Salmon is not a fish that is native to Italian waters and something I had never seen until more recently when in Italy, mostly in upscale restaurants. The rich, fatty nature of salmon pairs perfectly with so many indigenous Italian herbs, produce and products. A grilled salmon steak with a drizzle of Balsamico; a freshly chopped tomato, garlic and herb topping; or perhaps simply set on a bed of wood roasted cannellini beans with a touch of Extra Virgin Olive Oil… Oh the possibilities are endless.
I simply had to share one of my favorite preparations which features salmon from the A16 Cookbook. The technique for oven braising the fish is absolutely foolproof with any thick fish steak. The original recipe features halibut, which I might add is wonderful. I substituted the halibut for salmon since wild salmon is one of my family’s favorites and available from local Northern California waters. The area farmer’s markets have the freshest catch of the day and often remove the pin bones for you. I generally buy a large segment from the center of the salmon making it easier to divide into equal serving pieces.
The A 16 topping takes the salmon to another level of perfection, pistachio being the the key ingredient. Pistachio, lemon, parsley, capers – what could be more representative of the flavors of Sicily.
Pistachio trees were originally brought to Sicily from the Middle East by the Arabs when they conquered the area. The village of Bronte, on the western slope of Mt. Etna, is recognized as producing some of the finest pistachios in the world. The distinctive flavor of the pistachios, combined with preserved lemon, parsley leaves and capers comes together with extra virgin olive oil to create an intensely aromatic paste perfectly complimenting the salmon.
The recipe couldn’t be easier to pull together. The pistachio paste can be made a day ahead, covering the top directly with plastic wrap and placing in the refrigerator. Salmon, or any fish for that matter is something I purchase the day I serve it, with one exception; the farmer’s market vendors have the freshest available fish and often I place the fish on ice, reserve it in the coldest part of the fridge and use it the next day. In any case, choose a reliable fishmonger that has a steady clientel , insuring that the catch of the day is of highest quality.
- 1.8 pound piece of wild Salmon, cut from the center portion of the fish
- Olive oil for coating the baking dish
- 1 cup of shelled, unsalted pistachio nuts, lightly roasted
- ¼ to ⅓ cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1½ tablespoons of capers, drained or rinsed of salt
- 3 wedges of preserved lemons, cut into ¾ inch pieces - be sure to remove any seeds
- Leaves from ½ bunch of Italian parsley
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Fresh water
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil to drizzle
- Early in the day place the fish on a cutting board, select a sharp chefs knife and cut the fish into 4 relatively equal portions and refrigerate.
- Place the pistachios, capers, parsley leaves and preserved lemon pieces in the work bowl of a food processor, pulse until the mixture becomes a coarse paste. This step can also be done by hand with a mortar and pestle. With the food processor running, begin to drizzle the Extra Virgin Olive Oil into the work bowl, stopping once to scrap down the sides. If you are doing this by hand, do so once you have crushed the ingredients coarsely. You many not need the entire ⅓ cup of olive oil; the mixture should hold together well and the oil be fully incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap, placed directly on top of the paste, set aside.
- Have a pyrex or other rectangular baking dish ready and oil with a light coating of olive oil. Between 4 hours and 1 hour prior to serving, season the salmon pieces with the salt and lay them skin side down in the baking pan. Return to the refrigerator. Thirty minutes before placing the fish into the oven, remove it from the refrigerator allow it to come close to room temperature; the resting time may vary depending on the time of year and temperature. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Preheat the oven to 400º F.
- Top the fish pieces equally with the pistachio paste. Add enough fresh water to the baking dish to come halfway up the sides of the salmon.
- Place the baking pan into the preheated oven and allow the fish to braise in the water for 12 to 15 minutes; The fish will be perfectly cooked, not at all dry. Remove the fish pieces to either a platter or individual serving plates. Baste each piece with some of the warm liquid from the baking pan followed by a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Serve immediately.