One of my favorite chefs … no, wait … let me start over … My favorite chef of all time is Jacques Pepin. There. I've said it out loud for all to hear and let there never be any more discussion. He came from humble beginnings as a kid in his mom's restaurant kitchen in Lyons, France and although fame has come his way … from being chef for Charles DeGaulle to creating menus for Howard Johnson to partnering with Julia Child in early TV cooking shows to writing so many cookbooks to teaching … it seems that he has never let any of that remove him from his roots, his purpose, or his passion for good, wholesome, everyday food. I met him once and let's just say that meeting him was like meeting your new next-door neighbor for the first time … pleasant, convivial, expectant of seeing you again … very different from meeting other big-name chefs I've met on book tours who seemed to just be out for the publicity.
I've lauded Chef Jacques Pepin not only because I love his story, his life's work, and his influence on my cooking, but in reference to this post, it's because this recipe was his inspiration. As he says so often, recipes change every time you make them and he has no expectation that any recipe in his books will be the same in my kitchen. It seems he seeks to inspire rather than to dictate how foods should be manipulated. I love that room for creativity.
And so I used that room and chose to grill my salmon on a cedar plank rather than broiling it as he wrote in his recipe. I soaked the plank for quite a while in warm water on a baking sheet. I filled glasses with water to weigh the plank down.
I prepare the salmon by removing the bones, drizzling with olive oil, and seasoning with salt and pepper. It's hard to tell you how long to grill it because the thickness of the fillet will determine that. It is done when it is still a bit translucent inside and you should take it from the heat before it looks perfect because it will keep cooking after you've removed it. If you leave it too long, it will be dry and chalky … not the way to treat your beautiful wild salmon.
The only other ingredients are tomatoes, garlic (an addition to Jacques' recipe), and basil. You can use whole tomatoes if you wish, but I had a carton of cherry tomatoes so I halved them, chopped some garlic, and julienned some fresh basil.
This is a summer dish if nothing else is! Fresh basil, tomatoes, and garlic? Man, how much better can you make salmon than by pairing it with those three staple flavors. A win in my book and a keeper of a recipe!
Salmon with Tomato-Basil Sauce
- 1 wood plank alder or other wood plank for grilling, soaked for at least 30 minutes
- 1 pound salmon fillet deboned
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- Salt for seasoning
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter use avocado oil or fat of your choice if you eat dairy-free
- 2 cups of diced tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes
- About 24 fresh basil leaves julienned (roll the leaves together, then cut across to create the "julienne" part)
- If using a wood plank, be sure to soak for at least 30 minutes. I use a baking sheet filled with water and put a couple of filled water glasses or mason jars on top of the plank to keep the plank submerged.
- Debone the fillet. First step is to run your finger along the bone ridge from the front to back. If you do this and the bones don't stand up, you are going backwards! So just go the opposite way. 🙂 Then use a pair of fish tweezers (or needle nosed pliers!) to pull the bones out. Once the fish is deboned, place it on the wood plank, drizzle it with oil, and season it with salt and pepper. Heat the grill to high and put the wood plank on. Close the lid and let the smoking begin. The plank will smoke and might even catch fire, but the plank under the fish will be fine. Lift the lid occasionally to check on things, but find comfort in the fact that smoke + fish = yummy.
- Let the fish smoke just until it's translucent. You might even think it looks a little raw when you take it off, but the residual heat will continue cooking the fish so don't wait too long to take it off. If you do, you'll have chalky fish that is simply not palatable.
- Prepare the tomatoes, garlic and basil. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat, add the fat of choice, then the tomatoes. Heat them till just warm, add the garlic, and let it barely soften and become fragrant. Turn the heat off and add the basil.
- If you are broiling, be sure your oven is set to broil. Place the fish on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil, and season it with salt and pepper.
- If you are searing in a cast iron skillet, score the skin by making a few cuts into it, oil it on both sides and season it with salt and pepper.
- Serve with a green salad, sautéed green beans or zucchini.
- Bon Appétit!