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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Spring Renewal: Slow-roasted Salmon in Lemony Yogurt Sauce with Sugar Snap Peas & Shaved Pecorino Salad

It is Springtime in San Francisco.

A time for rebirth, renewal.

Young slender green shoots are sprouting everywhere.

The sycamore trees at the front of our apartment complex that have spent an entire autumn and winter looking barren and forlorn are springing into life again with tender young leaves.

Ah if only our tired human bodies would undergo the natural metamorphosis that transforms winter's ungainly caterpillar into spring's floating butterfly.

Alas, Nature has cruelly dealt us a bad hand by making us the world's most self-conscious, metabolically-challenged creatures. I mean, a snake doesn't look at itself in the mirror & say "Jeez, this skin is looking a little ragged; better head to Sephora & find a good exfoliator."

Nope, without so much as a thought of its sex appeal or a glance at its reflection in the nearest waterhole, your average reptile is miraculously relieved of its dry scaly skin by Mother Nature; while humans, if we're lucky, have to head to the nearest health spa for a minimum 6 weeks of intensive beauty boot camp just to shed five lbs. after punishing ourselves with days of the most pitiless, rigorous self-scrutiny in every surface that happens to reflect our sorry images. (I shudder to think of the extremes taken for shedding some of that wrinkly skin!).

Let's face it: we've been rooked!

However, Hope (with all its capital H, Emily Dickinson-inflected beauty)  springs eternal in the human breast... and with the intent of taking over where Nature neglectfully left off---I offer this overture to that time-honored Spring tradition of getting our bodies into some semblance of condition for bikini season. A lovely meal chockfull of skin-enhancing, body nourishing, soul-stirring yummy goodness with the King of Spring in the starring role.

Pacific King Salmon is truly royal... get it wild and whilst in season , if you can. The controversy about eating farmed versus wild salmon is complex, and reports available in the media, online, and in scientific publications often seem contradictory. Issues fall into three main categories: environmental concerns, contamination, and omega-3 fatty acid levels in edible portions. The good news is both wild and farmed salmon have low levels of mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish are derived from plants (algae, leaves, grass).

Here's a quick salmon primer:

In wild salmon, the amount and type of omega-3s found are based on the algae and plankton found in their diet. In farmed salmon, the omega-3 levels are dependent on what type of feed they eat, which is made from plants, grains, and fishmeal.  Farmed salmon fillets contain as many grams of omega-3 fatty acids as wild salmon because farmed salmon are fattier than wild salmon. New feeds are being developed with less fishmeal in them and more protein derived from grains and oilseeds, such as soybeans. Fish oil is also being partially replaced with plant-derived oils.

In general, the more plant-based ingredients, the lower the level of long-chain omega-3 fats in the salmon. However, fish are fed feeds containing enough fish oil to maintain omega-3 fatty acid levels equivalent or higher than most wild fish. Health professionals recommend that we increase our intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for nervous system, heart, and brain health. Fish, especially oily fish such as salmon, are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Those of particular importance are alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentacenoic acid, docosopentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid. Research has shown that eicosapentacenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid in seafood provide health benefits for the developing fetus, infants, and also for adults.

Wild salmon is the preferred choice, but its availability is limited and seasonal. I'm sure it would be preferable if we could all go up to some lovely stream where they are spawning and catch them bare-handed, like bears do, but this is not always possible, even for the most conscientious eater, so we have farmed salmon, and much of it is quite good.

According to The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (a globally trusted resource for those concerned about sustainable seafood practices), virtually all Atlantic salmon is now farmed rather than wild-caught, anyway. Atlantic salmon farmed in closed tanks is a "Best Choice." Closed tanks often have less effluent, disease, escapes and habitat impacts than other aquaculture systems.  Currently, only 0.1% of farmed Atlantic salmon is farmed in closed tanks. These sources will be labelled as "land-based" or "tank-based" salmon. Atlantic salmon farmed in Maine and Verlasso® and Blue Circle® brands are "Good Alternatives." These sources have reduced some of the impacts that typically occur when salmon is farmed in net pens. Atlantic salmon farmed in Canada, Scotland, Chile (excluding Verlasso® brand) and Norway (excluding Blue Circle® brand) is on the "Avoid" list.

About 60% of Chinook salmon is farmed. Chinook salmon caught in Alaska, farmed in New Zealand and farmed in closed tanks is a "Best Choice." In Alaska, management of salmon fisheries is highly effective. In New Zealand, the industry operates on a small scale and has few environmental impacts. Closed tanks often have less effluent, disease, escapes and habitat impacts than other aquaculture systems. Chinook salmon caught in Washington's Puget Sound is on the "Avoid" list because a significant portion of the catch is from stocks that are threatened. All sources of Chinook salmon from California, Oregon, and Washington (other than from Puget Sound) are "Good Alternatives." The fisheries are managed to avoid endangered or threatened stocks as much as possible. However, most fisheries undoubtedly impact these at-risk stocks, and Seafood Watch considers this a high concern. Some sources of Chinook salmon are certified sustainable to the standard of the Marine Stewardship Council.

