Monthly Archives: June 2009

Grilled Whole Salmon: Part 2

A quick follow-up to the previous post about my dad’s grilled whole salmon recipe. Here’s how it turned out for me on Friday night. Such a glorious meal!



Despite my notes in the recipe about the benefits of head-on salmon, as is most common the fish I bought was head-off. Still delicious, of course. And it does fit better on my classic Weber kettle grill without the extra length the head adds. Just miss out on those couple delectable salmon cheeks!

and After:


I served the salmon with no embellishment or sauce at all. The simple salmontomsalwonderful flavors of the citrus, parsley, butter, and smoke meld to create a delicate, pure, wonderful flavor. Alongside was a salad of grated carrot tossed with a mustardy red wine vinaigrette and chopped parsley. And this salad of quartered cherry tomatoes. The tomatoes are from the store but all the greenery from the garden: bronze fennel, tarragon, chervil, mizuna, arugula, some thinly shredded shiso.

We toasted my dad with this lovely rosé. Those flowers you see through one of the glasses are beautiful salmon-colored gerber daisies my sister brought in honor of the occasion.


And for my dad, I couldn’t help but share this father’s day card I’d given him years ago, one of the memories found in that box of mementos on Friday. I wish the same for all the “swell dads” out there!



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For Dad: Grilled Whole Salmon

Boy, I just experienced something of a flood. And it’s not from the Seattle rain that fell this morning after a near-month dry spell. I had determined to honor my dad by sharing with you his family-famous recipe for grilled whole salmon. “I’ll need a few photos to accompany this,” I thought. Off to the
Handsome! Not sure what year, early 1940s?

Handsome! Not sure what year, early 1940s?

closet, where I pulled down an album devoted to him and chose these few favorite photos. Underneath the album is an old Nordstrom box I hadn’t opened in years, tucked in the corner of the closet shelf where I hold other mementos of him. Should I or shouldn’t I?

I did.

And I found a wonderful random trove of items that tug at my heart a bit but mostly make me smile in remembering the wonderful man who I miss so much.

Among them a golf ball shaped postcard I sent from St Andrews Scotland while on a church bell choir trip in 1980. A travel brochure for Kyoto, Japan (I was born in Yokosuka). A faux legal document from a non-faux law office proclaiming that the plaintiff (apparently my dad) had reneged (surely not intentionally) on a verbal contract to offer the plaintiff 3 large Beefeater martinis “in large glasses” at the Edmonds Yacht Club. Pretty much every birthday and Father’s Day card I

His early morning catch on a backpacking trip -- along the Dosewallips I think

His early morning catch on a backpacking trip -- along the Dosewallips I think

gave him over the years. And a small yellowed envelope with his report cards from Bremerton High School, 1940-41 school year. For a guy who became a civil engineer, a highly respected officer in the Navy and Director of Public Works for Lynnwood, he sure was a lousy student back then. Chemistry, C+. Third year German and “Electricity,” B-. Fourth year math, D+. Ouch!

This is going to be the 13th Father’s Day without my dad. It’s not quite as painful to start seeing the “great gifts for Father’s Day!” ads and emails as it was in the first few years. But it still serves as a brash reminder each year about that distinct chasm in my life, the place he filled in a tangible, earth-bound manner for so many years.

Thankfully we had a wonderful relationship that does feed me constantly with great memories, rich texture, confidences that guide me every day. The support and love he (and my mom) showed me at every turn in my life–every accomplishment and challenge small and large, from graduating a YMCA swim class to going to France for culinary school–was absolute and unwavering. It’s as much as any girl could wish for; for that I am most fortunate.

Dad’s strengths and skills were many and varied. He played a mean harmonica, especially when sitting around a campfire (“Yellow Bird” was a signature tune). He had a brilliant, detailed engineer’s mind for problem-solving. He had a distinct knack for putting people at ease, making friends, making people laugh.

But cooking? He wasn’t a terrible cook, but it wasn’t necessarily a high point for him. Though he did love having family over for dinner in later years. I have the funny memory of one dinner he’d cooked that began with a leek soup. I said how much I liked the soup and asked what all was in it. He goes down the list: leeks, onions, butter, potatoes, broth, cream…. “Damn,” he yells. “I forgot the cream!”

Dad was master, however, of the backyard grill. In our case, it was a backyard kamado pot that we’d brought back from Japan in the late 1960s. (Today’s wildly popular Big Green Egg is founded on the design of the kamado.)

His pièce de résistance at the grill was whole salmon–done simply, as is best with such a glorious fish. Partly wrapped in foil, the flesh’s maximum moisture is preserved while some of that smoky essence from the charcoal embers embellishes the flavor. It was the showstopper for special dinners or

Dinner with the Choplains

Dinner with the Choplains

to wow out-of-town visitors with our great local eats.

In fact, among the cards and notes received after Dad died was one from a very dear friend, Anne-Marie Choplain, pictured here in her home, where my dad and I paid a visit while he came to spend time with me in France while I was at cooking school. She wrote (in French that I’m roughly translating), “I’m touched in remembering the wonderful times we had together, the best grilled salmon I have ever eaten, a wonderful hike in the Olympics, a round of golf in Lynnwood, and his visit to France.” See? His salmon can be said to have received international acclaim!

It’s not always easy to find whole head-on salmon (best to call ahead to your local fish market), as the head will generally begin spoiling faster than the flesh and it also adds to bulk for transport. But head-on grilled salmon will retain a maximum of flavor and moisture, plus the added bonus of those two delectable salmon cheese at which the chef gets first dibs.

