Last week, as we were frantically packing up our lives in Boston, I kept telling myself that it was all going to be temporary. That this craze was going to end, and suddenly we would find ourselves on the back deck in Oregon, under the oak trees enjoying a salmon dinner and a beautiful sunset.
It took a few days after our arrival home for this dream to come true, but finally today it was sunny and warm enough. And the salmon was delicious.
As we had prepped for our trip, friends who knew our love of food kept asking us what Oregon cuisine was like. I kept going back to one opinion I’ve recently come across. At a conference I attended a couple weeks ago, I met a Portland-based consultant for food and sustainability, Ron Paul. Paul argues that Oregon cuisine is not so much about the dishes and method of cooking, as it is about letting the “pristine flavors of [...] regional ingredients [...] emerge.” He continues that this focus on the taste of ingredients over recipes and methods is what makes it possible for professional chefs and home cooking enthusiasts to be on even footing. Therefore, a smoked salmon dip is just as Oregonian as a salmon filet with soy glaze and shaved Thai basil topping. I like this way of thinking, but want to explore it more in relation to other theories of cuisine.
Nevertheless, using Paul’s theory of Oregon cuisine, Oregon’s bounty of U-Pick produce farms, farm stands, and now CSA’s is an example of what we can do to promote our regional cuisine. In short: if Oregon’s cuisine relies on its ingredients, then we need to make sure that those ingredients are available to both chefs and the public. Paul is promoting the James Beard Public Market in downtown Portland precisely to encourage this farm-to-table, regional Oregon food system.
With this definition of Oregon cuisine in mind, through a truly Oregonian method, my parents recently acquired a beautiful, freshly-caught Chinook salmon. Fishermen of the Yakama, Warm Springs, Nez Perce, Umatilla, and Chinook tribes in the mid 19th century signed a treaty with the US government so that they could maintain their right to fish their traditional waters for salmon and other fish. Today, this fish is sold in parking lots up and down the Columbia River, most often at Cascade Locks under the Bridge of the Gods.
The ten-pound fish was too much for my parents to eat in one go, so they portioned it and froze filets. To our delight, David and I now get to benefit from them. Tonight, on the back deck, we enjoyed broiled salmon, lightly seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper and crispy brown on the edges. I served it with sauteed zucchini and onion slices and some boiled potatoes tossed in butter and dill. For the occasion, we opened a bottle of Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon, so you could argue that the majority of our meal came straight from the Columbia River Gorge. It doesn’t get much more Oregonian than that!
Broiled Salmon Filet
Note: When picking out a salmon fillet at the fish counter, you want one preferably from the head (wider) section of the fish, which has more fat and therefore more flavor. Look for a fillet with thick white stripes of fat in between the pink flesh. The pinker doesn’t necessarily mean better – most farmed salmon gets feed with pink food coloring in it. Look for wild salmon if you can get it, which often will have a lighter-pink color compared to the farmed.
1 8 to 10-ounce fillet of salmon
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat the broiler to high and place the rack in the middle of the oven. (Note: if you’re not sure how hot your broiler is, heat it to low – you can always turn it up if need be)
2. Wash the fillet and pat it dry with paper towels.
3. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or tin foil. Place the salmon skin-side up and coat with half the olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
4. Place in the heated oven for three minutes. Check to see how it’s doing after a minute and a half and adjust the heat as necessary. If after three minutes it looks half-way cooked and the skin is nice and crisp, flip it over. Coat with the remaining olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper. Cook for three more minutes. Check to see if it’s done. If not, adjust the heat if necessary and return to the oven to finish cooking.
5. Serve immediately. If you don’t like the skin, you can easily lift the cooked salmon off and leave the skin on the parchment. Otherwise, serve the salmon with the skin (which is very healthy and delicious).