespoon dried fennel seed
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
For the vegetables:
- 1 large fennel bulb, stems removed, cut into thin wedges (& small frond pieces reserved for garnish)
- 1 red onion, cut into thick slices
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
For the salad:
- 1/4 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Pinch of cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
- salt to taste
- 4 cups mixed small-leaf salad greens
For the salmon:
- 1 pound sockeye or other salmon fillet, skin on, cut in 4 equal portions, or left as one large piece
- vegetable oil for oiling the grill
To prepare the fennel salt, grind together the fennel, salt and pepper in a spice grinder. Set asude.
To prepare the vegetables, toss the fennel and onion with olive oil and just 1 teaspoon of the fennel salt in a medium bowl.
To prepare the salad, in a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, mustard, cayenne, honey and salt. Just before serving, lightly coat the greens with 2 tablespoons of the dressing. Reserve the rest of the dressing as a sauce for the salmon.
To prepare the salmon, remove the pin bones. (You can use needle-nose pliers or tweezers.) Coat all flesh sides of the salmon with the remaining fennel salt and pat it on to adhere. Place the salmon on a plate and hold in the refrigerator until ready.
Preheat an outdoor gas grill or indoor grill pan to high heat. Oil the grill rack with vegetable oil. Grill the fennel wedges and onion slices for 6 to 8 minutes, or until tender but still crisp.
Grill the salmon, first skin side up for about two or three minutes, until grill-marks are visible. Then turn skin side down until the fish is done. (A 1/2- inch piece would take about 2 minutes per side. The piece pictured above was almost 2 inches in the thickest part and took about 8 to 10 minutes total. It’s best to stop the grilling process just shy of “done” because the fish will continue to cook after being removed from the fire and you definitely don’t want to over-do salmon!)
Toss the greens with 2 tablespoons of dressing and if you like put them in the center of a large platter; put the salmon on top, and scatter the vegetables all around. Or allow the vegetables to mingle with and become a part of the salad. Serve with the remaining sauce and garnish with small fennel fronds.
This recipe comes from Good Fish – sustainable seafood recipes from the Pacific Coast. Its author is Becky Selengut, formerly the fish chef at The Herb Farm, a very special restaurant outside of Seattle.