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FEATURE: COOKING LOCAL SALMON SANDWICHES W/CHERRY BBQ SAUCE AND MEXI-SLAW

July 03, 2009

Welcome back to the kitchen. This week we are celebrating the barbecue grill, a national pastime. What is it about cooking over an open fire that we find so irresistible? I think it is perhaps the tie to ancient generations.

In his book “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human”, Harvard Biological Anthropologist Richard Wrangham argues that it is the very act of cooking that sparked cultural evolution. Essentially, he argues that cooking elevated us above other animals because it made foods more digestible and nourishing, meaning we were able to spend far less time hunting, gathering, and especially digesting.

So as you spark up the grill this weekend, think back to your ancestors huddled around a smoky fire, roasting and drying mastodon meat so there would be nothing left for the saber tooth tigers. It’s nice to have propane, no?

In any case, grilled foods just taste great. As fats and juices drip down on to the coals or flame, a burst of smoky flavor rises up under the meats and veggies. And grills can achieve a high temperature, which helps to char the outside and seal in all the taste.

Now, any of us can slap together some group beef  and spices, brush chicken with olive oil salt and pepper, or even easier, toss some brats on the grill. These classics are sure to satisfy, and I am not one to turn up my nose at the simple American backyard barbecue.

But today I hope to inspire you with a recipe that’s a little more off the beaten Weber. Back when I was living in Portland, one of my favorite meals was the barbecued salmon sandwich from New Seasons Market. Charred salmon on a chewy ciabatta roll topped with creamy coleslaw and slathered in sweet/spicy barbecue sauce. Oh heck yes, I’m salivating just describing this masterpiece.

The oily salmon plays well with the roll, yet comes across as far less greasy than the pulled pork butt that would normally inhabit this sandwich. And there is nothing better than the holy union of smoky, sweet, spicy, cool, and crunchy. And if you are planning a big backyard party, it is simple enough to make this dish for a whole mess of soon-to-be-devotees of your grilling.

Now because this is a local foods cooking show, and because I am never content to leave well enough alone, I want to put a few twists on this creation. So I am going to pass along a recipe for spicy sweet cherry barbecue sauce made from scratch with the summer’s brief bounty of small stone fruit. If making your own sauce seems too daunting, just stick with a thick, sweet/spicy/smoky barbecue sauce like Stubb’s.

And we’ll add a slight Mexican twist to our slaw by adding extra lime juice, a bit of fresh cilantro, and some crunchy jicama as well. Finally, because we’ve got the grill going, we’ll do barbecue glazed peaches with a fresh cherry reduction and vanilla ice cream sprinkled with a little fresh mint, if we have time for the recipe. Now THAT is a summer meal!

We’ll start by making the cherry barbecue sauce, which I picked up from the LA Times food section. But please understand that barbecue sauce in America is like curry in Southeast Asia: it is deeply personal and varies widely by region. This is a bit of a fussier sauce recipe than you may be used to, but I promise it is sublime!

The LA Times recipe suggests you make the barbecue sauce at least 1 day in advance to allow the flavors to develop and meld together. This particular recipe makes about 6 cups sauce, which will keep for up to 1 week, refrigerated, if there are any leftovers. So here is the:

Roasted cherry barbecue sauce—LA Times (modified for Cooking Local)

4 pounds fresh cherries, preferably Bing, stemmed but un-pitted

1/4 cup almond oil, divided

1 onion, thinly sliced, top to bottom

3 cloves garlic, crushed

grated zest and juice of 1 orange, divided

1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted and ground, more to taste

1 1/2 teaspoons ground chipotle pepper, more to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin, more to taste

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup dry Washington red wine

1/2 cup cherry liqueur, preferably Heering's (one of the oldest and most popular cherry liqueurs, not too cloyingly sweet)

1 cup chicken broth (veggie or beef stock would be fine as well)

1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons maple syrup, preferably Grade B, more to taste (you can get away with molasses if maple syrup is too expensive for you, or even use brown sugar)

2 dashes Tabasco (or other vinegar-based hot sauce), plus more to taste

1 tablespoon salt, more to taste

1 teaspoon liquid smoke, optional (we won’t need the liquid smoke, because we are going to roast the cherries on the bbq)

1. Heat the barbecue (to roughly 400 degrees). Place the cherries in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of the almond oil and toss to coat lightly. Make a makeshift roasting pan by folding up the sides of a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil, and spread out the cherries on that sheet. Make a few small toothpick holes in the bottom of the sheet, so some juices drip down and the smoke flavors the fruit a bit. Roast on the grill with the cover closed until the cherries begin to burst and are very fragrant, about 20-25 minutes. Remove and set aside until cool enough to pit.