I just got back from the store with a whole sockeye, about 4 3/4 pounds, and will honor dad by recreating this recipe tonight, to share with my husband, sister, and brother-in-law. And a nice rosé alongside. (Here’s a follow-up post.) Dad could never sip a glass of wine (typically red) without first marveling at the color and character it had in the glass. And you couldn’t help but marvel with him. He took joy in so many things — it was a joy to have him as a father. Here’s to you, Dad, with deep and unending gratitude.

Grilled Whole Salmon Dad’s Way (from Salmon)

2 cups wood smoking chips (optional)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 whole salmon (about 5 to 7 pounds), head and tail intact preferably, cleaned and scaled

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 large lemons (1 thinly sliced, 1 juiced)

1 lime, thinly sliced

Small handful flat-leaf parsley sprigs

Preheat an outdoor grill. Soak the smoking chips, if using, in a bowl of cold water.

Cut a piece of heavy-duty foil about 2 1/2 times the length of the fish. Drizzle a tablespoon or two of the melted butter lengthwise down the center of the foil. Wet the salmon on top of the butter. Season the belly of the fish with salt and pepper, then add the onion slices, lemon slices, and lime slices, distributing them evenly. Finally, add the parsley sprigs to the belly. Add the lemon juice to the remaining butter, stir well, and drizzle this over the surface of the fish.

Fold the ends of the foil up over the fish to meet in the center. Crimp the foil along the long side edges so they’re well sealed without too snugly enclosing the fish. At the top center, where the foil ends meet, fold back to make a loose opening, making sure the sides remain sealed to hold the juices during cooking.

When the grill is hot, if using a charcoal grill spread the coal out in an even layer. Drain the smoking chips and scatter them over the coals (if using a gas grill, follow manufacturer’s instructions). Carefully set the salmon packet in the center of the grill grate, cover the grill, and cook until only a slight hint of translucence remains in the center of the thickest part (gently pull back some of the foil and poke into the flesh with the tip of a knife to check), 20 to 30 minutes. Lift the salmon packet onto a heatproof platter, fold back the foil so that the cooking liquids are retained. Serve right away.

Makes 8 to 12 servings


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Herban Summer Cooking

I almost forgot that I’d contributed recipes to the June issue of Cooking Light. Some magazines, particularly the larger nationals like CL, have really long lead times for the articles. I’d turned those recipes in well over a year ago and moved on to many other things in the meantime. But when I flipped past page 87 and saw a lovely full-page photo of a lemon verbena gimlet

Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena

cocktail, my first thought was “wow, that sounds good right about now,” followed quickly by “hey, that sounds familiar!” A few other summer treats I concocted for that issue include the gingered blueberry shortcakes, arugula salad with chicken and apricots, and grilled flank steak tacos with avocado-lime salsa.

Much as I would have liked to whip up a lemon verbena gimlet right away, the recipe reminded me that my lemon verbena plant had not survived the extra-harsh winter we’d had in Seattle. A matter of days later, I’d rectified that with addition of a new lemon verbena plant, along with lemon balm, chervil, purple sage and a few other items I couldn’t resist. Is it EVER possible to go to the garden store and leave only with the items on one’s list?



Since then I’ve had shiso on my mind. Also known as perilla (though I’ve only ever known it to be called shiso), this distinctive herb is part of the mint family but has a much more complex flavor than any mint you may have tasted. Imagine mint blended with basil and a touch of anise and sweet grass….. For the cooking class I taught on Orcas early June, I’d done a recipe from my Crab
cookbook, a saladof sliced cucumbers, daikon, shredded shiso and crab in a light rice vinegar dressing.

And for a current project, for which I’m editing and testing many recipes from Seattle-area chefs who are participating in the next volume of Celebrated Chefs, shiso has come up a couple of times. One in a cucumber salad served with black cod from Jerry Traunfeld at Poppy, and another in a nectarine sauce served with mushroom-stuffed rabbit saddle from Bruce Naftaly at Le Gourmand. Shiso seems to be the herb of the moment, at least in my little world. Now I’m inspired to experiment with a cucumber-shiso

Happy thyme, tarragon and bronze fennel

Happy thyme, tarragon and bronze fennel

combo in a cocktail, may try that later today with some vodka and a splash of sake.

On my way home from Orcas I stopped at the amazing Christianson’s Nursery between La Conner and Mount Vernon. The shopkeeper at Neston Orcas had kindly clued me in to this glorious plant emporium when I inquired of her whether she’d ever seen shiso plants available in garden retail for the home garden. She made a quick call to Christianson’s and found out that not only did they have shiso, but carried both the green and red varieties. This is the most vast, lush, diverse, and inspiring nursery I’d ever been to. Part of me was sorry that I had only a bit of time to spend here, anxious to get back home before the crush of afternoon rush hour. The other part of me was happy about it, knowing every extra 10 minutes of looking around would add another $50 worth of plants to my bounty.

I did, of course, leave with more than just the shiso. One lime basil, some flat-leaf parsley, starts of peppery greens, a couple types of chiles (Lemon Drop and Cheyenne), and some floral picks to replant in a couple containers. I don’t have a big garden by any means, but I do thrill at what I am able to cultivate from my own little slice of urban farmland! In cocktails, salads, desserts, iced tea, maybe even a batch or two of ice cream — I sure am going to have fun playing around with these new herbs this summer.


Chiles, salad greens and lime basil

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