Saturday, August 25, 2012

Grilled Salmon with Thai Basil Sauce

This is one of my all-time favorite recipes.  I found it in Cooking Light way back in the nineties and the first time I cooked it for friends, it was s show stopper.  "This," my friend Greg said, pointing at it with his fork, "is really good."  I'm pretty sure it was the first time I realized that not only could I cook food that didn't suck, I could find recipes that: a) blew people away; and b) even I could make without overtaxing myself.  Seriously, this recipe can be made well ahead of time, it doesn't take very long, and I've never known it to fail.

One additional bonus is that since all of the spice is in the sauce, kids and adults can take it or leave it as fits their own personal tastes.

Grilled Salmon with Thai Basil Sauce

1 & 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves (divided)
1/2+ cup fresh mint leaves (not quite 3/4 of a cup)
1-2 Tablespoons minced, seeded jalapeno pepper
3 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 teaspoons minced, peeled ginger
1.5 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons fish sauce
3 garlic cloves, chopped

4-6 six-ounce salmon steaks, at least 1 inch thick
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

 4-6 lime wedges

  1. Prepare the grill.
  2. Set aside 1/2 cup basil and the limes for garnish.
  3. Combine the rest of the basil and the next seven ingredients (through garlic) in a blender or small food processor.  Process until relatively smooth. Set aside. 
  4. Sprinkle salmon steaks with salt and pepper. 
  5. Coat a grill rack with cooking spray (I use a separate grilling basket), then grill the salmon, skin side down, for five minutes. 
  6. Turn the salmon over and grill for five more minutes.  Should be flakey when tested with a fork.  
  7. Serve salmon on individual plates, with sauce in a bowl.  Allow everyone to take as much sauce as he/she desires.  Or none at all.  

Family Ratings

Will, who likes fish but doesn't take much of the sauce:  8.5
Lucy, who swears she hates fish but really doesn't and who likes Thai food:  8 (but really probably 10)
Jamie, who can't understand why anyone would eat that green stuff:  7
Ellen:  "Are you kidding? 10!"
Paul who's essentially just a big show-off:  10

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Own Private Kitchen

A little piece I wrote for Roads and Kingdoms about the best private kitchen in Hong Kong.  Arguably the best meal I've ever had.  Feel free to read about it here.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Salade Nicoise

There's just no other way to say this:  this dish makes you look really really cool.  And by "cool" I mean:  sophisticated, accomplished, cultured.  Bring this salad to a party and you will rise in people's estimation.  They will begin to look at you differently, and certainly with more respect.  Even people who used to look down on you, thinking you were trash from the wrong side of Main St., will begin to have second thoughts (not that I would, um, know).

I wish I were kidding, but I'm not:  this salad is just that cool.  Period.

And though it looks fussy--part of the cool factor, of course--it's really not.  I got this recipe from Betty Taylor, a Lexington institution who used to run a catering service out of her house, a beautiful massive brick estate home with twelve-foot ceilings, a grand staircase, and a dining room that could seat eighteen easily.  Betty was my neighbor, and years ago when I was on sabbatical and working on a now-defunct novel, I would sit out in the back yard under the shade of an oak tree and proofread my soon-to-be (I was certain) Pulitzer-prize winning manuscript.  More than once, a smell would drift over from Betty's kitchen, suffusing the air with the scent of rosemary or baking bread or stewing tomatoes.  Needless to say, this made it hard to work.  One day it actually got so bad that I had to walk over, knock on Betty's front door and say, "Please stop.  Whatever you're doing, please stop.  You're killing me."

Of course, Betty was nice enough that she let me in and gave me some of whatever she was making that day--a tomato tart, I seem to recall.  And she also gave me this recipe, which is a joy to cook, a joy to eat, and yes, a joy to show off to your friends.

A few tips:

  • Don't freak out when you see the list of ingredients and the necessary steps.  There are a lot of steps, but they're all pretty easy, and it doesn't take that long.  I always find myself finishing this dish sooner than I think I will. 
  • Don't skip the anchovies.  Believe me:  you want them in this salad because it gives the whole dish an earthy, salty taste.  If you have fussy little eaters, or if you yourself don't like the look of the slimy little buggers (the anchovies, not your kids), feel free to chop them (again:  the anchovies, not your kids) into tiny little bits that will disappear into the salad.  But again:  don't leave out the anchovies!  Doing so will diminish the taste of the salad enormously.  
  • Don't overcook the tuna.  It absolutely must be pink in the middle.  Otherwise it'll taste like a big lump of masticated cardboard.  
  • This salad can feed 10 people very easily.  Feel free to cut the recipe in half.  

Salade Nicoise

6 eggs for boiling
1 lb. Tuna steak
1 small tin of anchovy fillets
2 bags freshly washed and dried mixed lettuces
2 lbs. small New potatoes
2-3 lemons, squeezed to create 1/2 cup of juice

1 lb. sugar snap peas or those really skinny French green beans
Nicoise olives (or Kalamatas, if you can't find Nicoise)
1-1.5 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half

2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup small capers

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1.5 cups first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil 

Fresh or dried dill weed OR Provencal herbs  (I prefer dill)
Fresh chives (chopped)
Freshly ground pepper and sea salt
2 Tablespoons vermouth

  1. Hard boil six eggs, peel (under cold water for ease), place in a sealed plastic bag and refrigerate until later. 
  2. Scrub and trim (if necessary) the potatoes, cut into halves and quarters (if necessary), and steam or boil until just done, 10-15 minutes.  Do not overcook.  If your fork can just go into them, they're perfect!
  3. Puree garlic in a food processor. 
  4. Add the Dijon mustard and the lemon juice to the food processor. 
  5. Turn the processor on and very slowly--VERY SLOWLY--add the olive oil.  This should take up until about a minute or a minute-and-a-half before it's all in.  
  6. Allow this mixture to emulsify into a creamy dressing, then season with salt, pepper, and herbs
  7. Place the potatoes in a small bowl and drizzle with the vermouth.  Once they've absorbed that, add the fresh chives, the capers, and 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette.  Mix and set aside.  (If you're pressed for time, the potatoes can be prepared the day before and refrigerated).  
  8. Rinse and dry your tuna steak.  Season with salt and pepper, then drizzle with a little of the vinaigrette. Allow to marinate while you warm up the grill or a skillet.  
  9. Grill--or fry--the tuna on a very hot grill for three minutes on each side.  Do not overcook. 
  10. Bring a pot of water to boil, then cook or sugar snap peas or your skinny fancy French beans until they turn bright green.  Then remove from heat, pour into a colander, and run cold water over the beans until cooled.  Set aside or refrigerate.   


  1. Pile the potatoes in the center of a large platter.  
  2. Spread the lettuce around the potatoes. 
  3. Circle the beans or peas around the potatoes, on top of the lettuce.  
  4. Quarter the eggs (sewing thread works well for this) then scatter them and the tomatoes around the dish, on top of the lettuce. 
  5. Place the anchovies, olives and capers at regular intervals on top of the lettuce.  
  6. Cut the tuna into chunks and place it over the salad.  
  7. Drizzle liberally with the vinaigrette.  
  8. Serve!

Family Ratings: 

I'll be frank:  I don't normally serve this to the kids.  I love them, really I do, but this is just too good for them!  That said, I have prepared just the tuna steaks--seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with the vinaigrette included in this recipe--on their own to the kids, with great success.  Even Lucy, who insists she HATES tuna, gave it a 10.  Granted, we didn't tell her it was tuna, we just told her it was "steak."  Which gave Will, who likes fish, great glee.  

And for what it's worth?  Ellen and I both give the entire salad a 10.  And so do all our friends.