Bright colors are important at this time of year ... for the stomach and the soul.
Say what you will about the politics of Patrick Leahy, Vermont's controversial Senator, he certainly coughed up a sweet little way of dealing with salmon fillets, by sharing his wife's way of preparing salmon steaks in the above cookbook. Sweet Maple is a cookbook of all things maple syrup-flavored. It gives the reader an excellent overview of the botany, history, and anecdotes of the maple sugaring industry. It's a book that comes off my bookshelf at this time of year and gets heavy use through March and into April. When the maple sugar is being made, the recipes for everything from soups to desserts are pulled out for a yearly run through.
Tonight, it will help me refresh my memory for an excellent teriyaki marinade and basting sauce for a piece of wild salmon that I have had on ice for a while.
The marinade is a simple one and it does nice things for the salmon. Wild salmon is a firmer, more tight fish than that farm-raised salmon that is more widely available. It's a salmon that I don't buy frequently, but when it looks good and the price isn't too prohibitive, I'll pick up a nice fillet for pan-searing. There's really not much to this dish other than letting the salmon take its time soaking up the maple teriyaki flavors.
The key is to allow at least three hours for the fish to marinate. Overnight is too long, so don't go overboard.
Then, find an old non-stick pan that you don't mind warping over time and dedicate it to pan searing and running under the broiler. I have an old one that's been in service for at least five years. When the handle bubbles up and get too rickety, I'll pitch it and pick another up at the department store.
I place the salmon flesh side down and cover it well with the marinade sauce, place a tight cover of plastic wrap on, and put it someplace cold for the afternoon. Then, about twenty minutes before I want to eat, I get the pan fiercely hot, spritz it with some vegetable oil, and lay the salmon in the pan, skin side down. Then, I step back for 4 minutes. I preheat the broiler and at the end of those searing four minutes, I run the pan under the broiler for about 6 minutes, spooning some of the reserved marinade over the fish every couple minutes. When the fish has a shiny glaze and the edges of the fillet look creamy and slightly grey, I plate it and we eat it piping hot. Tonight, I made a saffron risotto with spinach and walnuts to have with a bottle of Pinot Grigio.
On to that saffron risotto ... we love this dish. Tonight, it reminds us of yellow daffodils and green sprouts that will come with Springtime. Mmm ... It's simple, but I use a few pans to get it the way I like it. The original recipe had you slipping the spinach into the risotto and stock about midway through the rice-cooking process. It made for a risotto that did not have that distinctive yellow color. Instead, it became an unappetizing brown. It tasted great, but the look of it put you right off the dish. Soooo ... to get past that, I steam the spinach in a bit of olive oil and minced garlic and fold it gently into the finished risotto just before serving. I also reserve some of the toasted walnut meats to place atop with the shaved parmesan cheese. It makes for a much prettier dish, and the aesthetics are much better. So there.
Our first maple-based dinner complete, I'll leave you with this beautiful image from the artist, Gene Matras, a New Hampshire -based artist. This picture hangs during the winter on our kitchen wall above the fireplace mantle. You can see other works by Gene, here. It seems a fitting way to celebrate late winter and 'sugar season'.
'Collecting the Sap' - pen and ink drawing by Gene Matras