2. While the cherries are roasting, heat a heavy-bottom 4-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons almond oil, then stir in the onion, garlic and orange zest. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion becomes translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Stir in the ground fennel, chipotle pepper and cumin to coat, then stir in the tomato paste. Cook, stirring frequently, until the tomato paste darkens slightly and leaves a film on the bottom of the pan, 3 to 5 minutes. Watch carefully that the tomato paste doesn't burn.

4. Stir in the red wine and cherry liqueur and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid reduces and thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Stir in the orange juice, chicken broth, mustard, maple syrup, Tabasco and salt and bring to a simmer. Stir in the liquid smoke, if using. As the sauce comes to a simmer, pit the cherries, discarding the pits. (Pit the cherries over the roasting pan, saving any juices.)

5. Stir three-fourths of the pitted cherries and all of the cherry juice into the sauce, reserving the rest of the cherries. Cook the sauce at a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Purée the sauce until fairly smooth, using an immersion blender or blending in stages in a stand blender. Return the sauce to the pan and stir in the remaining cherries. Continue to gently simmer for 15 more minutes. Taste and adjust the flavorings and seasonings as desired. Remove from heat. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Warm the sauce before using.

 

            OK, so we’ve got our amazing local cheery bbq sauce all set, and it is thick, rich, and delicious. One common misconception about bbq sauce is that it is meant to be slathered on the mea that is cooked on the grill. But because of all the sugars in these sauces, they will blacken and burn. So you want to cook your meat almost all the way through before brushing on the sauce and letting it glaze a bit. For these salmon sandwiches, we could even just leave the sauce as a topping, and cook the fish filets fairly plain.

            For the salmon, we will use roughly 6 ounce pieces of salmon (think sandwich sized). If you end up with giant filets of salmon, you probably want to cook them whole, then cut them into portions once they are off the grill. Just brush each filet with some olive oil. Chop some fresh parsley to sprinkle over, and splash with about a teaspoon of soy sauce (or a sprinkling of salt). Grind on some black pepper and grill on a medium heat for about 3-5 minutes per side.

If you are concerned about over cooking and drying out your salmon, you can wrap it tightly in thick foil to seal in all the juices. While this is a great way to cook fish on the grill, we would miss out on the charred grill marks that I want for this sandwich. After about 6-10 minutes of cooking (after you have flipped the fish) check on the salmon’s doneness. It should flake with a fork but not be dry. Pull the filets off the grill and set aside, covered in foil.

Now, to make the Mexi-slaw. We’ll need:

-1 small clove of garlic, peeled

-1/2 teaspoon (a big dash) of salt

-juice of 1/2 fresh lime

-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

-1/2 teaspoon rough ground mustard

-2 teaspoons sugar

-2 tablespoons mayonnaise plus a splash of olive oil

-a small pinch of celery seeds

-black pepper

-about 3 cups each finely sliced red and green cabbage strips

-2 cups peeled and finely sliced jicama

-1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro leaves. Feel free to toss in some parsley as well.

 

Start by crushing the garlic in the salt in the bottom of a wooden bowl with the back of a wooden spoon. Mash it until it becomes a fine paste, then add the lime juice, vinegar, mustard and sugar and stir well. Next mix in the mayonnaise and oil, along with the rest of the spices. Taste the coleslaw dressing. Is it sweet enough? Tart enough? Make corrections before tossing in the sliced cabbage and jicama. Feel free to grate in some carrots or slice red peppers if you want even more color in the slaw. Add a bit more oil and vinegar if you need more sauce.

Very nice: cool, creamy, crunchy, tangy and sweet. This will balance out our cherry barbecue salmon perfectly. I find that coleslaw actually tastes better if it is allowed to sit for an hour or two before serving, so cover and put it in the fridge if you have the time before dinner.

            When it comes time to assemble the sandwiches, slice ciabatta rolls in half and toast on the grill a little bit. Lay a grilled salmon filet on the bun, slather with the spicy cherry barbecue sauce, then top with a heaping mound of the mexi-slaw. Oh yeah, it may be messy but damn is it ever tasty! This is one of those lean forward and wear a bib type recipes, but it is an incredible departure from burgers and dogs on the grill.

            It looks like we are running out of time for this week, so we won’t be able to do dessert. But to barbecue peaches, you basically just cut them in half and remove the pit, brush with butter and sugar, then grill cut side down until they get a nice carmelization. Serve with a fresh cherry reduction and vanilla ice cream sprinkled with fresh chopped mint leaves. Yum!

            I hope today’s adventure in the kitchen has left you hungry to fire up your own barbecue party. Let me know what you are grilling, and what local foods you have been enjoying. Write me at isaac@kohoradio.com. Cooking local in the KOHO Kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner

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