This might be the ultimate summer dish.
“Planked Wild Salmon with Nectarines, Thyme, Honey, Almonds, and Ricotta” combines summer’s prize of wild local King salmon with some of the season’s most luscious stone fruit — all co-mingled on a cedar plank that imparts a ravishing smokiness on the backyard grill.
Best yet? You can devour it all in good conscience because it’s all sustainable.
The recipe is from the new cookbook, “Lure: Sustainable Seafood Recipes From the West Coast” (Figure 1), of which I received an advance review copy, before it is released publicly in October.
It was written by Ned Bell, who founded Chefs for Oceans to raise awareness for responsible seafood choices, and is a member of the Seafood Watch’s Blue Ribbon Task Force. He wrote it in conjunction with Valerie Howes, the food editor of Reader’s Digest Canada.
Doing the right thing when it comes to seafood can be daunting. Species that seemed plentiful often find themselves over-fished in no time flat. Do we have to give up eating what we love? Or is there another way?
As Bell writes in the book, “Eating seafood responsibly is not about restricting your options; it’s about opening your mind (and fridge) to a vast array of fish and shellfish that you might not have considered before.”
Just as fruits and vegetables have seasons, so does seafood. Clams and squid may be available year-round, but halibut is around March through October, sardines from June through February, and salmon from May through October.
The book includes tips on choosing the freshest seafood, how best to store it, and advice on making better sustainable choices such as by eating lower on the food chain (sardines, anchovies and mackerel), and eating smaller portions of higher quality seafood.
The recipes are divided into “White Fish,” “Fatty Fish,” “Shellfish,” and “Sea Greens.” Bell shows you how to make everything from “Halibut Burger with Blueberry Relish” and “Mussel Salad with Oranges, Olives and Smoked Paprika” to “Grilled Oysters with Beer, Smoked Salt, and Honey Butter” and even “(Sea)Weed Brownies” (yes, made with flaked seaweed for a delicate saltiness).
I cannot resist wild salmon in summer, especially when it is cooked on an aromatic cedar plank. The fish just seems to come out far moister that way. In this recipe, the fillets are brushed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and strewn with fresh thyme leaves before going onto the plank with nectarine halves that have been drizzled with honey, more thyme leaves and a pinch of salt.
The recipe originally instructed to cook the fish for 7 to 12 minutes, but I found it took closer to 18 minutes until the fillets were flaky yet still pink at the center, so I noted that in the recipe below.
Once the fish and nectarines are cooked, remove them to a platter and dollop some fresh ricotta on the fish, along with some sliced almonds. The ricotta gets a little melty, almost creating a sauce for the fish. It offers up a subtle milky sweetness that complements the richness of the salmon, while the almonds add a pop of crunchiness. Store-bought ricotta can be a little grainy. If that texture is not to your liking, you can always go the extra step to whiz the ricotta in a blender or food processor to smooth it over more. Or you could even use Greek yogurt or creme fraiche instead.
The nectarines may be my favorite part of this dish. They get soft and yielding, extra sweet and syrupy from the honey, and wonderfully smoky tasting to make them even more arresting. The sweet fruit almost plays the same role as maple syrup would in other recipes for planked salmon, enhancing the natural sweetness of the fish.
Enjoy this dish heartily — while the languid days of summer are still here.
CONTEST: One lucky Food Gal reader will win a copy of the cookbook, “Lure: Sustainable Seafood Recipes From The West Coast” by Ned Bell with Valerie Howes.
Entries, limited to those in the continental United States, will be accepted through Noon PST Sept. 5. Winner will be announced Sept. 6.
How to win?
It’s easy — just tell me why you most want to add this cookbook to your collection. Best answer wins.
Planked Wild Salmon with Nectarines, Thyme, Honey, Almonds, and Ricotta
1 (1 1/2 pounds) skin-on salmon fillet, cut into 4 portions
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper
4 sprigs thyme, leaves only, plus extra for garnish (divided)
4 nectarines or apricots, halved
2 tablespoons honey
4 ounces (1/2 cup) fresh whole-milk ricotta
Sliced toasted almonds, for garnish
Garden salad, to serve
Soak the cedar plank in water for at least 30 minutes and up to a day before using.
Preheat the grill to medium (about 350 degrees). Use paper towels to pat the fish dry. Rub all over with olive oil, and season both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the thyme leaves over the salmon (leaving some for the nectarines and for the garnish), and press to adhere.
Put the plank on the grill directly over the flames. Cover the grill and allow the plank to heat until starting to just smoke, about 2 minutes. Turn and repeat on the other side. Add the fish skin side down to the plank. Add the nectarines cut side up. Drizzle the nectarines with honey, sprinkle with most of the remaining thyme leaves, and a little salt. Cover the grill and cook for 10 to 18 minutes or until fish is almost opaque all the way through and flakes easily and the nectarines are caramelized and tender. (If the plank gets too hot and ignites spritz it with water from a spray bottle. Alternatively, you can grill the salmon directly on an oiled grill grate for 3 to 4 minutes per side, and roast the nectarines in a 400-degree oven for 12 minutes.)
To serve, add a couple tablespoons of ricotta over each piece of fish, and sprinkle with the almonds. Garnish with thyme. Serve with a garden salad.
Note: Although cedar is a classic choice, alder and oak work beautifully with slamon, too. You can find grilling planks at gourmet retailers, or go the DIY route with untreated wood from the hardware store. Look for 1-inch thick and 8-inch wide pieces, and have them cut 8 to 12 inches long. Just be sure to give them a good sanding first to remove splinters and allow time to soak them before using.
Adapted from “Lure” by Ned Bell with Valerie Howes