It was a cool and getting colder November around Kachemak Bay on the Cook Inlet south of Anchorage, Alaska. Rick and I were there to finish filming his documentary Alaska: Time and Technology on the
topic of offshore oil drilling, during which we experienced two of my most treasured food adventures.
The first was at the home of Frank Tupper and his wife Holly in the (formerly) Russian fishing village of Ninilchik. We were invited to dinner and the meal was to be salmon. It was disarmingly uncomplicated: a half salmon that he had caught, filleted, with lemon and onion rings strewn across the top, and grilled over a hot charcoal fire. Perfection.
The second was on the beach in English Bay, an Inuit village across the water from Homer, accessible only by boat or plane, no roads, truly at the edge of our universe. We were there at the hospitality of Victor Kvasnikoff, the town elder, who was highly interested in talking to some documentary filmmakers about off shore oil drilling (he was quite opposed).
Making movies has a lot of down time, and there was occasion for Rick to go fishing. He snagged a beauty in the shallow surf offshore and we filleted it and grilled it on the beach. During that already incomparable evening, as we sat back and relished the beauty of it all, suddenly the sky lit up in undulating waves of green that spanned the spectrum from blue to yellow, rockin’ and rollin’, magnificently alive.
While I have many more tales of that sojourn to Alaska, I’ll leave them now to offer up the recipe for simply grilled salmon with my later embellishment of chive and mint oil. The recipe is adapted from my forthcoming book Bold: A Cookbook of Big Flavors and Hearty Portions (co-authored with Susanna Hoffman, November, 2013).
A cook’s note: Grilling the salmon fillet with skin on protects the bottom from burning so the fish can cook without being turned. That way, the onion and lemon rings, which are part of the taste treat of the dish, don’t fall away.
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1-pound piece wild king salmon fillet with skin
Kosher or fine sea salt for sprinkling over the salmon and the onions, plus 1/4 teaspoon more for the chive mint oil
1 small white onion, thinly sliced into rings, rings separated
1 lemon, sliced into thin rounds
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh chives (2 to 4 bunches)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Splash the lemon juice over the cut side of the salmon and lightly sprinkle with salt across the top.
2. Spread the onion rings and lemon rounds over the cut side of the salmon and sprinkle lightly with salt again. Set aside a room temperature until ready to grill, up to 2 hours.
3. Prepare a medium-hot grill or preheat the broiler.
4. Bring a small pot of water to boil. Line a colander or strainer with paper towels. Drop the chives into the water and right away drain them in the colander and rinse them with cool water. Gather up the paper and gently squeeze out excess moisture. Transfer the chives to a food processor, add the mint, oil, and 1/ 4 teaspoon salt, and process until blended and almost smooth, about 2 minutes.
5. Place the salmon skin side down on the grill rack directly over the heat and cover or place under the broiler. Cook until white curds form across the top and the flesh is firm, 11 to 12 minutes for medium rare. Transfer to a large platter, keeping the onion and lemon rounds on top, and set aside for 10 minutes for the juices to settle.
6. To serve, drizzle some of the chive oil across the salmon over the lemon and onion rings. Serve right away with the extra chive oil on the side.