Andrew and Nikki, our awesome neighbours across the street were kind enough to slip me a big chunk of sockeye from their last fishing trip with only the promise to “do something good with it” in return. I love my neighbourhood!
The next day was surprisingly warm and clear so I caught up on the last of the garden maintenance – Pull those last two carrots, rake the lawn, hit the gutters – and started plotting dinner a little early. I’d collected a couple big armfuls of fennel stalks, some fresh and some dried from last year (they make great garden staves!) and I wanted to cook with ‘em. My mind was already set on grilling outdoors; I just needed a plan of attack.
The big inspiration for this recipe came from Brian’s Mackerel Smoked over Fennel post at the excellent Saudade blog. Ever since Hiro-San introduced me to Syunkon Salmon I’ve been attempting to bridge the time gap between a 6-8 hour cold smoke and a quick post-sear infusion. Brian’s recipe for mackerel combines the best aspects of both cooking methods in one simple, primal way. You make your fire using the dried fennel as fuel and the green stalks for smoking, pop on a lid and let the direct heat and smoke do their thing.
It’s a caveman method of cooking fish that can be employed during any backyard BBQ. Quick enough to sear in some essential moisture and yet still hit all those deep sweet-smoky taste and aroma notes that only a smokehouse (which, I have yet to build) seems to magically infused fish with. Imagine using a drum or pit-style BBQ to cook various small, fatty fish and shellfish (or even lamb!) over a bed of charcoal and herbs. Invite your guests to tend the coals and nibble still-steaming vittles plucked from the fire like our ancestors did!
But wait until next summer… It’s a bit chilly for all that right now.
I used the center cut from the salmon fillet and trimmed the belly-flap off to give it a uniform width (to avoid any stray bits overcooking) and rectangular shape. Then I marinated it in citrus, salt and fennel seeds for an hour to give it a bit of a flavour and moisture boost before it gets the bejezzus smoked out of it. Both measures were aimed at preserving as much moisture in the final product as possible, and both succeeded!
It’s still a work in progress, but it’s one that sparks so many new ideas as you work through the steps. The concept, though simple, can be applied to an infinite number of recipes. And it’s a lot of fun!
Fennel-Roasted Salmon (serves 2)
- Juice of ½ a Lemon (approx. 30ml)
- Juice of ½ an Orange (approx. 50ml)
- 1 Tsp. Coarse Salt
- 1 Tsp. Fennel Seeds
- 3 Tbls. Olive Oil (approx. 45ml)
- 420g (almost 15oz.) centre-cut fillet of Salmon (belly trimmed off, pin bones removed, skin on)
- 2 big bundles of Fennel Stalks, one dried and one green.
- Mix together the lemon ‘n orange juice, salt, fennel seeds and oil in a small bowl and pour mixture over the salmon. Rub it gently into the flesh, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Heat up the coals in your BBQ and spread them in an even layer 2-4 inches from the grill. This will ensure an even, medium heat – The kind you would want for cooking burgers, but not for seared, rare steak. Rub the grill with oil to prevent any sticking. Separate your dried and green fennel stalks into two piles and break them into 2 inch pieces. Toss a handful of the dried stalks directly onto the coals and wait a minute for them to ignite. Once they get burning and you can smell the fennelly-goodness, it’s time to grill!
- Place your salmon fillet flesh-side down on the grill directly over the hottest spot. We want to give it a good sear (2 minutes) before flipping it over and starting the smoking process. Be very gentle when you scrape the salmon up and over, if your grill hasn’t been properly oiled this could end in flaky disaster… I suggest using a wide spatula and praying to the BBQ gods for aid.
- Once the salmon fillet is laying skin-side down, toss a handful of the green fennel stalks onto the coals and close the lid to the BBQ. Roast/smoke the fish for 10-12 minutes and keep your eye on the temperature gauge for you grill. At this point it’s beneficial to think of your BBQ as a conventional oven that you can adjust by adding a handful of the dried fennel (increases the temperature but decreases smoke) or the fresh stuff (more smoke, but decreased temperature). You want your BBQ/oven to sit between 325-350˚F (160-180˚C) and gently smoke for the entire 10-12 mins.
- Carefully remove the salmon to your serving plate with a spatula and serve with a little salad of arugula, red pepper and fennel fronds tossed in some oil, honey, white wine vinegar and the juices of the remaining orange and lemon halves. So nice!
Music To Cook This To:
Koichi Sakai – Ghetto Lounge Podcast