Salmon has long been my favored fish. I remember, as a child, visiting the fishery at the Bonneville Dam, on the Columbia River from which two things have stuck in my mind: the sturgeon which look like modern day dinosaurs, and the salmon migrating back up the river, to spawn and die. Seeing the fish leap, fight and put forth such a tremendous effort, flailing on a fish ladder has stayed with me.
Thinking back to the times of the Native Americans, and the people that lived around what is now the Portland, OR area during the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition, I can't help but think that I could have seen the value of the mighty salmon fish, unlike the people of the expedition, but I would've probably eaten Rover anyway. This, from the PBS interview with Dayton Duncon, discussing the expedition:
The Columbia river system is like the... Let me start again. Back up a second. Lewis and Clark and their expedition ate their way across the West. They'd had buffalo, elk, antelope, big horn sheep, they'd even tried a prairie dog back in, back on the Great Plains. They'd eaten berries and everything, they'd tasted everything. And now they were in the greatest salmon fishery the world has ever known, the Columbia River basin. And there's salmon beyond belief. Clark saw some houses where he thought ten thousand pounds of dried salmon must be resting there. And instead, what did the men want to eat? They didn't want fish, they wanted meat. That's what they were used to eating--nine pounds of meat a day back on the Plains. There's no meat to be had, so they started buying dogs. They'd come into an Indian village and they'd trade whatever they could to buy dogs. They'd be sitting right next to the river bank where the salmon are, are, you know, swarming, and they'd have, you know, dog for dinner. You know, they were wiping out the canines of the Northwest as they moved through. Lewis said that he and most of the men liked the taste of dog after a while. Clark was the only one who said, "I find that I have not reconciled myself to the taste of dog."I'm not claiming to know the what should be done about the dilemma and damage all of those hydroelectric dams have done, but considering the important role they play in electricity production, we obviously can't just blow up all the dams. But, it is a shame to think of the fish runs that used to exist in the lower Columbia River.
Once in awhile we get frozen salmon fillets to eat at home, but this weekend, my wife and I went all out and picked up 2 lbs of wild caught salmon (from, yes, you guessed it: Costco) in lieu of treating ourselves to a sushi dinner extravaganza -- which is our usual manner of celebrating, as it is our anniversary. So, the pressure is on to make this a worthwhile dinner, and I'm aiming high with this one.
First, things first. Here is the ingredients list for the three main components of the meal.
- 2 large Leeks, cleaned, with dark green section removed and sliced in half-inch increments, perpendicular to the length of the stalk
- Bacon fat (I fried 5 slices of bacon, to be used in the risotto, so this made sense to use)
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
I took the outer couple of layers away, as these are usually too tough to eat. Before I laid the leeks, on the grill, I soaked them with the grease sprinkled the salt and pepper on them.
Bacon, Caramelized Onion and White Wine Risotto:
- 5 slices thick cut bacon
- 0.5 yellow onion
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 quart chicken broth
- 0.5 cup olive oil
- 1 cup white wine (two-buck chuck from Trader Joes is just fine)
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 0.5 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
- Pinch of fresh thyme, dill and rosemary
- Pinch of salt and pepper
I've made risotto in the past, but it has been a long time. I made sure to get the proper rice, as this is very important. Usually, we cook with jasmine rice, which I love, but for risotto, jasmine rice, won't do at all. I also figured, adding bacon would ensure it being tasty, if not executed exactly as it should be.
Cedar Plank Grilled Salmon, with a garlic, lemon, dill and sage rub:
- Water soaked Cedar Planks (I soaked the planks for nearly 4 hours)
- 2 lb wild salmon fillet
- 2 fresh lemons (3 tablespoons of zest, and squeezed)
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 0.25 cup minced dill
- 0.25 cup minced sage
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 0.5 tablespoon pepper
- Pinch of red pepper
My wife has this meal head and shoulders above the other efforts from the past few weeks. I enjoyed making it, as it was a little more out of my culinary comfort zone. The risotto is excellent. The only minor, very small thing I would do differently is add a touch more salt than I did. I was hoping the bacon would supplement the saltiness more than it did. However, I would be proud to serve this risotto to just about anyone. Delicious. I have never grilled leeks in this manner before, and the only major issue was that I only used two leeks! Due to the strong flavors in the risotto and in the salmon rub, it was good that I kept it simple. Lipid, salt, pepper and heat. That is it, and that's all they needed. The salmon worked out well too. I'm glad I didn't have the fish sitting in the marinade/rub longer than I did. Salmon doesn't really need marinade like some cuts of meat do, and that principle holds up here. I let the salmon sit in the acidic oil for, at most, 30 minutes, and it worked perfectly. One one of the fillets I ate all the herbs and garlic, and on the second one, I scraped it off. Both ways were good, but I love strong flavors, so this is no surprise. The dog ate both of the skins, and she had only positive things to say.
Overall grade: A+, as in, there were no major flaws and no room for improvement.