You can find wild Pacific salmon other times of year, but June into August is really its season. At my two sources in St. Pete–Sammy’s, a wholesale operation with a retail counter and Fresh Market, a local supermarket–the salmon are definitely running.
While the supply lasts, I’m buying wild salmon every week to grill, poach and steam in parchment.
I used to think sockeye salmon (also sold as Copper River salmon) was inferior, perhaps because that’s the kind typically found in a can. But now it’s my favorite salmon species.
Sockeye salmon’s odd name comes from the word suk-kegh, meaning “red fish,” in the language of an obscure indigeous people who lived on rivers in British Columbia. I like the intensely orange-red color sockeye has when raw. But I also love the flavor, more pronounced than the king salmon sold alongside. That’s a matter of taste, however, and many people prefer milder-tasting king salmon.
I cook wild salmon lots of good ways. Marinated in a dressing of olive oil, mustard, maple syrup and soy, and then grilled with smoky cedar chips. Poached and chilled with a garlicky, herby mayo on the side. And, best of all, this method for steaming salmon under wraps–whether in parchment paper or aluminum foil. The fillets are tucked inside on a bed of couscous, sprinkled with good ingredients found in so many Italian fish recipes–capers, olives, lemons, olive oil, sea salt. Here’s how to do it.
Sockeye Salmon in Parchment
Makes 2 servings
2/3 cup large-grain Israeli couscous (also called pearl couscous)
Extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons + 2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon + 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill leaves or snipped chives
¾ pound sockeye salmon or other wild Pacific salmon
8 black oil-cured olives or other Mediterranean olives
1 tablespoon capers (preferably salt cured), rinsed well
1 Peppadew pepper, cut in slivers (optional)*
1. Combine 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add the couscous and simmer, covered, until tender, about 5 minutes. Cool until warm (the couscous should absorb all the liquid). Gently mix with a drizzle of olive oil, just enough to keep it from sticking, and 2 teaspoons of the dill. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Preheat the oven to 500°F. Remove the salmon skin by pushing a sharp knife between the skin and the flesh. Cut in two portions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cut ½ of the lemon in thin slices; squeeze the juice of the remaining lemon half.
3. Tear off two pieces of parchment paper, each one 18 inches x 13 inches. Draw a large heart on each one with a pencil and cut it out.**
4. Open one of the hearts and lay it on a baking sheet. Spoon half of the couscous on the right half. Top with a salmon filet. Drizzle with olive oil and half of the lemon juice. Lay half of the lemon slices down the middle. Scatter half of the remaining 2 teaspoons dill, olives, capers and Peppadew pepper (if using) on top. Fold over the left side of the heart and fold/crimp along the edges to close it. Repeat with the remaining heart and ingredients.
5. Bake for 12 minutes. Serve on dinner plates, allowing the packets to rest for 5 minutes or more (delicious even at room temperature). Open the packets at the table and slide the contents onto plates.
* A round red pepper that is piquant in flavor–often found on olive bars.
* *Alternatively, tear off an 18-inch piece of heavy aluminum foil. With the shiny side down, layer the couscous, salmon fillets and other ingredients as described above. Draw together the long edges of foil and fold over, crimping to prevent leakage but leaving room inside for heat circulation.