Now that you are experts, you can wow (or annoy) your local fishmongers with your knowledge. Be ye mindful and fishify! Fresh salmon is a glorious and flavorful way to springboard into healthful dietary habits, and so pretty too. There are a variety of ways to serve it, here's one:

Spring Renewal: Slow-roasted Salmon in Lemony Yogurt Sauce with Fresh Sugar Snap Peas And Shaved Pecorino Salad


This recipe will serve 4 relatively fit hopeful diners or 8 frantic, worried dieters.
It's really an excellent dish for people who don't usually enjoy fish because the slow-roasting & the marinade tame the volatile oils in the salmon, avoiding the "fishy" smell that can make this healthy delicious protein so unappealing to the uninitiated.

Pitted olives are fine to use in the salad, but I prefer mine to be less handled by a grocer, so I use whole olives. I like releasing the tender meat from the pit with the perfect tools for the job - my lips and teeth... so primal. The Arabequina olives I chose are meaty, buttery, highly aromatic... bringing you a taste of the Mediterranean with every bite, but there are other tongue-pleasing varietals. 
Almost every supermarket here in the U.S. has a huge variety of olives from oil-cured to brined to seasoned... experiment, see what you like. 

You will need to trim the sugar snap peas, here's how:  Using a paring knife, with the inside curve of the pod facing you, sever the top of the pea and pull off the tough string that runs along the length of the pod. (Sometimes stores have already trimmed the string.) It’s not necessary to remove the other end, though you can if you’d like. (This also works for snow peas.) You can also, of course, avoid the pea pod trimming altogether and substitute haricot verts (small young green beans), fava beans, or even asparagus. It's your kitchen... you reign supreme. I just like the contrast of the sweet pea with the salty Pecorino. 


For the salmon:

4 six oz. skinless center-cut salmon fillets, preferably wild king salmon
1 tsp. madras curry powder, or any other tumeric-based seasoning
1 Tbs. olive oil
freshly ground salt & pepper, to taste (I keep a basalt-like hunk of Pink Himalayan Sea Salt with its own grater on hand at all times...)

For the sauce:

1 cup Greek-style yogurt (or plain yogurt that has been strained in the fridge for at least 3 hours and brought to room temperature)
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded & coarsely chopped
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 lemon, juiced and zested (Meyer's lemons are the best, a cross between orange & lemon in flavor)
1 tsp. chopped chives
1 tsp. chopped flat leaf parsley
1 Tbs. mint leaves, finely chopped
freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste

For the snap peas:

4 cups fresh sugar snap peas, trimmed
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (preferably Meyers lemons, about 3 or 4)
1 shallot, finely minced (you can use garlic, if you prefer)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped leaves only
4 oz. thinly shaved pecorino romano or other sharp tasting cheese; parmigiano-reggiano works fine, too, if you prefer something mellower

1/2 cup of black olives (I used meaty Arabequina olives, but use what you like)
1/2 pint of small tomatoes (grape or cherry), sliced in half  
2 cups fresh baby arugula leaves (optional)


Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place salmon on a cutting board, remove any pin bones with a tweezer. Whisk olive oil and curry powder together in a small bowl. Rub mixture all over the surface of each fillet. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Set aside.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. While water is heating, fill a large bowl with equal parts ice and water. Set aside. When pot reaches the boil, add snap peas and cook until tender 2-3 minutes. Drain peas and add to bowl of ice water. Drain again. Pat dry with paper towel. Place peas in large shallow serving bowl; set aside. (Snap peas can be prepared to this point 1 day ahead, if desired). In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, garlic, olive oil whisking until well combined and an emulsion forms. Pour dressing over snap peas toss well. Sprinkle in cheese, parsley, tomatoes, olives; toss lightly. When ready to serve, add arugula,  gently folding ingredients into one another. 

Cook salmon:

Place curry marinated salmon fillets on a large lightly oiled oven-proof non-stick pan. Do not overcrowd pan or salmon will steam not roast. Use 2 small pans if you do not have 1 large enough to accommodate all the fillets. Roast salmon without disturbing for 10 minutes then with a sturdy spatula carefully turn salmon over & roast 10 minutes more. Remove from oven and serve with a dollop of the lemony yogurt sauce on top. Serving additional sauce at the table, if desired (recipe for lemony sauce follows).

While the salmon roasts, make the sauce. Add all the ingredients for the sauce except the lemon zest into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth & creamy about 30 seconds to a minute. Place in serving bowl, stir in lemon zest, taste to adjust seasoning, adding pepper to taste. Serve on the side with fish. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead but should be brought to room temperature before serving).

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